There has been some kind of fortification at Bouillon for over a thousand years, guarding the Semois valley, which is an obvious route for invasions of France. The Duchy of Bouillon was owned by the Dukes of Ardenne until 1096, when it passed into the hands of the Prince-bishops of Liège. In the 16th century, the title of Duke of Bouillon was usurped by the La Marck family. In 1591, Henry de la Tour d'Auvergne, father of Marshal Turenne, inherited the title but did not own the castle or the Duchy. In 1676 Louis XIV's'troops captured the castle of a 20-day siege. The town, castle and Duchy were handed to the La Tour d'Avergne family in 1678.

The castle of Bouillon above the river Semois.

After Bouillon had been captured by the French, Louis XIV sent Vauban'to improve the defences there. Lying in a loop of the river Semois, Bouillon presented a similar situation to Besançon, but on a smaller scale. The heights on the landward entrance to the loop were already protected, as at Besançon, but here the defences were the outdated walls of the castle instead of the modern Spanish citadel'at Besançon.

Vauban again used tower-bastions'where the river prohibited the construction of a full bastioned'trace. He built 9 tower bastions, connected by curtain walls to enclose the town of Bouillon, where the river acted as a ditch.

A map of Vauban's defences at Bouillon.

In addition to fortifying the town, Vauban made various improvements to the castle to bring it up to date. The castle has three successive ditches that were hewn out of the rock, each spanned by a drawbridge. There were three sections to the fortress, the first two being the smallest, effectively just large advanced gatehouses. The highest section was the largest and strongest. To its southern side, Vauban added a long, high loopholed'wall.

Embrasures were added to the walls of the castle to modify it for artillery use. Below, some loopholed walls added by Vauban can be seen. The round tower was a powder magazine, and had a gun platform on top before the sloping roof was added.

The loopholes were unusual in allowing each defender only three directions fire (he could fire either 45° to left, straight ahead, or 45° to the right). This restricted the field of fire, but gave greater protection to the defenders on this wall. Vauban may have decided that the wall was too inaccessible to be assaulted, so the price of this protection did not weaken the place. He also added a semicirular tower to flank this wall, and built a circular powder tower, which mounted guns on its roof.

The highest point of the fortress is the Austrian Tower, a large, long tower that was converted to mount artillery by George of Austria (Prince-bishop of Liège) in 1551. This tower has embrasures'on all sides. Originally the tower was roofed to shelter the gunners from the weather and enemy fire.

A diagram of the upper fortress - taken from the 'castle of Bouillon' guide-book, with my own annotations.

Below the Austrian Tower are two gun batteries, which can command the whole valley between them. At the landward side of the fortress is a man-made cut that seperates the castle from the Montagne de Bémont hill. This cut was deepened on Vauban's orders.

Visiting Bouillon

The northern side of the castle of Bouillon.

The castle of Bouillon is in very good condition, and can be visited for a small fee. There is an audio guide available and a good guide-book in various languages. The defences of the town have suffered from subsequent conflicts and development.

Only three of the nine tower bastions have survived, one just beneath the castle (this one can be seen in the first picture). The Musée Ducal in the town has on display a copy of the relief map of Bouillon's fortifications originally made in 1699. There is no railway station at Bouillon, but it is easily accessible by road, on the N89 a short distance from Charleville.

Condition Access to fortifications Size of fortress Accessability of town Museum/Info Overall score
10 9 10 7 7 8.6
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