Fortifications of Vauban

Arras Citadel

Built by Vauban between 1667 and 1672, the purpose of Citadel of Arras was to protect the city from the attacks (Spanish troops coming from the Netherlands). It has been nicknamed La belle inutile (the beautiful useless one) by residents as it has never been directly involved in heavy fighting and didn"t keep the Germans form occupying the city in either Word War. Since 7 July 2008 it is part of the UNESCO World Heri ...
Founded: 1667-1672 | Location: Arras, France

Longwy Fortress

The original Longwy village developed on a widened plateau and was eventually linked to the Chiers valley, divided into two towns: Longwy-Haut (the Old Longwy) and Longwy-Bas (in the valley of the river). In the 15th century, the castle of Longwy was one of the most important in the region. It was partially destroyed in 1646 during the Thirty Years War, during which Longwy became French. The town and the castle all disapp ...
Founded: 1678 | Location: Longwy, France

Villefranche-de-Conflent Fortress

Built by Vauban in 1681 and fortified by Napoleon III, the fortress dominates the city of Villefranche-de-Conflent with its ramparts, counterscarp galleries, bastions, chapel, archaeology and caving museum and a 734 steps underground staircase. The ramparts - major site built by Vauban- are registered on the list of the Unesco World Heritage.
Founded: 1681 | Location: Villefranche-de-Conflent, France

Briançon Fortress

The historical centre of Briançon is a strongly fortified town, built by Vauban to defend the region from Austrians in the 17th century. Its streets are very steep and narrow, though picturesque. Briançon lies at the foot of the descent from the Col de Montgenèvre, giving access to Turin, so a great number of other fortifications have been constructed on the surrounding heights, especially towards the ...
Founded: 1692 | Location: Briançon, France

Besançon Fortress

Besançon"s Vauban citadel has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Louis XIV of France conquered the city for the first time in 1668, but the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle returned it to Spain within a matter of months. While it was in French hands, the famed military engineer Vauban visited the city and drew up plans for its fortification. The Spaniards built the main centre point of the city"s defen ...
Founded: 1668-1711 | Location: Besançon, France

Blaye Citadel

The fortified citadel at Blaye, standing on the opposite bank of the river Gironde to Fort Médoc, forms, along with Fort Paté, the region's 17th-century defence against river attack. Built by Vauban, together this group are named the Fortifications of Vauban and are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site of the citadel saw its first castle in the 7th century. Vauban's fortress though was built ...
Founded: 1689-1692 | Location: Blaye, France

Tour Vauban

The Tour Vauban (Vauban Tower), initially known as the tour de Camaret, is an 18m-high polygonal defensive tower built to a plan by Vauban on the Sillon at Camaret-sur-Mer, as part of the fortifications of the goulet de Brest. It has three levels and is flanked by walls, a guardhouse and a gun battery which can hold 11 cannons as well as a cannonball foundry added in the French Revolution period. Drafted in 1683, the tow ...
Founded: 1693-1696 | Location: Camaret-sur-Mer, France

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port Citadel

Built on the site of the former fortified château of the kings of Navarre, the Citadel looks over the walled town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The capital of the Basse-Navarre and an important crossing route over the Pyrenees, Saint Jean Pied de Port, was founded at the end of the 12th century under the reign of the last kings of Navarre to protect the course of the river and access to the Roncevaux and Bentarte passes. ...
Founded: 1628 | Location: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France

Vauban Tower

In 1692 the naval Battle of La Hougue took place between the English and the French close to the island of Tatihou. The so-called Vauban Tower (Tour Vauban de Tatihou) was built in 1694. In 1756 the surroundings of La Hougue were defended by many batteries and forts, but the lack of regular maintenance ensured that these quickly fell into disrepair. In 1720 Tatihou was used for quarantining plague victims from Marseilles. ...
Founded: 1694 | Location: Tatihou, France

Fort de Socoa

Fort Socoa in Ciboure was originally built under the rule of Henry IV to protect the region from the Spanish. Fort Socoa today was however built later under the reign of Louis XIII. In 1636, the Spanish army took the fort. A few years later, French sovereignty was restored. In 1686, Vauban strenghtened the Fort and planned to build a pier to improve access to the Fort. The work of the fort was ended in 1698. The site ...
Founded: 17th century | Location: Ciboure, France

