Navarrenx Citadel

Navarrenx, France

The earliest history of the Navarrenx date to the first century. The village is reported in a cartulary of the eleventh century under the name of Sponda-Navarrensis.

In 1523, the Castilians seized the city and destroyed its castle. Henry II of Albret, the king of Navarre, decided to reinforce defences on the right bank of the mountain stream of Oloron. From 1538 to 1546, fortification works were carried out under the direction of Béarn master builders François Girard and Arnaud de Mirassor, as per the design of Italian architectural engineer Fabricio Siciliano. Navarrenx was thus transformed into a modern fortified town 'Italian-style', based on the citadel of Lucas in Tuscany. Later, a powder magazine would be built that would store up to 11,000 kg of gunpowder.

The fortifications were tried and tested during religious wars under the reign of Jeanne of Albret, when the garrison under the command of the Baron of Arros successfully resisted a three-month siege in 1568. The town was re-equipped in the 18th century, in particular with the Saint-Antoine gate built by engineer De Salmon on the ruins of an old church. Facing Spain, the gate owed its name to a chapel that welcomed pilgrims and was destroyed during the construction of the ramparts. With three massive arcades, the town was accessed via a drawbridge, the passage of the chains of which can still be seen today. In the 19th century, work on road and rail infrastructure led to the destruction of the old Saint-Germain gate which faced France.

Over the centuries, the fortified wall of Navarrenx has retained its main features. It outlines a reinforced firing range at each of its five corners with a bastion. Two of the five are fitted with anti-mine galleries, while a glacis and ground structures reinforce the town to the east, ahead of the moat. Several barracks have been built inside the walls to house the garrison, one of which nowadays is used as the tourist information office. From the top of the ramparts (for example, from the crenellation platform overhanging the Saint-Antoine gate), there is a pleasant view of the Pyrenees and, below, the arches of the bridge of Navarrenx (13th century). Visits There is free access to the 1818-metre perimeter of the town. The walls of the city contain bilingual (French-English) descriptive plaques that trace the history of each structure. Information on guided visits can be obtained from the Navarrenx district tourist office.

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Founded: 1538
Category: Castles and fortifications in France

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