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Citadel of Besançon

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Citadel of Besancon


Basic Information

Location 47° 13′ 45.84″ N, 6° 2′ 4.56″ E
Country France
City Franche-Comte

General Information

Open to visitors yes
Need appointment no
Handicap accessibility no
Geographical Coordinates 47.23045,6.03649


The Citadel of Besançon in Franche-Comté, France, is one of the military architect Vauban's masterpieces. The Citadel occupies eleven hectares on Mount Saint-Etienne, one of the seven hills that protect Besançon, the capital of Franche-Comté. Mount Saint-Etienne occupies the neck of an ox-bow formed by the river Doubs, giving the site a strategic importance that Julius Caesar recognised as early as 58 BC. The Citadel overlooks the old quarter of the city, which is located within the ox-bow, and offers a magnificent view of the entire city and its surroundings.

The fortification is well preserved. Today it is an important tourist site (over a quarter of a million visitors per year) due both to its own characteristics and because it is the site of several museums. These museums include a museum of the Resistance and deportation, a museum focusing on traditional life in Franche-Comté and the region's archeological history, and a museum of natural history that includes a zoo, an insectarium, an aquarium, vivariums, a noctarium, a climatorium, a pedagogical exhibit on evolution, botanical gardens, and a children's farm. There is also a restaurant and shops.

On July 7, 2008, UNESCO listed the Citadel, together with nearby Fort Griffon, as a World Heritage Site. Since 1942, the French Ministry of Culture has listed the Citadel as a Monument historique.

History and time period

Construction (1668-1711)

The Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678 gave the region of Franche-Comté to Louis XIV, who decided to improve significantly the city of Besançon's defenses. In March 1668 Louis appointed the military architect Vauban to design the Citadel. The initial construction, which took place under the supervision of Ambrose Precipiano, took six years. Work continued over thirty years with the result that by 1711, the Citadel was one of the strongest fortifications of the period. The construction was so expensive that - so the story goes - the king asked Vauban if he was building the walls of gold.

The Citadel is built on top of a large syncline on a rectangular field crossed across its width by three successive bastions (enclosures, or fronts) behind which extend three plazas. The whole is surrounded by walls covered by circular paths and punctuated by watchtowers and sentry posts. The walls are up to 15 to 20 metres (49 to 66 ft) high with a thickness between 5 and 6 metres (16 and 20 ft).

Vauban built the first line of defense, the Front St. Etienne, on the site of the eponymous cathedral that he destroyed in order to establish the defences.

In front of the curtain is ready a half-moon, surrounded by ditches, equipped to the canon - the flag of entry is extended to both sides of the curtain and completed by half bastions at the ends. The curtain, which was the section of wall between the 2 half bastions, was the weak point of the wall.

A rift in the rock, which could be dry or flooded. It was bounded by the escarpment (lower slope of a ditch) and Contrescarpe (masonry wall at the end of ditch) This divide was crossed by the bridge frame, which was completed by the drawbridge. Then the 2 half bastions laterally protected access to the door. They included: - one side exposed to the enemy army and cannons - which joined the side curtain to the bastions. He could be right (as in front royal) or orillons, i.e. sheltered behind a corner covering artillery stationed on the flank. The same system on the front orillons Saint-Etienne. Finally, two ties were arranged on each side of buildings to protect views and firing from the side hills and Chaudanne Bregille.

So this system was constructed so that for all positions, we could monitor the enemy wherever he is and he was so identified. Even if there were an enemy to the aplomb of a wall, rather than risking to look to achieve, you could touch from another post. In fact, all the shots and angles of view were studied to better defend the defensive system.

Then, to get to Front Royal, there was a large sloping grassy area, which forms the glacis. This allowed glacis, where the Front St. Etienne is crossed, to see the enemy coming and to anticipate any attack. Formerly, he was on naked and without trees. At the extreme left along the cliff, an underpass allowing front of the first defenders to retreat to the front royal. The Front Royal is flanked by two boxes of surveillance: the tower of the king and the tower of the queen. The front and the Front Royal Relief (at the other end of the Citadel) was built by the Spanish and edited by Vauban.

These fronts are linked by two huge walls, who married almost perfect topography and rock. The walls are made of limestone, and are 5 to 6 m thick and 15 to 20 m high. Vauban intended the walls to screen the Citadel's precincts from the view of any enemy occupying the surrounding hills.

The upper part of the parapet was built in brick because their chips were much less deadly than the limestone. These walls define the inner courtyard, and were surmounted by a walkway on which you could walk up to the guard. Over ten sentry posts lined the walls, of which only one or two survive. These sentry posts were of limited use in combat as they were fragile.

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