The Citadelle is probably Besançon's most famous landmark. The center of Besançon is surrounded by the Doubs river which forms the city into a "boucle" or a loop. The Citadelle is situated on a hill that separates the joining of the river. It's natural form created a strategic protection against invading neighbors. Julius Caesar, himself, commented on Besançon's shape in 58 BC:
" ... the river Doubs surrounds almost the entire town, as though traced with a compass. …the gap left by the river, no more than sixteen hundred feet wide, is closed by a high mountain in such a way that both its sides touch the river banks. A wall encloses the mountain, turning it into a citadel and connects it with the town". He made these observations during the Gallic Wars. At first a temple was built on the hall during the Roman empire. The ruins remained until the construction of the present day Citadelle int he 17th century.
When Louis XIV took over the Franche Comté region, he commissioned Vauban, the reknown architect at the time, to fortify the city against invaders. The possession of Besançon was juggled between Louis XIV and the Spaniards during the construction of the Citadelle. Besançon finally became a part of France in the late 17th century. After 30 years of collective work of all of the city's habitants to build the immense fort, construction was finally completed in 1711.
For the years to come, the Citadelle was used as a fortess, barracks, and even a prison during the wars to come: the Franco-Prussian War, the French Revolution, WWI and WWII.
During the Second World War, the Nazis occupied Besançon and took control of the Citadelle. It was used as an area for executing the resistants of Nazi occupation in the city.
In 1944, the Americans took control of the Citadelle and returned it to the French. The French Army then took over until 1953 when they gave it up to the city of Besançon. Since, it has become a museum.
Inside the Citadelle, there are a number of different museums and sites to see including:
- A Vauban exhibit
-Natural History Museum
-A Zoo which includes animals such as: monkeys, lions, kangaroos and more!
-The Resistance Museum (not for young children)
Having visited the Citadelle many times, it's always a joy to return to visit all of the museums and sites again and again. There's always something new to learn and to visit because there is so much history. My personal favorite site is the Resistance museum. Although it is very graphic, there are many photos, letters, and several objects and possessions of the Nazis and the Jewish prisoners dating from the war. It's very well put together and it brings out a lot of emotions.
Visit the official website to learn more about the Citadel.
(Thanks to the official Citadel website and to Wikipedia for the facts)
(Photo taken from the web)