Lille

Lille, being a large influential town, had been fortified under the Dukes of Bourgogne, and when it was taken by the French in 1668, the fortifications consisted of a basic bastioned'wall with bulwarks in front of the gates.

Although it had a ditch'flooded by the river, the medieval wall was left without bastions in places, weakening the fortifications.

After the French had taken the city, Vauban'was charged with the task of improving the fortifications. In 1670, work began to demolish part of the old wall in order to enlarge the defences and to allow the town to grow into the newly created space.

The improved fortifications brought the town's defences up to an impressive standard: there were no fewer than 16 bastions on the main wall, with a strong pentagonal citadel'in the north-west. There were four hornworks, and a series of triangular works in front of the Water-Gate.

The garrison needed to defend this giant was calculated at 12000 by Vauban, of whom 1000 would be engaged in the defence of the citadel. Of the 7 gates into Lille, the Porte de Paris was chosen to be transformed into a monument to the power of Louis XIV.

It was redesigned as a great 32-metre high work of art, with sculptures of figures from Greek and Roman mythology. Lille was besieged by Marlborough'and Eugène'in 1708 (Siege of Lille), defended by Boufflers. After a 4 month siege, Boufflers capitulated, having run out of powder.

On the southern side of the town, a large bastion was fortified against the town, forming a fort. The fort, called Fort Saint Sauveur, replaced an earlier Spanish work called Fort Campi. During his time in Lille as governor, Vauban lived in Fort Saint-Sauveur.

Another fort of this type, Fort Griffon, was built by Vauban at Besançon. Together with two hornworks (one either side of it), Fort Saint Sauveur made the southern end of the defences of Lille the strongest section (except perhaps for the citadel). Vauban said that another function of Fort Saint Sauveur was to guard against the residents of the Saint Sauveur quarter of the town. He is quoted as saying, "...[the inhabitants of Saint Sauveur] have nothing to lose and are, consequentially the most seditious".

The pentagonal citadel of Lille was later called "The Queen of Citadels" by Vauban. It was begun in 1668 and finished in 1672, costing more than 1,500,000 florins (alot). It has been described as "...the strongest citadel in Europe, if not the world."

The citadel was placed so as to be extremely hard to take, the areas around it being very marshy, and the only firm approach was from within the town. Its two flooded ditches, second covered way'and numerous lunettes'also add to its supreme strength.

Visiting Lille

Lille is one of the biggest cities in France, and is easily accessible by rail. The station for normal trains is called Lille Flandres, but Eurostar also run trains to Lille, to the Euralille station. Accommodation is plentiful in the city, but it is wise to book during the summer.

The fortifications of Lille were dismantled towards the end of the 19th century, with the exception of the citadel and the gates. The huge citadel is in excellent condition, although the outworks are overgrown in places. The interior is still occupied by the military, although guided tours are available on Sundays. The outworks of the citadel form a large park, which is always accessible.

The monumental Porte de Paris is intact and has been restored recently, although the adjacent fortifications were demolished, so only the gate remains. At Fort Saint-Sauveur, which is now a college, some of the interior buildings, including the chapel, have survived.

Farther north, the Porte de Roubaix (Roubaix Gate) and a small section of rampart are situated in the Parc Henri Matisse. A few streets away stands the Porte de Gand (Ghent Gate), complete with the adjacent bastions, its demi-lune and a rare type of false bray'from Vauban's first system.

Both these gates were widened in the 19th century to ease the flow of traffic through them by the addition of two extra arches. Another must is the Musée des Beaux Arts, which contains relief maps of 15 fortified towns in the north of France, Belgium and Holland, including Lille itself.

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