There is an unbelievable number of military-history monuments on each
continent. Even more of them survived on beautiful designs, paintings
and engravings which are kept in archives and museums. However, not only
experts and admirers like the well maintained walls, green moat areas,
interesting constructive details and magic sites of underground forts.
Fort Josefov offers a lot of those to visitors.
Fort Josefov, formerly Ples, was built between 1780 and 1787 as the
protection of Eastern Bohemia against the danger of Prussians. Its
location, about 20 km away from the country confines, reflected then
military strategy to defend the country through a strong field army with
a few big forts in the rear. In Bohemia, these were Hradec Králové (Königgrätz),
Terezín (Theresienstadt) and Prague, of course, and Olomouc (Olmütz) in
Moravia. The Fort Josefov defense system then corresponded to the period
military tactics and army equipment. Up to 12.000 men were supposed to
Fort Josefov was built according to Duhamel de Querlonde´s design, the
French engineer in Habsburg service, who jointed both his teachers
fortification experience and the given terrain advantage. The fort’s
core was situated on the hillock above the Elbe and Metuje rivers
confluence. Their barbican was shielded by the so called crown wall. It
was possible to dam up the river streams and to flood the adjacent
fort’s neighborhood. There were four gates to enter the fort. The name
Josefov (Josefstadt) reminds us of the Emperor Joseph II, the founder of
the fortified town.
The bastion forts reached their development climax in the 18th century
and the French fortification civil-engineering was well known around
Europe. Josefov is its significant part. And at the same time, it is one
of its final-phase constructions – a town founded on the virgin ground.
Fort Josefov was ready to defend several times in its history but nor
the Napoleon wars nor the 1866 Prussian-Austrian War did not bring it a
fame. The military strategists of the 19th century followed different
rules than their predecessors. Josefov was never involved in a real
battle. In 1888, its fortress status was removed and the town was
getting rid of the walls. Henceforward it remained the typical garrison
town. It merged with neighboring Jaroměř in 1948.
Also, Josefov is remarkable through its inner setting. All the buildings
were constructed according to the unified architecture and they form the
unique urbanistic complex. Therefore, in 1971 it was proclaimed the
Urban Preserve. The best way how to acquaint oneself with the defense
system is the visit of the underground corridors. The town history is
documented on the City Museum display in former Josefov town-hall.
The fortification architecture was linked with the improvement of
shooting arms especially artillery. The military history is a continuous
competition of the aggressor’s arms efficiency and the forts
defensibility. The walls resistance, however, was not a sole victory
condition; the active resistance of defenders was another one.
The construction and shape of each wall elements were subordinated to
above mentioned conditions. The bastions, pre-bastions, courtines,
ravellines, covered roads, gathering spots and tens of others were the
most important ones. The military engineers used them as the brick-box
to compose the sophisticated complexes. One wall element was designed to
protect another one and facilitate the easy shooting actions of
defenders at the same time. The leading artists and architects were
involved in the building process. The plain soil, stones and bricks
above all were the common materials reaching the tens of millions of
pieces. The soldiers and thousands of various profession-workers took
part in the construction.
There were several complementary ways how to fight a fort. If the
surprising attack failed the long-lasting and exhausting siege was next.
The artillery played the decisive role – on both sides of course. The
wicker-work baskets filled with soil protected the artillery emplacement.
Those inside the fort were situated on the wall tops, or behind the
casemate gun-ports. One can see such gun-ports on several places beyond
the Novoměstská Gate.
Also, the infantry had its assigned tasks. They were positioned on the
covered road protected by the so called breastwork. Now-a-days, the
favorite footways follow its rims. The infantry drove against the
enemies, too, destroying the battering-train and fighting head-to-head.
The enemy sappers were digging trenches called “saps” since the very
first day in order to provide the access as far as the fort. They were
followed by miners who attempted to break the wall down with gun-powder
explosions in order to let the infantry enter and capture the fort.
The modern forts were provided with a permanent anti-mines system. The
sophisticated net of underground corridors was to prevent the intruders
from underground activity. The defenders could
fire their own mines and stop them. The underground works and fighting
were the most risky specializations of the war trade. The miners´
profession required special skills but was considered unfair. The miners
were building Josefov Fort underground, too.
The underground fort protection consisted of the mine branch lines: the
outer one about 150 m distant from the wall moat, and the inner one
formed into two floors. The mine branch itself consisted of several
small low corridors were the gun powder blast was loaded. The explosion
then aimed the ground surface. Such a small corridor called “stove” or
“chamber” could be used several times. The shooting gallery entwined the
entire fort along the outer wall. If the enemy had struggled through the
moat he could have been threatened from gallery firing.
Josefov fort underground is a unique technical monuments also thanks to
the air-conditioning chimneys and drains. It was the largest one in
Europe in the 18th century. There were about 45 km of all the corridors
and mine branches. Other kilometers belong to the unique water drain
system, still functioning. Underground casemates are hidden inside the
wall ramparts. It is where the soldiers lived during the war, and where
the storage or gun-ports were situated.
Today, one of the casemates of Bastion N.1 hosts the M. B. Braun´s
baroque lapidary collection – the part of the underground section. There
is a town history displayed inside the former Josefov town-hall. The
monarchy days revoke the Military History Club shows.