Montmédy

Photographs by Jeroen van der Werf, except where specified.

The Emperor Charles V'began the first construction of 'modern' defences at Montmédy in 1545 and successive Spanish governors added to these fortifications. The improvements made in the early 17th century gave the defences the shape they retain today.

In 1657 a French army, commanded by Louis XIV'himself invested the town and took it after a two-month siege, which was directed by Vauban. The Treaty of the Pyrenees'confirmed French ownership of the town, and Vauban improved its defences, though for the most part he did not alter the citadel'from its previous design.

The citadel of Montmédy stands on a hill above the town that offers a good view of the surrounding country. The main entrance road winds up the hillside from the town below, although there is also a path that runs directly up from the town. This path is protected on both sides by the walls of the town, which extend up the hillside to meet the citadel. The basic form of the citadel is that of a large bastioned'triangle.

The citadel has an unusual character, having been fortified gradually and almost continuously for over a century by the Spanish. Legend has it that the entrance demi-lune'(pictured above) was constructed by Vauban himself, when he was serving under Prince Condé, an ally of the Spanish. The demi-lune was constructed between 1648 and 1652, so Vauban would have been 15-19 years old when it was being carried out. It is highly unlikely that he was involved, though not of course impossible.

In places there are multiple levels of defence, with a Spanish-style false-bray'in some places. The Bastion du Boulevard is on the lower level (projecting from the false bray, which protects that part of the wall. Most of the other bastions are on the level of the main wall, and the Bastion du Boulevard acts more as a demi-lune than as a real bastion. Another interesting feature of Montmédy is the isolated bastion to the right of the gatehouse (when looking at it from the inside). This bastion is not connected to the main wall behind it (which is higher than it), and is only reached via the gatehouse (see image below left). The inside of the bastion is covered by the wall the other side of the road. This means that an enemy who has captured this bastion would not be able to easily capture the main wall as well.

Vauban's contributions to the citadel were the covered way'and the realignment of the defences, principally the Demi-Lune de Porcs, which existed without masonry before Vauban altered the line of the defences and had it revetted in stone.

Visiting Montmédy

Very little of the town's defences remain to be seen, though if you look hard there are bits and peices (I found two bastions, one of which had been made into a public garden). The citadel however, is intact and you can walk the walls by entering at the tourist information (about 4€).

Although a little overgrown, the defences are in good condition and well worth visiting. The 4€ entrance fee gives access into two museums as well as the walls of the citadel, one is an art gallery and the other is a very interesting museum on fortifications which contains a relief map of Montmédy under siege in 1657. The citadel of Montmédy is one of my favourite fortresses.

Even though it is neither the largest nor the most impressive citadel in France, it has the more unusual style of fortification built by the Spanish, coupled with the natural beauty of north Lorraine, one of my favourite areas of France.

Photographs by Jeroen van der Werf, except where specified.

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