The fortified towns and urban development of the Renaissance

In 2006 The Danish Centre for Urban History and the Section for Medieval and Renaissance Archaeology at Aarhus University took the initiative to highlight the newest knowledge of fortified towns. It led to a conference 14-15 September 2006 at Moesgaard, Aarhus University. The result from the conference will soon be published as Danish Urban Studies 5.

The student – now MA – Jeppe Ravn was the one behind the conference idea, which was also arranged by associate professor Jan Kock. The conference received economic support from Kulturarvsstyrelsen (The Heritage Agency of Denmark) and The Aarhus University Research Foundation. The coming book will be a supplement to the four other books about the medieval towns (2004), the classical towns (2005), the modern towns (2006) and the towns during absolutism (2008) published in the series Danish Urban Studies.

Chronological and thematically frame:

In this book, the Renaissance is seen as the time between Reformation and Absolutism, which in Denmark is between 1536-1660. But the term Renaissance should not be taken too literally. The purpose of the book is to study a specific urban historical phenomenon – the fortified and militarised towns of the Renaissance and their predecessor and partly their successors. Most of the towns were originally market towns and continued as such, but a good part of the towns had others and more extensive functions with military aspects as the most important. The book analyses the topographic, technological and social effects of the militarisation of the urban society during the Renaissance. The book consists of studies from the present Danish kingdom, the duchies Schleswig and Holstein, Norway and Skåne - the former Danish part of present-day Sweden.

In the Middle Ages most of the towns had been surrounded by ramparts, moats or other fortifications, but during the Renaissance the defence of the realm was concentrated on a selected number of strongly fortified towns. Thus the old ramparts of the other towns were torn down. The fortified towns were given a stronger military character than the medieval towns. One reason was to protect against the new firearms. Secondly, wars were now characterised by conquest expeditions, which brought enemy troops into the country. It presented the towns with new military challenges. Some of the chapters in the book discuss the question, whether this “outer” militarisation was accompanied by an “inner” militarisation in the form of the military duties of the citizens and their dedication of military attitudes.

On the ideological level, the ideal town could no longer be separated from the ideal defence of the town. In some ways it was not a new thing. Peter Clark describes how town walls and cathedrals since the early Middle Ages had been key markers for European urbanity. The new element was how these two factors were fused together in the term “urban planning”. In the book this is described by Hans Henrik Appel: “More than anything it was the demand following the bastion system, that led to the new regular, cogent urban plans; and it was perhaps the architectural element, which – in some cases quicker than in others – most consequently spread all over Europe during the 16th and 17th century.” In the Danish kingdom there are examples of Italian and Dutch inspired Renaissance urban planning. However, the picture is directly misleading if the other parts of the realm are left out.

Danish research of fortresses of this period has for a long time been insufficient and its results are often of no current interest. This is especially true for the research concerning the towns’ fortifications. There has not been published a general overview of the urban fortresses of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance since the works by Vilhelm Lorenzen and Otto Norn in the 1930s, 1940s and the early 1950s. However, over the past decade not least archaeological findings have generated new results. The book therefore consists of contributions from historians as well as archaeologists and researchers with other backgrounds.