Neuf-Brisach

Neuf-Brisach is a fortified town intended to guard the border between France and the Holy Roman Empire and, subsequently the German states. It was built after the peace of Ryswick, in 1697, that resulted in the loss to France of the town of Breisach, on the opposite bank of the Rhine. The town"s name means New Breisach. Work began on the fortified town in 1698, to plans drawn by Vauban, a military engineer at the se ...
Founded: 1698 | Location: Neuf-Brisach, France

Fort Libéria

Built by Vauban in 1681 and fortified by Napoleon III, the Libéria fortress dominates the city with its ramparts, counterscarp galleries, bastions, chapel, archaeology and caving museum and a 734 steps underground staircase.
Founded: 1681 | Location: Villefranche de Conflent, France

Fort Carré

Fort Carré is a 16th-century star-shaped fort of four arrow-head shaped bastions, that stands on the outskirts of Antibes. The Romans probably built the first fortifications at Antibes. In 1553, a tower called la tour Saint-Florent was built around a pre-existing chapel. Henry III had four bastions added in 1565, whereupon it became Fort Carré (the squared fort). In the 1680s, Vauban strengthened Fort Carré, addin ...
Founded: 1565 | Location: Antibes, France

Mont-Dauphin Fortress

Mont-Dauphin is one of the many places fortified by Vauban in the second half of the 17th century. Following invasions of Provence by Savoy in 1691 and 1692, Louis XIV dispached Vauban to put the frontier in a better state of defence. In 1692 he came to the Plateau de Mille-Aures, which overlooks both of the invasion routes used by the Savoyards, to fortify it. The ground in question was on a high hill, roughly four-side ...
Founded: 1692 | Location: Mont-Dauphin, France

Fort de Bellegarde

Le Perthus became French territory after the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659). The Spanish captured Bellegarde in 1674 and began work on new fortifications in 1675. These were not very far advanced when the place was recaptured by the French. In 1678 Vauban designed for Bellegarde a strong pentagonal fort with a detached hornwork extending southwards towards the frontier. The defences consist of a five bastioned trace, with ...
Founded: 1675 | Location: Le Perthus, France

Fort Médoc

Built on marshy land on the Left Bank of the Gironde, opposite Fort Pâté, Fort Médoc was a key part of Vauban"s three-point defence system. Its purpose was to block the passage of ships between Île Pâté and Cussac in the Médoc. Fort Médoc was built in 1689-1690 on low-lying terrain with alluvial soil. The artillery battery was pointed towards Blaye and most of the ...
Founded: 1689-1690 | Location: Cussac-Fort-Médoc, France

Saint-Martin-de-Ré Citadel

The l"île de Ré, opposite La Rochelle, was subjected on several occasions to attack from British soldiers. Conscious of the need to protect access to La Rochelle and Rochefort, in 1681 Vauban started strengthening the island"s defences by building a citadel and fortified castle at Saint-Martin-de-Ré, on the North coast. Built on the site of a fortress where construction work had started in 1 ...
Founded: 1681 | Location: Saint-Martin-de-Ré, France

Fort Mont Louis

Located in the eastern Pyrenees at an altitude of 1600 metres, the stronghold of Mont-Louis was built from scratch by Vauban on granite terrain and is perfectly adapted to the geography of the site. Work started in 1679 and was completed in two years. The fortified ensemble was added as a complement to Villefranche-de-Conflent in securing the route from the Pyrenees. This ensemble consists of two square structures, in ti ...
Founded: 1679 | Location: Mont-Louis, France

Fort Paté

Fort Paté is a small oval battery on an island in the middle of the river Gironde, just big enough to hold the soldiers who defend it. It was built between 1685 and 1693 as part of the verrou de Blaye, a system of three forts built to seal the river against enemy ships. The fort was situated so as to support the river batteries at Blaye on the right bank and Fort Médoc on the left bank. The island used to b ...
Founded: 1693 | Location: Blaye, France

Bayonne Citadel

Bayonne has been inhabited since roman times, when it was known as Lapurdum. Its medieval fortifications were improved by Louis XII, and Francois I, enabling the town to defend itself against a Spanish army in 1523. Vauban visited Bayonne sometime in the 1670"s, and planned more improvements to the fortifications, including the construction of additional demi-lunes and a large, quadrangular citadel to the north ...
Founded: 1670s | Location: Bayonne, France

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.