Absorbed into France in the early 1600s, Belfort, lies in a gap between the Vosges and Jura Mountains, making it a natural invasion route into France.  In 1678, Vauban was set to work improving the town's fortifications, demolishing the old defenses and extending the town to the River Savoureuse.  Construction was complete in 1703.  Jura sandstone was used, which was locally available and thought to harden when exposed to the air.  Improvements were made in the fortifications in the early 1800s by General Haxo.

Belfort is well worth a visit.  The citadel, on the lower portion of the map, is on bluffs overlooking the city.  Vauban designed a hornwork in front of the citadel, but it was replaced in the early 1800s by Haxo's design.  In the lower part of town, Vauban used his tower bastion design with a detached bastion, or counterguard, in front of it.  Neuf-Brisach, just a short drive away, is the best known for this design.   

This model in the city history museum housed within the citadel shows Vauban's design.  The medieval castle was converted into a citadel, and a detached fort was built on La Miotte hill.  Note the tower bastions and detached bastions.  

This is the portion of town with preserved fortifications, the citadel atop the bluffs along with Brisach Gate.  Below is a sign showing the cross section of the uphill portion.

Unlike some other, more theoretical, designers, Vauban believed that each fort should be adapted to the specific terrain at the location.  Here, terracing was useful, but in other, lower fortress sites, he might make use of complex water works to create a wet ditch, or moat.  At Belfort because of the hilly terrain, he made frequent use of traverses to protect against enfilade fire.

Although Vauban did not categorize his designs into 'systems', later fort designers considered Vauban to have had three systems.  Belfort, with its detached bastions, was considered an example of the second system.  Only one fortress, Neuf Brisach, was made according to his third system.

This panorama is from the inner portion of a detached bastion, counterguard 28, looking at the tower bastion that it protects.  Strong stone traverses are prominent features of the counterguard.  You can see a walkway through the one at right.  The tiled rooves on the tower bastions were added later.  A wall connects the detached bastion, or counterguard, to the wall.  Firing ports on this connecting wall help protect the ditch.  The curtain wall extends toward the right to Tower bastion 41, and another curtain wall extends to the left to the Brisach Gate, then the walls continue further uphill to another bastion, then to the citadel, which you can see on the high ground.

From the curtain wall near the tower bastion.

With the distortion in this 180 degree view from the curtain wall, the wallwalk on the left and right are one and the same.  The demi-lune is visible right-center.


At left is the entrance through the demi-lune.  At right is the gate through the curtain wall.  Below is the drawbridge mechanism with counterweights for the gate through the curtain wall.

Now we are walking up to the citadel and looking back at the town side of the walls.  The white building on the left is atop the Brisach Gate.  At right are some of the tiered defenses where the fortifications climb the hill to the citadel.

The citadel sits atop near vertical cliffs on the town side.

Is this the view from where the city walls meet up with the citadel, at right.  Now, we will continue through the opening at right.


The citadel was especially strongly protected as it was designed to hold out even if the city fell to the enemy.  The citadel also had the politcal purpose of helping to control the populace.  We will now head to the citadel!  

This is the wall overlooking the city.

This is the view from atop the citadel.  The entrance here is convoluted, as you can see - on purpose.  Now, we will see the area off the picture to the right, where Vauban built a hornwork and Haxo made extensive modifications in the 1800s.  But first, let's see the model of Vauban's design.

At right is the lower area that we have already seen.  Vauban's hornwork protecting the citadel can be seen at left.  Note the traverses not only on the covered way but also within the hornwork and also in the demi-lune to its front.

This is the view from the other side.  From here, the slope of the hill is obvious, requiring the unusual series of traverses on the sloping section covered way.  The 'horns' of the hornwork and the demi-lune in front of it would be retained by Haxo, but the rest would be radically changed.

Complex?  Yes, it is, but even more so for an attacker!  Just off either side of the panorama are the bluffs descending into the old part of town.  The area shown here is Haxo's modification of Vauban's design.  The two bastions and curtain wall are from the citadel and pre-date Vauban.  Vauban added a hornwork in front of these works.  Haxo cut two additional moats through the hornwork to add depth to the defense.  Next, we will go down into the outer portion of Haxo's area.


We have walked through the exit visible at center and past the Sherman tank.  Now we will walk down the trail at left.

This sign shows Vauban's hornwork and the later modifications.  The red dot on the map is the location of this sign, which you can see in the center of the panorama below.

Panorama format may make this more confusing than it it.  The walls at far left and far right and the same wall, which passes behind you.  The wall and bastions projecting from it at left and right are Vauban's hornwork.  These bastions feature curved corners, called orillons, which form recessed areas.  This recessed area has been modified with an additional wall with firing slits to provide a crossfire through the ditch.  Across this ditch is a demi-lune.  This is the feature in the center with ramps.  The demi-lune includes a traverse through its center line.

This is further down the trail at the tip of the hornwork, at the red dot on the map below.  At right you can see the area that we just came from and the modified recessed area of the hornwork's bastion.  Now we will continue down the trail at left.  This area was left unfortified by Vauban.  In fact, the change in stone work in the center of the photo is the likely transition point.

This is the view from the forward edge of the defenses, on the glacis, looking back across Haxo's works to the citadel.  Bluffs are on the left.  A small demi-lune is at right center, but the impressive depth of the defenses is not obvious from here.

Belfort was besieged on thee different occasions.

Copyright 2010 by John Hamill

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