Fortification and baroque urban design

The Baroque period had a fundamental influence on the urban design of both Brest and Dresden.

Baroque town planning was carried out according to geometric principles of order, on the basis of which the surface/town area and squares were structured and axial relationships were established within the town.

In parallel, city fortifications – also based on geometric principles – were adapted to the further development of cannons and, in the course of this, became increasingly complex with a staggering number of bastions and courtines, demi-lunes and ravelines as well as ditches.

5.1 Plan with axes crossing at right angles 

5.2 Plan with axes radiating from a centre 

5.3 Rules for the composition of the square in the city centre 

5.4 Axiality and visual relationship to the urban centre 

5.5 Elements of a fortification based on the fortification of Sarrelouis, Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, 1682 

Technical terms of a fortification: Glacis 


Half-moon / Ravellin

Rampart / Wall 


Parade ground / Military exercise place


Entrance gate




The first fortification was built in 1530 to protect the castle. Subsequently, the fortifications around Brest were reinforced and further extended up until 1655. Under King Louis XIV, Brest was enlarged in 1681 to include the Recouvrance district and the town and its fortifications were extended, modernised and strengthened according to the plans of Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, Commissaire général des fortifications (General Commissioner of all French fortifications) from 1678. 

After the First World War, there were initial plans to demolish the baroque fortifications and replace them with residential quarters, infrastructure and public facilities at the upper end of the Rue de Siam. These plans were largely adopted after the Second World War by the architect responsible for the reconstruction, Jean-Baptiste Mathon. The fortifications were demolished and their material used together with the rubble of the city to level the great differences in height in the urban area. During the redesign of the Place de la Liberté (1992-1996), remains of the walls of the town’s fortifications were discovered and put on display.

5.6 Fortification of the castle on the bank of the Penfeld, 1975 

5.7 Pierre Nicolon, plan of Brest, 1777 

Town layout 

In baroque town plans, Brest and Recouvrance are structured at right angles. Axial streets were to ensure good connections within the city, for example between the gates and the harbour; in Brest an approximate triangle was even formed. Several open spaces were laid out along secondary axes, such as the Champ de Bataille (today Place Wilson), which was one of several military drill grounds. However, due to the existing buildings and the strongly shifting topography, the plans had to be adapted to the circumstances.

During the reconstruction, the checkerboard-like structures of the Baroque period could finally be exploited thanks to the tabula rasa and the levelling off of the large differences in height.

5.10 Former military exercise square, ca. 1900 

5.11 Military exercise square, detail of the plan of Brest, Pierre Nicolon, 1777 

5.12 Place Wilson, the Banque de France in the background on the right, 1950 



Dresden was first protected in the 13th century by a medieval city wall. This was demolished in Dresden was first protected by a medieval city wall from the 13th century onwards. This was demolished in 1519 and replaced by Ramparts, stone-clad earthen ramparts, which also encompassed the city’s extension to the north-east. 

In 1549, the Saxon Elector Moritz ordered the amalgamation of Dresden and Altendresden (today Neustadt) and the fortification of the entire city in the Italian-Dutch style; however, the fortification planned around Altendresden was not carried out until 1632-1684. As early as the middle of the 18th century, plans were made to grind down the fortifications. Since the defortification carried out around 1810-1830, only the ramparts along the Elbe have remained.

5.8 Map of Dresden and Neustadt, Saxon Mile Sheet No. 262, 1785 

5.9 Brühl Terrace, fortress wall on the south bank of the Elbe, 2004 

Urban structure 

A plan from 1680 shows the city south of the Elbe structured by mostly rectangular building blocks. After the great fire of Altendresden in 1685, this part of the town was also rebuilt according to Baroque principles. The main element is a street triangle starting at the market square near the Augustus Bridge. The building regulations of 1720, which specified material, height, number of storeys as well as colour, aimed to further unify the townscape. 

After the destruction of the Second World War, the nationalisation of the land was used to rebuild the city independently of the old buildings and street layouts. In the new town, the street triangle was turned around; since then, its starting point has been situated approximately at the location of the former northern town gate.

5.13 View of the Great Square of the Old Market, painting, Canaletto 1752

5.14 Johannes Rascher: Dresden Competition, Old Market, view to the south, 1952 

5.15 Old Market and Kreuzkirche, 1963