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Il fascino di Castelgrande

The castles and defensive barriers of Bellinzona

A Letzi (plural:Letzinen, also known in German as a Talsperre in the sense of a fortification, not a dam[1]) or Letzimauer refers to defensive barriers whose purpose is to protect the entrance into a valley. The term is Swiss and these stone barriers were particularly common in medieval Switzerland, but are also found in Austria and Germany.


Letzis usually consisted of:

  • hill castles on the valley sides or on heights either side of the valley
  • defensive walls, often in combination with other bastions, running transversely across the valley in order to seal it completely. Because these parts of the position were typically unable to use the advantage of height, they had some of the character of lowland castles.

Because they had a combination of elements of hill and lowland castles, letzis did not fall neatly into either category.

The walls were often several kilometres long, for example in Rothenthurm SZ, and were often combined with ditches.[2][3][4]

Such defensive valley barriers were still being built in the 19th century, for example the Forte della Chiusa and Buco di Vela.


Researchers have not been united in all respects about whether these fortifications actually served as protective lines of defence or whether, in most cases, they were just intended as border marcations and defence against cattle thieves.[3]

What is certain is the Letzis were used to force merchants to adhere to specified routes (Straßenzwang) and thus to enable the collection of customs duties (Wegzoll) and money to pay for the maintenance of the roads.[5]

Examples with hill castlesEdit

Free-standing examplesEdit


The Swiss German word, Letzi, comes from the Middle High German "letze", i. e. a barrier, obstacle, defensive wall or border fortification.[9] Even today many toponyms include the words Letzinen, Letzimauern or Letzitürme. Remains of such defensive fortifications may still be seen in many places today.

Examples of Letzi in place names:


  1. "Letzi — Grammatik" (in German). Duden. Retrieved 18 July 2012. 
  2. Jakob Obrecht (2000), Historischer Verein des Kantons Schwyz, ed., "Archäologische Sondiergrabungen an der Letzimauer Rothenthurm, 1999" (in German), Mitteilungen des Historischen Vereins des Kantons Schwyz Band 92: pp. 11-32 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Martin Merki (14 07 2012), [Artikel auf NZZonline "Eine chinesische Mauer in Schwyz?"] (in German), Neue Zürcher Zeitung (162): p. 13, Artikel auf NZZonline 
  4. Matthias Dürst. "Der Letzigraben" (in German). Retrieved 2012-07-16. 
  5. Thomas Kühtreiber (2012), [Text auf Kap. Burg und Zollstätten: Fallbeispiele im schrift- und bauhistorischen Vergleich (S. 275ff.)], in Kornelia Holzner-Tobisch, Thomas Kühtreiber, Gertrud Blaschitz, "Straße und Burg. Anmerkungen zu einem vielschichtigen Verhältnis" (in German), Die Vielschichtigkeit der Straße. Kontinuität und Wandel in Mittelalter und früher Neuzeit, Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit (Wien) 22: pp. 263–301, Text auf 
  6. "Marienpilgerweg" (in German). Retrieved 2016-10-19. 
  7. "Jenig" (in German). Retrieved 2016-10-19. 
  8. Landmauer Gamsen
  9. Weiteres siehe Schweizerisches Idiotikon, Vol. III, Col. 1558 f., Article Letzi, Bed. 1a (with remarks, col. 1562).

External linksEdit

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