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Vauban’s impressive legacy

Vauban's FortificationsWatching the Tour de France last week, I noticed that one stage finished in the town of Briancon (05 Hautes-Alpes, Provence-Alpes–Cote d’Azur, which claims to be the highest city in France, and features an impressive defensive Citadel designed by Vauban. Napoleon’s treasured Military architect.

2007 is the three hundredth anniversary of his death, and hence numerous events are planned to celebrate this master of military invention. His physical legacy is of course the list of imitimidating fortresses to defend le Hexagone – the defensible boundaries of France from the northern border with Belgium down to the Alps, along the Mediterranean and up the Atlantic Coast. However, his military reputation initially was more concerned with planning and implementing sieges – so in many ways he was a poacher-turned-gamekeeper – if you are good as breaking sieges, then who better to design defenses to repel them? The hallmark of Vauban is his impressive use of massive angular pentagonal walls which prevented attackers targetting one section of wall without being at risk of counter-attack from an adjacent section. The classic examples are the Citadel at Lille, Briancon and Besancon, although many other examples exist.

Vauban fortifications at Le PalaisMy favourite is on the island of Belle-Ile off the coast of Brittany, where the fortifications adjacent to the small harbout of Le Palais are most impressive. More familiar to visitors to France will be the fortifications at St Malo and la Rochelle. Vauban left his mark on most of the land and sea frontiers of France, although he was born in Burgundy which hosts only one of his constructiona. On the Côte d’Azur, Antibes, Villefranche, Cannes and St.Tropez. Toulon, Marseille, Collioure on the Mediterranean;

other sites are at Arras, Auxonne, Barraux, Bayonne, Belfort, Bergues, Bitche, Blaye, Bouillon, Calais, Cambrai, Colmars-les-Alpes, Douai, Entrevaux, Givet, Gravelines, Huningue, Joux, Kehl, Landau, La Rochelle, Le Quesnoy, Lusignan, Le Perthus (Fort de Bellegarde), Luxembourg, Maastricht, Maubeuge, Metz, Mont-Dauphin, Mont-Louis, Montmédy, Namur, Neuf-Brisach, Perpignan, Plouezoc’h (Château du Taureau), Rocroi, Saarlouis, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Saint-Omer, Sedan, Toul, Valenciennes, Verdun, Villefranche-de-Conflent. For more info see www.vauban2007-bourgogne.org and www.sites-vauban.org

Vauban was the foremost military engineer of France, not only during his lifetime, but also throughout the 18th century when his legacy and methods remained in place almost unchanged. Indeed, his expertise and experience in the construction, defence, and attack of fortresses is unrivalled by any of his contemporaries, of any nationality. In all three of those fields he was a significant innovator and prolific exponent, having planned approximately 160 major defensive projects and directed over 50 sieges. This book provides not only a modern listing of his varied interventions and their fates, but also a wide-ranging discussion of just how and why they pushed forward the international boundaries of the arts of fortification.

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