The Theresia Bastion
The Bastion, Theresia Bastion
It was originally designed as a “ravelin” (a fortification item built outside the first entrenchment of the fortress, approximately in the middle of the curtain between the two bastions, to “flank” with “flanking fire” those bastions).
It appears on plans since 1732. On the 1734 plan it appears as completely finished. Subsequently it was included in the first fortification ring as a bastion, called the Theresia Bastion.
Names and historical functions
1732 – the Provision Storehouse Ravelin (food)
1744-45 – it receives the name “Theresia Bastion” in honor of Queen Maria Theresia, the “pseudo-king”, as her enemies called her.
It corresponds to the type of fortifications with three fortified “rings”, characteristic of the first half and mid-eighteenth century. The fortifications prior to 1707, from the time of Vauban, did not have the outer third ring, made of the fortification elements called “covering”.
Of the new fortress’ bastions it was the first to be built.
It is the only one of the nine bastions of the fortress built between 1732 and 1761 which was not demolished in the early twentieth century.
Maria Theresia was crowned only as queen of Hungary in 1741 (in 1760, she received the title of “apostolic Queen” – a kind of “super-queen”) and Queen of Bohemia in 1743. Only her husband, Francisc I Stephen of Lorraine, was crowned as emperor in 1745.
The Habsburg states were led by Maria Theresia, who practically assumed the role and title of emperor.
Maria Theresia was never crowned as empress. This would have never been possible since she was a female. In the Holy Empire (Sacrum Romanum Imperium) only men could be crowned Imperator, and their wives could only be crowned as Augusta (queen; but Maria Theresia was already Queen two times, and refused to be crowned as “Augusta”). Also only men wore pants. Therefore, in cartoons, Maria Theresia appears wearing trousers, although it is known that she had 16 children.
Some researchers say that about Maria Theresa, one of the most beautiful women in the eighteenth century, and of her daughter, Marie Antoinette – Queen of France, then the “Capet widow”, guillotined during the Revolution, their enemies would have drawn the most trivial, obscene and “gaudy” caricatures of the “gallant” eighteenth century.
Fortification and defortification in Timişoara
What is preserved today from the fortress’ walls is insignificant – it is difficult to imagine what huge volume of work was involved in raising this defense system.
Much of the time was put into leveling the land – a lot of water channels had to be drained, which had been intentionally been left for centuries as such to provide a natural defense for the previous fortress. Since the new one was much larger, these small bodies of water had to be diverted at this time, the land had to be leveled and the foundation on this marshy ground had to be especially solid.
In the wall construction large amounts of limestone, clay and wood were required. Wood was needed for both foundations and for burning millions of bricks.
The system’s structure was very complicated – in the eighteenth century, the construction of defensive systems (fortresses) was a science in the strictest sense of the word; the design of a fortress would last several years. Under no circumstances should we imagine the fortress of Timişoara as simply a wall! Virtually, the stellar fortress of Timişoara (inspired by the Vauban type, but without respecting it in total) had three “rings”; the two from the outside, very thick, were not actual walls but more complicated structures of brick and earth.
The inner wall (practically the proper wall) was 20 meters high, and was fitted with arched casemates for artillery on the side facing the city, subsequently used as storage spaces. In front of it there was a water canal. In front of the three gates, the crossing over the canal was made by swing bridges with chains. The added width of the three rings, together with the canals between them (and with other defensive constructions which were also interposed) was approximately 450 meters.
Outwards, in front of the last ring, a strip of land called “Esplanade” ran, on which nothing but grass was accepted – no buildings, no trees, to have an open field for firing against the enemy. This strip of land had a width of 950 meters (this was considered the standard length of a “canon range” at the beginning of the eighteenth century) all around the city. In practice, it meant that the first buildings were about 1.5 kilometers from the buildings in the “inner city”. Only in 1868, after the civil administration’s petitions, the esplanade width is reduced to 570 meters.
The building of the defense system consumed a lot of human and material resources. Part of the unskilled manpower was provided from the so-called “statute labor”; each of the counties around Timişoara had to send weekly 100 people to work – they were paid, but very poorly. To this site there were being sent also as unskilled manpower prisoners from all over the empire. Of course many construction engineers were needed, highly skilled workforce; because of the lack of profile schools in the Banat, they had to be brought from “the center” at great costs.
Let us note that this immense fortress, built at great sacrifice to protect Timişoara from the Ottoman threat, has never been attacked by Turks! During the war of 1788, the Turks, although they reached Lugoj, did not dare to besiege the fortress.
The only attack came from the “internal enemy”, i.e. the Hungarian revolutionaries in 1849. But if we take into account that the city withstood the 107 days siege (the only fortress in Transylvania and Banat which resisted; all others were occupied), and its role in the defeat of the Revolution, one can say that, from the owner point of view (the Viennese court), the investment was worth it.
The unpopularity of the defense system was something to be expected among the inhabitants of the city. There was little space inside the fortress and very expensive, thus most people of Timişoara had to live on the outskirts of Timişoara, in Fabric, and later in Iosefin and Elisabetin. The simple movement through the city required time (the 3 km distance had to be made in a round trip) and nerves – the access through the three gates was complicated, and the gates were, of course, under strict military control.
Following the citizens’ increasingly insistent petitions, the Viennese court finally gives way; taking into account the fighting techniques of the late nineteenth century, the Vauban fortress of Timişoara had become anachronistic anyway. In 1892, the decision to demolish the walls is taken.
The defortification began – a lengthy process. Controlled demolition was decided from the start, resulting in several million reusable bricks. Of these, 19 million bricks were subsequently sold to private owners – but they were only allowed to be used in homes’ foundations, for health reasons. The City Administration used for its own buildings another 7 million bricks. The smaller scraps resulted were used to cover 80,000 square meters of streets.
Mayor Karl Telbisz was the one who gave his best endeavors so that Timişoara could benefit to the maximum following the defortification. Although the defortification decision was taken in 1892, and the walls’ dismantling began immediately, it was still unclear who owned the land. Telbisz’s fight with the military authorities was lengthy: the vast (and extremely valuable) land passed into the city hall’s ownership only in 1905. The 138 hectares of land were worth a lot, because of the privileged position close to the city center (by comparison, the historical districts of Fabric, Elisabetin and Iosefin were a lot farther).
By selling part of these lands to private individuals for construction of houses, as well as from the sale of “second hand” bricks, resulted large sums of cash for the city budget. From these resources, many schools that still exist today were built on that freed land, but industrial investments were also boosted: each investor was given free land, a period of 15 years of tax exemption followed and a yearly subsidy of 10 crowns (for the first 10 years of activity) for each employee.
These modern administrative measures have led to an unprecedented development of the city. Finally, the long-criticized walls proved to be the engine of the emergence of modern Timişoara.
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