Namur

The town of Namur lies in a strategic position at the confluence of two important rivers, the Sambre and the Meuse. In the angle between the two rivers on the rocky height that rises above the town a castle was built in the middle ages.

This castle was built and enlarged by the Counts of Namur, who controlled the region from the 10th century onwards. The castle was protected on the north, east and west sides by the rivers and by a ravine on the west side. In time the castle spread onto the west side of the ravine.

In addition to the fortifications of the castle the town was surrounded by walls, with new circuits being built as the town expanded. In 1530 new walls with large semi-circular towers were built to resist artillery, but these lacked flanking ability and there was dead ground in front of the towers.

The first bastioned'fortification at Namur was a hornwork'built to protect the western approach to the castle in the 1540s. This was followed by the construction of a trace of 6 bastions protecting the north side of the town (the south side being protected by the river).

This trace was fronted by a flooded ditch'and the earlier wall was left intact behind it to add another layer to the defence. During the Dutch revolt'Namur rebelled against Spanish rule but was recaptured in a surprise attack in 1577. The town then formed a base from which the Spanish launched their attacks on the other revolting provinces.

The frontier between the Spanish Netherlands and France lay to the south of Namur and was guarded by fortresses of Givet and Philippeville in the early 17th century. Despite this, Namur's fortifications were strengthened against the French threat.

From the 1630s the medieval castle, which eventually became known as the citadel, was strengthened by another hornwork with a demi-lune, built in front of 16th century hornwork to add more depth to the defences.

A continual concern for the engineers fortifying the citadel was that the ground to the west is much higher and overlooks the medieval castle and the two hornworks. This was initially rectified by the construction of a third hornwork to cover protect the heights.

However, this hornwork (shown on the map above) only covered the southern part of the high ground overlooking the citadel, so in 1655 it was remodelled with an extra bastion to the north. The demi-lune of the second hornwork was demolished at this time to facilitate the movement of troops through the citadel.

To reinforce the medieval castle on the sides facing the rivers Sambre and Meuse another set of walls was built. This circuit ran outside the castle and below it, consisting of an irregular loopholed'walls to guard against an attack from the direction of the river confluence.

These alterations were complete by 1675 and by this time the French under Louis XIV'had declared war and were attacking the Spanish Netherlands. Philippeville was annexed to France by the Treaty of the Pyrenees'in 1659 and Givet by the Treaty of Nijmegen'in 1678. This meant that Namur was on the front line and when war broke out again in 1688 it was only a matter of time before the French attack came.

In 1691 the Dutch fortification expert Menno van Coehoorn'was sent to Namur to strengthen it amid fears of an iminent attack. He identified a weakness in the fact that there was more high ground to the north-west of the citadel's outer defences.

An enemy behind this high ground could remain completely hidden from the defenders, so Coehoorn decided to build an outlying fort there. This fort, known at first as Fort Coehoorn, was later called Fort William.

Fort William took the form of a strong self-contained hornwork and was seperated from the westernmost hornwork of the citadel (called Terra Nova) by a small ravine. Fort William was completed just in time to face the French siege of 1692.

This siege was an epic battle between Coehoorn, who had been put in charge of the defence, and the skilled French engineer Vauban, who directed the attackers. After 37 days of siege, the French succeeding in capturing the hornwork in front of the citadel and the garrison surrendered, marching out with the honours of war.

With Namur under French control, Vauban was given the task of repairing the fortifications he had previously been trying to breach. He also made improvements to the defences, including extensive countermines'in the citadel and in front of Fort William.

In the town itself more barracks were constructed, as well as a military hopsital. Although Louis XIV never shied away from war, he was keen to provide care for his wounded soldiers, an unusual attitude in 17th century Europe.

Perhaps the most significant improvement made by Vauban was the construction of a number of outlying forts and redoubts'protecting the vulnerable section on the east side of the town that was overlooked by high ground, which Vauban had used to his advantage during the siege.

Entrenchements were also built in advance of the citadel and Fort William. All these outlying works were designed to deny the enemy high ground from which to make their attacks and to keep them as far as possible from the main defences.

This work was justified a few years later when the Allies returned for the siege of 1695, with Coehoorn leading the attack. The siege lasted two months due to the recent reinforcements made by Vauban and the stubborn resistance of the garrison.

Back in Allied hands, the fortress was strengthened yet further by the construction of more outlying forts and entrenchements. A fortified bridgehead was built around the suburb of Jambes on the south bank of the Meuse.

Namur had become an extremely strong fortress due to the excellent position occupied by the citadel and the continuous efforts made by various powers to render it impregnable. A garrison of over 10,000 men was required to defend the place.

Although the wars between the Allies and the French continued into the 18th century, Namur did not experience another siege because most of the fighting in Flanders took place farther to the west. However, the town did change hands several times.

At the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 Namur passed into the hands of Austria, along with the rest of the Spanish Netherlands. The French laid siege to Namur again in 1746 and captured it after a short resistance by the joint Austrian and Dutch garrison.

During this brief period of French occupation a relief map of the fortress (see above) was made and added to the large collection of relief maps of French fortresses that had been accumulating since Vauban's time.

In 1782 the fortifications were partly dismantled by the Austrians and further demolition was carried out by Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th century. However, following Napoleon's defeat in 1815 it was decided to re-fortify Namur.

By now part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the town of Namur was to become a fortress once again. Although the trace around the town itself was not rebuilt, the citadel was, mostly on the foundations of the earlier works. However, there was only one hornwork in front of the medieval castle, which was demolished. But in the course of the 19th century even this renewed fortress lost its military importance in the face of powerful modern artillery.

Visiting Namur

The citadel built in the early 19th century at Namur was not demolished and has survived more or less intact. It can be visited and access to the fortifications is free but there is a fee for the tour of the countermines.

It is a huge edifice and although little of Vauban and Coehoorn's work remains, the overall layout of the citadel gives a good impression of how it would have appeared at the end of the 17th century. However, the town's defences have been swept away by the various demolitions and now very little remains.

The citadel of Namur is a very interesting an extensive fortress to visit and is certainly recommended by the author. There are regular trains to Namur from Brussels and Liege, but travelling from France by train can be difficult, although there are trains from Lille.

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