Longwy

Article and pictures by Jeroen van der Werf, all rights reserved.
Map of Longwy with Vauban's fortifications.

Longwy, like many towns in Lorraine, passed in and out of French hands throughout the 17th century. In the Treaty of Nijmegen'in 1679, which put an end to the Dutch wars, Lorraine and thus Longwy were officially signed over to the French who had already taken the town in 1670.

Louis XIV'needed a strong border fortress to counter to the army stationed in Luxembourg, which remained in Spanish hands. Longwy, which stands on a high mountain plateau overlooking a valley about 40km south-east of Luxembourg, was an excellent candidate for fortification. Besides countering the Spanish fortress of Luxembourg it also guarded an important route through the Ardennes. The old town was demolished and a completely new one was built.

The king's military engineer Vauban'was charged with the construction of the new fortress, which took the form of a large hexagon. There were 6 arrow headed bastions, 5 demi-lunes'and a hornwork'in the north-east. The basitions flanking the south-east front, overlooks the cliff, were given false brays'in their flanks, probably in order to take full advantage of the steep gradient here. A covered way'surrounded the whole town, and there were two gates.

The Porte de France, gateway into Longwy from the south.

A special point of interest in this town is the water supply. Because the town was located on a high plateau, water was scarce. The town had several basins to hold rain water but this wasn’t enough to withstand a long siege, so other measures had to be taken. Water needed to be brought to the town in a way invisible to the enemy and it had to be enough to provide the town with enough water to get through a siege.

The walls of Longwy.

In order to solve this problem, Vauban ordered that tunnels should be dug to two nearby sources so that they could provide water for the town. This meant digging two underground tunnels through the rock, each one over a kilometre in length.

The water table is about 40 meters below the level of the plateau and the siege well is 60 meters deep. A huge amount of tunneling had to be acheived in order to provide a supply of fresh water for the fortress.

Water was supplied to the town in the following way: There were 5 wells - the governor, cadets, infantry and cavalry each had their own well. On the central square the main bombproof siege well was situated. This well provided water for the rest of the town.

The bomb-proof well in the town square.

Water was brought up from the well by a big wheel, moved by men walking in it. The water was distributed into 7 basins inside the building and into two basins outside the building, from which the people could take water.

Visiting Longwy

The ramparts and the Porte de France.

Although only two thirds of the city walls remain, the chessboard street plan is still intact. Longwy is nominated to become a UNESCO world heritage site, so the fortifications are being restored and the accessibility of the ditches seems to have been improved recently.

Even so, the fortifications are used as a rubbish dump and public toilet, so entering poternes and bomb shelters is not recommended. Today four of the bastions with curtain walls and 2 demi-lunes remain. A part of the hornwork is still visible. Only one gate remains and the gatehouse was partly destroyed in the First World War.

Several of the 17th and 18th century buildings still survive today - the 18th century bakery now holds a museum and one of the barracks has survived and is now a school. The church still stands on the town square. Its bell tower used to be higher so that it could be used as a look out, but it was almost completely destroyed in 1914 and rebuilt again in the 1920’s. The bell tower wasn’t restored to its original height.

The restored church.

The siege well now holds the tourist office (during the season) and can be visited. Although large parts of the fortifications are lost and the remaining parts aren’t the most spectacular ones, the fact that Longwy was a new town, built from scratch in the 17th century, which can still be seen very clearly makes it well worth a visit.

The ditch and covered way (left and centre) and a bastion (right). View along the face of a bastion.
The Porte de France. A bombshelter.
The rear of the Porte de France. The walls of Longwy.
A traverse on the covered way. The bridge cross the ditch in front of the Porte de France.
Left: wall, right: covered way. Access ramp and stairs to the covered way.
Article and pictures by Jeroen van der Werf, all rights reserved.
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