The town of Maubeuge, which was founded in the 7th century, was first fortified by the Count of Hainaut in the 13th century. In 1339 the walls were strengthened, but they were still not sufficient to prevent the troops of Louis XI of France from sacking the town.

Maubeuge passed to the Dukes of Burgundy in 1425, then to the Austrians in 1478 and to the Spanish in 1513. The 17th century brought yet more changes of ownership - the town was taken and retaken 5 times by the French and the Spanish in the wars on the northern frontier.

The town finally became French for good after the Treaty of Nijmegen'in 1678. Vauban'was charged with fortifying the place. He decided to change the form of the town, and pulled down a large number of houses so as to move the edge of the town farther away from the nearby hills from which it could be bombarded.

Vauban designed a trace of 7 arrow-headed bastions'around the town, 5 of which were to the north of the river Sambre and 2 to the south. All the bastions were equiped with cavaliers'to give the defenders a higher platform for their guns, offseting the disadvantage afforded by the high ground around the town.

The fortifications of Maubeuge present a perfect example of a typical 'Vauban trace' with arrow-headed bastions, demi-lunes, tenailles'and a covered way. This is sometimes known as Vauban's 'first system'.

In the south-east where the ground was low-lying and marshy Vauban constructed a large tenaille (which also had cavaliers) to protect the place where the river left the town. Behind this tenaille there was a raised battery that added to its strength.

In the north-east at the Pisselotte stream there was a small lunette'(with bonnets'either side of it) in place of a demi-lune, due to the difficult terrain there. There were some sluices and batardeaux'here so that the ditch'could be flooded.

Work on the fortifications was finished in 1685, after 5 of construction by around 10,000 workers. Maubeuge was integrated into the Pré Carre, Vauban's double line of fortresses guarding France's northern frontier. In 1709 an entrenched camp was created to the south of the town to strengthen it after the battle of Malplaquet.

Visiting Maubeuge

Maubeuge still has a large part of its fortified heritage, and boasts an excellently restored covered way in front of the Porte de Mons. The fortifications north of the Sambre all survive and are in good condition, but nothing remains south of the river.

This means there are 5 bastions, the Porte de Mons and the lunette in near-perfect condition. The tourist information office is housed within the Porte de Mons itself and a map showing a suggested route around the fortress is available there (although it is fairly easy to follow the line of the fortifications without guidance).

Maubeuge is easily accessable by train, the station is just south of the centre of town, where the fortifications are. This is one of the best preserved Vauban fortresses in the north and it is a must-see for all Vauban enthusiasts.

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