The Warsaw Barbican
In terms of size, the Warsaw Barbican is second only to the one in Cracow. It is the main passageway from the Old Town to the New Town, hence the name, the New Town Gate.
The Barbican was constructed where initially, before 1339, the rectangular entrance gate tower had stood. The gate was the weakest element in the defensive walls of the town. In the second half of the 14th century heavy artillery had become a great threat – stone cannon balls could smash through oak gates and metal bars. As a result a decision was made in 1379 to modernise the tower gate by adding a protruding wall with a new gate and drawbridge, thus doubling the number of obstacles and gates into the town. However, even these measures soon turned out to be insufficient and in 1548, the Venetian builder Giovanni Battista (who also beautifully reconstructed in Renaissance style the Town Hall in Poznan) constructed the outworks for the New Town Gate. This had the form of a three-level bastion and was designed to be used by fusiliers. The bastion was an enclosed semicircle, 14 metre-wide and 15 metre-high from the bottom of the moat. It stood 30 m from the external walls. The purpose of a Barbican is to place the entrance gate, drawbridge and portcullis further out from the walls of the town. A cannonball passing through the outside gate hits the internal walls instead of the inner gate.
Photo: Courtesy of the Warsaw Historical Museum
The massive Barbican was the site of fierce battles during the Swedish invasion in 1656. In the 18th century, when Warsaw’s old walls fell into disrepair, the Barbican progressively disappeared amongst new buildings. The moat was partly filled as well. In 1937-38, as a result of Jan Zachwatowicz’s efforts and the consent of the municipal authorities, the houses concealing the Barbican were pulled down and its lower section was revealed and restored. After the destruction of the Old Town during World War II the Old Town walls were reconstructed from the rubble. The Barbican was almost completely reconstructed between 1953-54. Only two exterior gates and the oldest tower on the side of the Old Town were not rebuilt. Today, the Barbican, lively with young people and painters in the summer months, is the most picturesque part of the Old Town’s defence walls.