The fortifications that were constructed at mouth of the Świna estuary were begun in the Early Middle Ages, and their use and rebuilding continued until modern times. The geographic location of Świnoujście, and its significance for trade, maritime economy and defence, were considered crucial factors.
Until the outset of the 17th Century, temporary fortifications were erected by the Pomeranian princes, then by the Dutch and Swedish, and at the turn of the 18th Century, by the Prussian and French. However, it was not until the 19th Century that the Prussian army started the construction of the permanent fortification complex. This truly transformed Świnoujście into a stronghold.
The construction of these forts in Świnoujście began after the first armed conflict with Denmark, in 1849. As of 1863, the city was already officially recognised as a sea stronghold. During the second port blockade, in 1864, the Świnoujście fortifications proved a successful deterrent for the Danish navy.
At the turn of the 19th Century, the Świnoujście stronghold consisted of four expanded forts, armed with heavy coastal artillery, as well as a growing number of concrete fortification-structures. Barracks soon appeared in the city, and so did a permanent garrison. Prince Adalbert von Preussen was a vivid supporter of the stronghold construction in Świnoujście, and was its spiritual creator. The construction site and the fortifications erected were frequently visited by Prussian King Frederic William IV, and by Emperors William I and William II. It also served as a meeting venue for the emperors of Germany and Austria, with the Russian tsar. Also, rumour has it that the famous Mata Hari once came to Świnoujście, probably to collect information on the local fortifications.
During World War I, Świnoujście was a home base for elements of the emperor’s navy, though it did not serve as a battlefield. Following the war, under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the fortifications were partly disarmed. In the inter-war period and during World War II, the Świnoujście port constituted the largest Kriegsmarine base on the Baltic Sea. After Świnoujście was besieged by the Soviet army in 1945, in a daring move, many of the personnel and as many civilians as possible were evacuated on ships and taken to the west. This was also the time when some of the fortifications got destroyed.
Post-war fortification work in the stronghold was conducted by both Russians and Poles. At this time, most of the former German fortifications, barracks and warehouses were re-used for military purposes. Indeed, the last defensive facilities in Świnoujście were constructed in the 1970’s. While, after the end of the Cold War, the fortifications have completely lost their significance, at present, they testify to a long local history and serve as a popular tourist attraction.
A DIDACTIC TRAIL