The Krakow Barbican is one of the greatest examples of medieval military architecture in Europe. Until the beginning of the 19th century, when new siege techniques were developed, the Barbican was almost impossible to conquer.
There are only a few similar objects left in Europe, and the Krakow Barbican definitely stands out. It is a huge, highly unique, and well-preserved structure. The Barbican was built between 1498 and 1499 to protect the northern part of the city’s fortification, which had no natural water barrier. Short building time was necessary due to the risk of an Ottoman attack after king John I Albert lost the Battle of the Cosmin Forest. The round structure with an inner diameter of 24,4 meters (80 ft) and 3-meter-thick walls (almost 10 ft) was joined with the Florian Gate through the so-called “neck” – a double wall that was empty inside. The building is a perfect representation of the medieval art of fortification of that time.
There are 130 embrasures located on the three floors of the Barbican, and its seven watch towers provided perfect vantage points. From the north-western side, the stronghold was surrounded by a ditch that was 3 meters (9,8 ft) deep and up to 26 meters (85 ft) wide. The bottom of the moat was paved with stone, and water was supplied from the nearby Rudawa river. The Barbican had two gates: one leading to the current Kleparz neighborhood, and the other facing the Florian Gate. Inside, the building was practically empty to make it possible to gather significant numbers of soldiers in case of danger.
According to the latest determinations, until the end of the 18th century the Barbican was impossible to conquer. It became less effective due to the changes in siege techniques at the beginning of the 19th century; the Austrian authorities were even planning to demolish the stronghold for sanitary reasons. Luckily, the Barbican did not share the fate of almost all of Krakow fortifications, and only the “neck” connecting it to the Florian Gate was torn down.