Monday, May 22, 2006


Three ways of ending a siege

Invaders have puzzled for ages over how to get inside the wals of well-defended cities.

One of the traditional ways was to hurl stones, burning pitch and other unwelcome projectiles over the walls in the hope of hurting a few occupants or bringing down buildings and morale. The Romans did it the hard way at Masada in what is now Israel when they built a gigantic ramp so they could march their armies up to the top of the walls. To the dismay of the Jewish zealots who were holding out pretty well, the Romans used Jewish slaves to do the construction work, and the defenders were thus discouraged from interfering with the building work. It took three years to build this ramp.

When King Alphonso V of Aragon was beseiging the City of Bonifacio in 1420 he is alleged to have built a staircase comprising 187 slippery steps in Bonifacio's geologically worrying cliffs at the very southernmost tip of the island of Corsica. He is supposed to have built it in a single night. The staircase is there OK, but some doubt that the steps were built either by him or on his instructions

Another theory is that it was the defenders who built the steps to give the occupants access to the sea in calm weather. And some say that the steps were hewn to allow the occupants to scramble down to reach fresh water springs that emerged half way down the cliff face.

I love the King of Aragon story, but the other theories sound rather more likely to me. More about these steps on The whole article is about Bonifacio, and it's beautifully written.

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