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Smolensk Oblast , Smolensk

The Smolensk Defensive Wall

The defense wall of Smolensk was built during the reign of tsars Feodor Ioannovich and Boris Godunov in 1596-1602. Smolensk had a very important strategic position for the Moscow kingdom. For a long time first the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and then the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth wanted to capture it. Both tsars realized how important it was to defend the town.

The Russian architect Feodor Kon started the construction of the fortress in 1596. In a very short time, Smolensk was encircled by a defense wall fortified with thirty-eight towers. The construction of the defense walls was mostly completed in 1602 during the reign of Boris Godunov.

The total length of the Smolensk defense wall together with the towers was about 6.5 kilometers. The walls were 13 to 19 meters high and up to six meters thick. The walls and towers are castellated. On the outside they are made of large baked bricks, and the inside used stoned backing, bonded with lime mortar.  The base of the walls is fortified with cut white stone.

Inside the walls passages and ammunition rooms were created. A system of galleries was established under the walls in order to prevent tunnel building and undermining. The walls had roofs of wood.

To the north the fortress was naturally protected by the Dnepr river, to the west and to the wast — by deep ravines, the Churilovskiy and Chertov trenches. To the south of the Smolensk fortress was a plain, so the towers were closer to each other and there was a trench along the wall. The average distance between the walls was 158 meters. Nine out of thirty-eight towers had an entrance gate. The largest number of gates was located in the northern towers on the banks of Dnepr. On the eastern side were the Avraamievskie and Elenskie gates, and on the Southern side, the Molokhovskie and Kopytenskie gates.  There were no gates on the western side of the wall, which faced the border between Russia and Lithuania.

During construction, the architects had in their minds not only the significance of the fortress but also it aesthetics.  Initially the walls were whitewashed. The square tower had decorative pilaster-strips, the arrow loops on the walls and the towers had frames, and the main entrance gates were decorated with pilasters with graded belts of white stone.

Today the walls of the Smolensk fortress are only partially preserved. Only 17 out of 28 towers are left. The total length of the walls is 3.5 kilometers.

Among defensive constructions of the Smolensk fortress, the Royal bastion in the Lopatinsky Garden in particular stands out. It was built by the Poles after they captured the Smolensk fortress in 1611. The earthen pentagonal construction was built on the site of three blown up towers.

During its history, the Smolensk defense wall has survived three assaults: during the Russian-Polish wars in the 17th century, including a 20-month long siege in 1609-1611, and a two-day long assault by Napoleon's army in 1812. Nobody has managed to take the Smolensk fortress by assault.

Smolensky Terem Information Center for Culture and Tourism of Smolensk /

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