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Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban and His fortified Towns

Sébastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban and later Marquis de Vauban, or simply Vauban, was a French Military engineer, who’s skill was designing town fortifications ( 15 May 1633 – 30 March 1707 ). He also advised Louis XIV on how to consolidate France’s borders, to make them more defensible. Vauban made a radical suggestion of giving up some land that was indefensible to allow for a stronger, less porous border with France’s neighbours.

Brief History

Vauban was born in Saint-Léger-de-Foucheret (renamed Saint-Léger-Vauban in his honour in 1867), in the département of Yonne, in Burgundy. At the age of 10, Vauban was orphaned and spent his childhood amongst the poor and peaants. A fortunate event brought him under the care of the Carmelite prior of Semur, who undertook his education, and the grounding in mathematics, science and geometry which he thus received was of the highest value in his subsequent career.At the age of seventeen Vauban joined the regiment of Condé in the war of the Fronde. His gallant conduct won him within a year the offer of a commission, which he declined on account of poverty. Condé then employed him to assist in the fortification of Clermont-en-Argonne. Soon afterwards he was taken prisoner by the royal troops; but though a rebel he was well-treated, and the kindness of Cardinal Mazarin converted the young engineer into a devoted servant of the king. Vauban fought in many battles and was injured a number of times. Between 1667 and 1707, Vauban upgraded the fortifications of around 300 cities. Vauban died in Paris, of an inflammation of the lungs. During the French Revolution his remains were scattered, but in 1808 his heart was found and deposited by order of Napoléon in the church of Les Invalides.

UNESCO in France

UNESCO or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized organization of the UN. UNESCO’s aim is “to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information”. UNESCO pursue its objectives through five major programs: education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture, and communication and information. Projects sponsored by UNESCO include literacy, technical, and teacher-training programmes; international science programmes; the promotion of independent media and freedom of the press; regional and cultural history projects; the promotion of cultural diversity; translations of world literature; international cooperation agreements to secure the world cultural and natural heritage (World Heritage Sites) and to preserve human rights, and attempts to bridge the worldwide digital divide. It is also a member of the United Nations Development Group.

Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban and His fortified Towns

12 UNESCO Vauban Fortified Cities

Arras, France

Arras is the capital of the Pas-de-Calais department in northern France on the Scarpe river. The centre of the town is marked by two large squares, the Grande Place and the Place des Héros, also called the Petite Place. These are surrounded by buildings largely restored to their pre-war World War I conditions. Most notable are the Gothic town hall.

Besançon, France

Besançon is the capital and principal city of the Franche-Comté region in eastern France. Vauban worked on the Citadels fortifications, which took 30 years. Walls built in that era surround the city. Between the train station and the central city there is a complex moat system that now serves road traffic. Numerous forts, some of which date back to the time and that incorporate Vauban’s designs elements, sit on the six hills that surround the city: Fort de Trois Châtels, Fort Chaudanne, Fort du Petit Chaudanne, Fort Griffon, Fort des Justices, Fort Beauregard and Fort de Brégille. The citadel itself has two dry moats, with an outer and inner court. In the evenings, the Citadelle is illuminated and stands above the city as a landmark and a testament to Vauban’s genius as a military engineer.

Blaye/Cussac-Fort-Médoc, France

The town has a citadel built by Vauban on a rock beside the river, and embracing in its ancient ruins of an old Gothic château. The latter contains the tomb of Charibert II, king of Aquitaine, and son of Clotaire II. Blaye is also defended by the Fort Paté on an island in the river and the Fort Médoc on its left bank, both of the 17th century. The citadel of Blaye, its city walls, the Fort Paté and the Fort Médoc (the latter in nearby Cussac-Fort-Médoc) were listed in 2008 as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as part of the “Fortifications of Vauban” group.

Briançon, France

The historical centre 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. On 8 July 2008, several buildings of Briançon were classified by the UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, as part of the “Fortifications of Vauban” group. These buildings are: the city walls, Redoute des Salettes, Fort des Trois-Têtes, Fort du Randouillet, ouvrage de la communication Y and the Asfeld Bridge.

Camaret-sur-Mer, France

Camaret-sur-Mer is a commune in the Finistère department in northwestern France, located at the end of Crozon peninsula. Camaret-sur-Mer is home to the Tour Vauban or Tour dorée (lit. “Golden Tower”), a historic fortification guarding the harbor and built in 1669-94. In 2008, the Tour dorée was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as part of the “Fortifications of Vauban” group. Camaret also is home to a marina and some beaches.

