Bock Fortifications

Luxemburg, Luxembourg

The Bock is a promontory in the north-eastern corner of Luxembourg City's old historical district. Offering a natural fortification, its rocky cliffs tower above the River Alzette which surrounds it on three sides. It was here that Count Siegfried built his Castle of Lucilinburhuc in 963, providing a basis for the development of the town which became Luxembourg. However, the Romans and later Franks had probably already inhabited the Bock although there is only scant archeological evidence of their presence. There are however traces of a 4th-century Roman watchtower close to the point in the Fish Market where two major Roman roads used to cross, one from Reims to Trier and the other from Metz to Liège.

Over the centuries, Siegfried's fortified castle on the Bock was considerably enlarged and protected with additional walls and defences. In 987, the castle chapel was built at the nearby Fish Market. Today's St Michael's Church stands on the same site. Under Conrad I, the castle became the residence of the Counts of Luxembourg. It was damaged, destroyed, captured and rebuilt on several occasions as the Burgundians (1473), the Habsburgs (1477), and the Spaniards (1555) attacked and took the fortress.

As time passed, the fortifications needed to be adapted to new methods of war based on increasingly strong firepower. During the 1640s under the Spaniards, the Swiss engineer Isaac von Treybach significantly reworked the defences. The Bock was also strengthened with three forts, the Large Bock, Middle Bock and Small Bock (from west to east), separated from each other by cuts in the rock and linked by bridges. As a result, little remained of the medieval castle.

A little later in 1684, on behalf of Louis XIV, Vauban succeeded in capturing the city of Luxembourg during a month-long siege under which the Bock fortifications were completely flattened. Thereafter Vauban, perhaps the most competent fortification engineer of his day, undertook major additions to the defences, realizing that underground passages and chambers were just as important as the surface installations. The Large Bock, connected to the old town by the Pont du Château, was further reinforced. Enclosed by a wall 12 m high, it was the major component of the new fortress.

In addition to these structures, the Bock also included a system of casemates which originated in the cellars of the medieval castle. In 1744, during the Austrian period, these underground passages were considerably enlarged by General Neipperg. The main passage. which still remains, is 110 m long and up to 7 m wide. Branches leading off on either side were equipped with no less than 25 cannon slots, 12 to the north and 13 to the south, offering considerable firepower. In the event of war, the Bock casemates, covering an area of 1,100 m2, could be used as barracks for several hundred soldiers.

Thanks to its defences, in 1794 during the French Revolutionary Wars, the city held out against the French siege for seven months. When the garrison finally surrendered, the walls were still unbreached. The fortifications were finally demolished under the terms of the Treaty of London in 1867. The demolition took 16 years and cost the enormous sum of 1.5 million gold francs.

In 1933, the Bock casemates were opened to the public. During the Second World War, they were used as a bomb shelter able to accommodate up to 35,000 people. In 1994, the casemates were added to the list of UNESCO's world heritage sites, attracting some 100,000 visitors a year. Renovation work and repairs were undertaken in 2008–2009 including the opening up of the mine galleries which contained explosives able to blow up part of the Bock in case of need.

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Founded: 963 AD
Category: Castles and fortifications in Luxembourg

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4.4/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Samia Bouriaba (9 months ago)
Omg so beautiful ! Like being in a time capsule, the fortress are in very good shape the country did well taking care of it. A must visit for sightseeing, it has gorgeous views on the city.
Mighty Fox (11 months ago)
nice view of the old town,I recommend
Alex (11 months ago)
There's a particular emphasis on the Gallo-Roman period with numerous fine displays illustrating the artistic, social, religious, and intellectual life of Luxembourgers from the 16th to the early 20th centuries. A must visit if you are into art.
Samia Bouriaba (11 months ago)
Omg so beautiful ! Like being in a time capsule, the fortress are in very good shape the country did well taking care of it. I must visit for sightseeing, it has gorgeous views on the city.
Eugen Safin (12 months ago)
Very impressive views onto Grund.
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Broch of Gurness

The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.

The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.

The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.

The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.

Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.

At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.

In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.