Rocroi

Photographs by Jeroen van der Werf, except where specified.
Map of the fortifications of Rocroi.

In the mid 16th century the French king Henry II ordered that the town of Rocroi be fortified in order to counter the fortress of Charlemont that was being built by the Emperor Charles V'at Givet. The French built a strong bastioned'trace in the form of a pentagon around the town.

Demi-lunes'were constructed in front of the courtines in 1610 and a ditch'was dug behind the Bastion du Roi, transforming this bastion into a crude form of citadel, which could be used to control the local population.

In 1643 the Spanish attempted to invade France, laying siege to Rocroi with a large force. A relieving force led by the young Duc d'Enghien (the future Prince Condé) met the Spanish forces just to the south of the town, where the French routed the Spanish at the Battle of Rocroi.

Barracks in the rear of the Bastion du Roi, which formed a crude citadel.

Despite the French victory in 1643, the Spanish did occupy Rocroi from 1653 to 1659. The two counterguards'were constructed during this period.

View from the Bastion de Montmorency, looking over the Porte de France towards the Bastion de Nevers. My photo.

In 1673, when Vauban'visited Rocroi, he realigned the defences and added several outworks. The town takes the shape of a near-regular pentagon, with five bastions and five demi-lunes. There are two entrances to the town: The Porte de Bourgogne lies in the north-east between the Bastion du Roi and the Bastion de Petit-Fort.

The Porte de France lies in the south-west (facing towards France) between the Bastion de Nevers and the Bastion de Montmorency. Two bastions, the Bastion de Montmorency and the Bastion du Roi are both protected by counterguards.

These counterguards both join the demi-lunes adjacent to them, thus forming a series of connected outworks, almost a second wall in the ditch between the main wall and the covered way. Two lunettes'were constructed in 1744 and in 1838.

View from the Bastion de Montmorency looking towards the Bastion du Petit Fort, on the right is the Demi-Lune de Champagne. Note the double caponiere connecing the demi-lune to the wall. My photo.

One of the demi-lunes was connected to the main wall by a caponnier, which allowed troops to reach the demi-lune by crossing the ditch whilst being safe from enemy fire.

A demi-lune, connected to the enceinte by a caponnier running across the ditch (bottom left).

As befits a town in the second line of Vauban's Pré Carré, the strategic system of fortification for the northern frontier, the fortifications of Rocroi are very strong, every curtain wall being protected by a tenaille'and a demi-lune. Three of the five bastions are protected by counterguards.

In the "citadel" of the Bastion du Roi, Vauban built barracks and a powder magazine. In 1706 he wrote that Rocroi "is quite good, although not yet finished". He proposed the construction of a hornwork'and a crownwork'to to give the defences greater depth, but this work was never carried out.

Visiting Rocroi

The town of Rocroi has no rail links, but it may be possible to get a bus from a nearby town such as Charleville or Hirson. By road, the town is easy to reach from Charleville, and would fit in well with a visit to Givet, Dinant, or any of the Pré Carré fortresses in the area.

A counterguard, seen from the bastion.

The fortifications are almost completely open to the public, at no cost. It is possible to walk around the bottom of the walls, either in the ditch or along the covered way for the entire circuit, but some bastions and sections of the inner wall are private property. The tourist information are able to provide a map with a suggestion of route on it. Also, do not miss out on the relief map at the Battle of Rocroi Museum, in the Place de Luxembourg.

View along the ditch. A bastion.
Traverses on the covered way. Steps giving access to the covered way.
Looking out from a bastion. Walking along the caponnier.
Tunnel through a tenaille. A batardeau.
Photographs by Jeroen van der Werf, except where specified.
Condition Access to fortifications Size of fortress Accessability of town Museum/Info Overall score
10 9 9 8 7 8.6
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