Perpignan

Thanks to George Simms for his photographs. His website: GeorgeSimms.com

Perpignan has been an important town for many years, despite being set back from the coast. Over the centuries it has been the home of the Counts of Roussillon followed by the Kings of Aragon, and later it became the capital of the Kingdom of Majorca.

It was the Kings of Majorca who built a fortified palace on some high ground at Perpignan. This small medieval castle would later become one of the strongest citadels'in France. It was Emperor Charles V'who gave Perpignan its first modern fortifications.

He had an eccentric bastioned'trace built around the original fortified palace in 1540. At the time, the idea of a wall with bastions was at the cutting edge of military engineering, but the citadel's first defences were far from perfect; the bastions varied in size greatly from one to another and they were inadequately flanked. On the south side the wall was almost medieval in form, with no bastions at all.

In 1590, under Philip II of Spain, the citadel was given a more regular hexagonal trace of arrow-headed bastions. These fortifications were much stronger, having regular bastion sizes and curtain wall lengths and, more importantly, sufficient flanking capability to minimise weak spots.

The new fortifications were built around the outside of the 1540 trace built under Charles V, so the citadel had two layers of defence. The fortifications of the town were also strengthened at some point in the 16th century. Bastions were built out from the medieval walls, allowing flanking fire from bastion flanks and eliminating dead ground.

In 1640 the Catalan province rebelled against Spanish sovereignty and proclaimed Louis XIII of France the count of Barcelona. In 1642 the French laid siege to Perpignan and captured the town. It has belonged to France ever since.

The final layer in the defences of the town and the citadel was added by the French military engineer Vauban'in the late 17th century. He added six demi-lunes'and a covered way'to the citadel and designed barrack buildings there to accommodate the large garrison needed to defend the town.

However, when Vauban built the outworks of the citadel and lengthened the esplanade, many houses next to the citadel had to be destroyed to make room. There was no space within the town's walls to build replacement houses, so a new suburb was built.

Vauban also redesigned the fortifications to take in this new suburb, Ville Neuve (new town) which was situated on the north bank of the river Basse, which flows into the Têt at Perpignan. He protected the Ville Neuve with two bastions, which were flanked by the guns on the town walls across the river. He also strengthened the rest of the town's defences, adding a strong covered way and several outworks to the existing fortifications.

Visiting Perpignan

The massive citadel of Perpignan still stands today, although only two of Vauban's demi-lunes remain. One half of it remains a military barracks and cannot be visited. The other half, which includes the Palace of the kings of Majorca, can be visited.

It is possible to access part of the outer bastioned trace (built in 1590 under Philip II) and about half of the earlier inner trace (built in 1540 under Charles V). The palace itself is very interesting, and offers unrivaled views of the city from its tall tower.

All in all, the citadel is well worth visiting, being one of the largest surviving citadels in France. Of the walls surrounding the town, only a few sections remain (including the medieval Castillet and a section of ramparts in the park by the Palais des Congrès) - the walls were demolished in 1904 to make way for urban expansion. Today, Perpignan can be quite crowded in the summer, and very hot! The transport links are excellent, as would be expected with a city of this size.

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