Valenciennes

The town of Valenciennes, in the province of Hainaut, grew up during the 1st Millennium. It was fortified in the 14th century by Albert de Bavière before falling under the control of the Dukes of Burgundy in 15th century.

Valenciennes with its first bastions, in the 16th century.

The town became a Spanish possession along with the rest of the Netherlands and in 1524 Emperor Charles V'visited the town. It was partly at his instigation that the town began the costly process of adapting its fortifications for artillery.

The walls were backed with earth ramparts and towers were lowered and filled with earth to make platforms for guns. At the western corner of the town a D-shaped artillery tower was built and two bastions'were added in the east.

Valenciennes became a centre for Protestantism during the reformation and tensions rose as the population grumbled against their Spanish masters. Matters came to a head in 1576 when the town refused to take in a garrison.

Valenciennes in the early 17th century.

The Spanish commander declared Valenciennes to be in a state of rebellion and was forced to lay siege to it. Several leading citizens and two Protestant ministers were put to death when the town finally fell.

The remains of the citadel.

Following the suppression of the revolt'in the southern provinces, Protestantism was rooted out and the counter-reformation brought most of the population back to the Catholic church. The Spanish strengthened the fortifications during the 17th century.

At first, demi-lunes'were constructed in front of the medieval wall and a covered way'was added on the far side of the ditch. These may have been earthworks because some of them seem to have disappeared after a few years.

By the 1670s there were no outworks along the southern wall, which was nevertheless well-protected by the low-lying wet ground in front of it. The D-shaped tower in the west was reinforced by a strong crownwork'that covered the high ground to the west.

The siege of Valenciennes in 1677.

In the east there were four bastions reinforced by numerous outworks, including two hornworks, and a strong covered way. The northern side of the town was protected by several more demi-lunes.

Valenciennes after Vauban's modifications.

In 1656 the French commander Turenne'attacked Valenciennes but the Spanish, under Prince Condé'(who served France most of his life but spent a brief period in rebellion against the French King) made a successful defence and the town was not taken.

In 1677, roughly 100 years after the Spanish siege, Louis XIV'brought his army against Valenciennes' fortifications. The town succumbed to Vauban's'attack after just 17 days, ending in a daring assault undertaken in broad daylight (at the time it was standard to attack at night).

The Nijmegen, signed in 1678, attached the town to France, whereupon it became the capital of French Hainaut. Vauban was tasked with strengthening the fortifications, which were still essentially medieval walls, only partially covered by demi-lunes, with only 4 bastions.

The citadel's entrance demi-lune.

On the eastern section of the defences, he built four more bastions, three hornworks and two counterguards, in addition to strengthening the covered way.

There used to be sluice gates here to control the water levels in the ditch.

To the west, incorperating the D-shaped tower, Vauban constructed an irregular triangular citadel. Although it appears to be weak on the southern side from the map, this area was covered by inundations'caused by diverting water from the river, as a well as a horseshoe-shaped outwork.

The citadel's townward (eastern) side was defended by two bastions and a small demi-lune and had the river as its ditch. To the west it was defended by the Spanish-built crownwork. Various barrack buildings were built to house the garrison, mostly in the inner citadel but also in the crownwork.

Valenciennes saw two more sieges, once in 1793 when it suffered 43 days of bombardment by allied forces and again in 1815 when its garrison held out successfully until the end of the war. With the exception of the citadel, the fortifications were dismantled in 1892.

The eastern front of the citadel.

Visiting Valenciennes

Restored arrow headed bastion.

Although the citadel survived the demolition that swept away the rest of the fortifications, the two world wars that destroyed large parts of the town severely damaged it. All that remains today is the landward front of the citadel, which has been recently restored, although it seems not to its full height.

Of the town's defences, only the medieval Tour de la Dodenne remains today. The remains of the citadel are close to the railway station - in fact they are adjacent to the railway and can be seen from the train. If you decide that its worth getting off the train to take a closer look at the scant remains, a short walk across town will bring you to the Tour de la Dodenne. Perhaps the best way to visit the fortifications is when changing trains between Lille and Cambrai or Cambrai and Le Quesnoy, which are fortified places worthy of a longer visit.

Condition Access to fortifications Size of fortress Accessability of town Museum/Info Overall score
6 9 1 9 2 5.4
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