Bayonne has been inhabited since roman times, when it was known as Lapurdum. Its medieval fortifications were improved by Louis XII, and Francois I, enabling the town to defend itself against a Spanish army in 1523.

A map of Bayonne as fortified by Vauban.

Vauban visited Bayonne sometime in the 1670's, and planned more improvements to the fortifications, including the construction of additional demi-lunes and a large, quadrangular citadel to the north of the river Adour. The city itself, which lies to the south of the Adour and is bisected by the river Nive, was surrounded by a wall of 9 rather eccentric bastions.

The citadel of Bayonne, detail from the relief map.

The citadel was designed from scratch by Vauban, and is a large square work with four bastions. It saw action against the invading British forces at the end of the Peninsular War, when it was taken by General Hill after a determined defence by the French.

The fortifications of Petit Bayonne, the eastern half of the town, had four bastions and one gate, the Porte de Notre Dame. To the west, Grand Bayonne had five bastions and two gates, the Porte d'Espagne (?) and the Porte de la Poterne. The first gate is unusual in that it enters the walls through a bastion, not through the courtine as is normally the case.

The fortifications of Petit Bayonne, on the right bank of the Nive.
The Porte d'Espagne

The size and shape of each bastion is very different, and there are varying lengths between them, which makes the fortifications seem less regular than some. This is probably due to the way Bayonne was fortified in several stages, with improvements added gradually.

Visiting Bayonne

The fortifications of Grand Bayonne, to the west of the Adour, have been altered in some places by the construction of sports pitches, car parks etc. but there is still alot to see. The section of these walls nearest the Adour no longer exists but four bastions remain this side of the river.

The redoubt at the confluence of the Nive and the Adour, currently being restored.
A demi-lune in Grand Bayonne, surrounded by tennis courts.

In Petit Bayonne, the surviving fortifications form a park. There is again quite alot that remains, and the walls are in good condition. The citadel is intact, though it is still in the hands of the French Army and therefore not open to the public.

The citadel can easily be seen rising above the town, but it is not possible to get close to it. Bayonne is easily accessible by rail - it is frequented by Bordeaux-Biarritz TGV trains, and there are plenty of places to stay in the town. The citadel is just behind the train station and the rest of the fortifications are over the bridge on the other bank of the Adour.

The citadel as seen from the town.
Condition Access to fortifications Size of fortress Accessability of town Museum/Info Overall score
7 6 7 7 2 5.8
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