Near Dunkirk, the town of Bergues had an odd shape, vaguely like an "8" because it had two center of town, one near an abbey.  Protected by medieval walls, the Spanish owners modernized the walls in the mid 1500s.  When the French took possession for good in the mid 1600s, Vauban was tasked with improving the defenses, and it became a vital link in the first of two lines of fortresses on the border with the Spanish, then the Austrian, Netherlands.  After the walls of Dunkirk were demolished in compliance with the 1713 treaty with Britain, Bergues gained importance.  

The medieval walls have been shortened and thickened to protect against gunpowder artillery.  Still inferior to a fortress of the time purpose designed and built, a generous number of outworks were built to compensate.  In addition, a system was designed to flood the area around the town.

Today Bergues is an interesting example of modernized medieval walls.  Although I was only able to visit for a short time, the photos of the place and of the plan relief in Lille should bring across the nature of the place.

In the distance, one of two crownworks protects the east side of town, home to the St Winoch's Benedictine Abbey.  This is the most strongly built section of the works - and the one easiest for the enemy to approach because this area could not be flooded.  Another crownwork, this one detached, can be seen at left of the photo with demi-lunes and a covered way to its front.  It was only completed in the 1740s during the War of Austrian Succession.

Eastern Section

This is the crownwork protecting the abbey sector.  To the front of the curtain wall is a false bray or a tenaille.  A demi-lune with a redoubt is in front of it, and two redoubts are even further forward to increase the depth of defense.


Detached Crownwork

Continuing to the right, the second, detached crownwork is visible at upper right center.  Between it and the first crownwork are several outworks and a covered way.

If you see the channel heading to the upper edge of the photo, we will next be going to where the channel passes through the walls.


Not clear in the photos, you can see the channel within the town, but the gate, the La Porte de Dunkerque, obscures the water's passage through the walls.  Several outworks are forward of the gate.


The River Colme passes through the city walls next to La Porte de Dunkerque on the left of the picture.   Loopholes can be seen along the wall.  If the model is accurate, where we are standing used to be part of the moat.  If we walk a little we can get a wider view.  See below.

Devices like ones at center can be used to regulate the water in the ditch.  It isn't in the model and is made partly of concrete.  Next we will walk along the path on the right along the small canal.

 The circular brick device sticking up is called a 'monk'.  Monks likely were used to prevent someone from walking along a wall, and they were more common on the water features of a fortress..

Nearby, this engineering work likely regulated the water in the moats on the western side of town. 

Resuming our walk along the moat you can see the last two features that we investigated.  The road cutting through the wall at right is not historical.

Porte de Beirne


La Porte de Cassel

This gate displays lovely royalist decoration.

La Porte de Cassel

In front of the gate was a demi-lune, traces of which can be found.  A hornwork existed to its front, but it has been lost.  The other outworks between the La Porte de Cassel and La Porte de Dunkerque are now occupied by a bus and rail facility, it appears, with only the moat surviving.

Continuing on, the medieval wall continues with loopholes.  On the right of the picture is an outwork.  The rest of the walls can be understood with the photo of the model below.

A hornwork and a redoubted demi-lune complete the defenses.  Beyond is the crownwork at the abbey that we have already seen.

Copyright 2011 by John Hamill

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