Villefranche-de-Conflent

At the confluence of the Têt and Cady rivers, Villefranche-de-Conflent bars the road down the valley from Mont-Louis and Spain. The town is dominated by the mountainsides around it, which provide many ideal locations for enemy batteries to hammer the walls.

Relief map of Villefranche-de-Conflent and Vauban's fortifications. Fort Liberia can be seen above the town, towards the top of the picture.

This weakness is partly alleviated by the presence of Fort Liberia high above, which protects the town. The situation of Villefranche required a unique solution to many of the problems that were presented there, and Vauban formed many novel ideas to overcome these problems.

For instance, not only did the mountainsides provide for gun batteries, but also for the local Catalan guerrilla fighters. In improving the existing medieval defences, Vauban made the original wall taller (enclosing the medieval parapet so as to create a two storey wall), the upper parapet being covered with a large tiled roof to protect the garrison from snipers. This structure continues around the entire wall with the exception of the northern wall, probably because this side of the town is the least overlooked by the mountains around.

Tour du Diable (Tower of the Devil)
Taken from the base of the Tour du Diable looking towards the Bastion de la Montagne

Several of the medieval towers were demolished, while others were incorporated into the modern defence system. The Tour du Diable or Devil's Tower was given cannon embrasures

The Tour du Portalet, or Postern Tower was kept to protect the postern (small gate) beside it. Another medieval tower was to become part of the Bastion du Roi, or King's Bastion.

Vauban added the Redoubte du Pont St. Pierre, or Redoubt of St. Peter's Bridge to protect the bridge over the River Têt. To give the defenders more of a stranglehold on the road, he designed a casemated gallery to be built into the mountainside to the south of the Corneilla Bastion. From behind, it is reached through a series of caverns, which have a number of loopholed doorways to protect the casemate from capture from behind. To the west and east of the town there were demi-lunes.

The inside of the parapet. The roofed protection can easily be seen in this picture
Taken from the Bastion de Corneilla, looking towards the Bastion du Dauphin.

Another interesting feature of Villefranche are the inward-facing loopholes, a precaution added after the Conspiracy of Villefranche, when the town rebelled against French rule in 1674. The Pont St. Pierre or St. Peter's Bridge, which connects the northern wall to the bridgehead fort (called the Redoute du Pont St-Pierre) across the rvier has loopholed parapets, which could provide enfilading fire to cover the northern wall.

Visiting Villefranche

The fortifications at Villefranche are in excellent condition, and it is possible to walk along the walls from the Bastion du Dauphin to the Bastion du Roi (cost: 4€ entrance at the Bastion de la Montagne). The northern walls and the Redoute du Pont St-Pierre can easily be seen, though not part of the walk mentioned above, by walking along the adjacent paths. Sadly, the demi-lune protecting the west of the town and the Porte d'Espagne has been replaced by a car park and the outworks to the east are also gone.

Sentry post of the Bastion de la Reine

The casemate and the caverns still exist and can be visited. If you visit Villefranche, Fort Liberia is a must. The fort is reached either by following signs from the main road to the east of Villefranche or (on foot) by the 19th c tunnel which leads up from the Redoute du Pont St-Pierre.

Condition Access to fortifications Size of fortress Accessability of town Museum/Info Overall score
9 9 8 7 7 8
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