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 east.
The Savoyards made two raids into French territory in 1691 and 1692. As a result, Vauban was dispatched to inspect the frontier defences, which had been ill-equiped to deal with the attack from Savoy. He returned to the area in 1700 to check on the progress that had been made since his first visit. When Vauban visited Briançon, work on the defences had already started under a local engineer, Monsieur d'Angrogne in 1692. His work was a crude adaption of the medieval walls, but the flanks of the bastioned trace he attempted to create were very short, being severely restricted by the terrain. Always ready to be flexible, Vauban abandoned conventional principles and his own usual design, and created a layered defence with a Spanish-style false bray for the Embrun front. The defences of the Embrun front are unusual for Vauban in that they employ a tenaille trace in places.
The Pignerol front used a more conventional bastioned trace with demi-lunes and a covered way. High above the town was the citadel, which formed part of the defences. The citadel was practically unapproachable most of the way round, so its defences did not need to follow a bastioned trace - walls and the cliffs would be sufficient to prevent an assault.
Over the course of the 18th century, various other fortifications were constructed at Briançon to protect the nearby heights. These include the Fort des Salettes (originally built in 1700, but much enlarged in the 18th and 19th centuries), Fort des Têtes (a massive fort that is bigger than the town itself, first thought of by Vauban but built after his death), the Fort du Dauphin, the Fort Randouillet and the Fort d'Anjou.
In 2008, several buildings of Briançon were classified by the UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, as part of the 'Fortifications of Vauban' group.References:
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).