Longwy, France

Longwy is a commune in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department in north-eastern France. Longwy initially belonged to Lotharingia. After the division of that kingdom, the town became part of Upper Lorraine and ultimately the Duchy of Bar. Longwy was ceded to the Duke Wenceslaus I of Luxembourg in 1368, but was returned to Bar in 1378. The Duchy of Bar was then annexed into the Duchy of Lorraine in 1480. From 1648–1660 Longwy was part of the Kingdom of France, returning to the Duchy of Lorraine afterwards. It was made part of France again in 1670, a situation which was finalized in the Treaties of Nijmegen in 1678. Vauban fortified the town during the reign of King Louis XIV of France.

Mont-Dauphin, France

Mont-Dauphin is a commune in the Hautes-Alpes department in southeastern France. At the confluence of Durance and Guil rivers, overlooking the impressive canyon of the latter flowing down from Queyras valley, Mont-Dauphin is one of the many places fortified by Vauban in the second half of the 17th century. In 2008, the place forte of Mont-Dauphin, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as part of the “Fortifications of Vauban” group.

Mont-Louis, France

Mont-Louis is a commune in the Pyrénées-Orientales department in southern France. In 2008, the citadel and the city walls of Mont-Louis were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as part of the “Fortifications of Vauban” group. The Mont-Louis Solar Furnace, is the world’s first solar furnace, built in 1949, by engineer Felix Trombe. It is open to visit for practical education on solar energy uses and technologies.

Neuf-Brisach, France

Neuf-Brisach is a commune in the Haut-Rhin department in Alsace in north-eastern France. The town’s name means New Breisach, referring to the German town Breisach, located on the other side of the Rhine. Work begun in 1698, to plans drawn by Vauban. Vauban died in 1707 and this, his last work, was completed by Louis de Cormontaigne. The city’s layout was that of an ‘ideal city’, as was popular at the time, with a regular square grid street pattern inside an octagonal fortification. Generous space was given to a central square across the four blocks at the middle, flanked by an impressive church. Individual blocks were offered for private development, either as affluent houses in private gardens, or as properties for commercial rent. Simpler housing was provided in long tenement blocks, built inside each curtain wall, which also had the effect of shielding the better houses from the risk of cannon fire. Access was provided by large gateways in the principal four curtain walls.

Saint-Martin-de-Ré, France

Saint-Martin-de-Ré is a commune in the Charente-Maritime department in southwestern France. Saint-Martin-de-Ré has extensive fortifications, reflecting the strategic importance of the Île de Ré. During the Wars of Religion in the 1620s, Cardinal Richelieu ordered that the island be fortified as a counterweight to the Protestant nearby city of La Rochelle on the French mainland. This included a citadel at Saint Martin. After La Rochelle had been subdued, Saint-Martin’s fortification were largely demolished to remove its potential threat to royal power. In 1627, an English invasion force under the command of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham attacked the island in order to relieve the Siege of La Rochelle. After three months of combats in the Siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré against the French under Marshal Toiras, the Duke was forced to withdraw in defeat. Later, in the 1670s, the French engineer, Vauban was commissioned to review and overhaul the island’s defences and, as a result, Saint Martin was enclosed by extensive and modern walls and embankments. This was done in three major phases ending in 1702 and the end result was an enclosed town capable of housing the island’s population for a long siege.

Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, France

Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is a commune in the Manche department in Normandy in north-western France. Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is located in Normandy and was a part of the Duchy of Normandy. Hougue is a Jèrriais/Norman language word meaning a “mound” and comes from the Old Norse word haugr. The naval Battle of La Hougue took place off the town in 1692. On 3 June 1692 during a heated battle with the Anglo-Dutch fleet, twelve French ships were sunk in the vicinity of the Island of Tatihou, just off the coast of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue. It was the decisive naval battle of the Nine Years’ War, also known as the War of the English Succession.

Villefranche-de-Conflent, France

Villefranche-de-Conflent is historically a town in the Conflent region of Catalonia, and now a commune in the Pyrénées-Orientales department in southern France. At the meeting of the Têt and Cady rivers, Villefranche-de-Conflent joins the road down the valley from Mont-Louis and Spain. The town is dominated by the mountainsides around it, which provide many ideal locations for enemy batteries to hammer the walls. This weakness is partly alleviated by the presence of Fort Liberia high above, which protects the town. The situation of Villefranche required a unique solution to many of the problems that were presented there, and Vauban formed many novel ideas to overcome these problems.

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