History of the town and the citadel of Bitche

Citadelle de Bitche ©Cyrille Fritz

Citadel of Bitche
© Cyrille Fritz

Bitche’s surrounding hills reveal the monumental and haunting silhouette of its Citadel. This small town located in Northern Vosges seems to be huddled directly below this sharp-edged dizzyingly-high fortification.

The history of Bitche and that of the Citadel are intertwined. Originally confined to the boundaries of a castle hamlet, the town of Bitche grew alongside the construction of the fortress, between the 12th and 19th century. The intermingling of populations, leading to major economic, cultural and worship activity, gave rise to a continuous urban sprawl. Suburbs and esplanades consequently began to spring up around the fortifications until it became completely surrounded. Many buildings were constructed, forming a solid urban fabric. While the military importance of this location continued to flourish, a decision was made in 1848 to build a final fortified outer wall containing nine small forts.

The major conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries placed the Citadel at the centre of the fighting. Numerous bombings saw the defences put to the test and a lasting mark was left on the town which was at the forefront of many hostilities.

The lessons of the past definitely learned, Bitche is today experiencing a new era. What now remains of its military vocation is a distinctively charming garrison town, ensuring the preservation of its rich architectural heritage and memory.

The numerous monuments, the remains of the ancient walls and the St Sebastian Fort in particular are now fiercely preserved as a testimony to an exceptional history. The town has also partaken in a beautiful green flowering which, since its opening in 2003, has gone much further than even the famous Peace Garden. This commitment has also earned the Town the Golden Flower award in 2010, the highest honour awarded by the National Jury of Towns and Villages in Bloom.

Defying time and the elements, the Citadel stands as the guardian of a memorable past. Following Demilitarisation, the erection of a museum and its listing as a historical monument since 1979, it is undergoing continuous development.


Architectural and historical presentation of the citadel

No traveller passing through the wooded hills of the Northern Vosges can remain indifferent upon discovering the Citadel of Bitche. Its sheer, breathtaking scale bursting into view can leave you fascinated or even humbled. Overlooking the town from its impressive glaze, the fortress recalls its ancient and powerful strategic focus.

Porte d'entrée de la Citadelle de Bitche

Entrance door of the citadel of Bitche
© Moselle Tourisme

Sitting on a 75 meter-high red sandstone horizontal base, the Citadel’s bastions stretch over 400 meters, forming a huge wall once intended to deter the enemy. While only a few scattered buildings remain on the upper plateau today, it was once a sprawling metropolis. The village that winds around its foothills seems to nestle in the comforting shadow of the Citadel.

During the 12th century, a primitive castle stood on top of the imposing red sandstone cliff. The Dukes of Lorraine, feudal land-owning lords, granted it in fief to the counts of Deux-ponts who, from the 14th to the 16th century, transformed it into a formidable medieval fortress. Louis XIV’s strategists, convinced of the defensive interest of the site, entrusted Vauban to construct the Citadel from 1680 onwards, the designs first hindered by the Treaty of Ryswick of 1697, which compromised construction, it was finally completed by the French in the mid 18th century. The engineer Cormontaigne had the daunting task of perfecting the work of Vauban, deploying the invincible bastions of the Citadel across the entire range of the rocky headland.

The Citadel proudly shows off its strong features, displaying all the characteristics of the military architecture of the 17th and 18th centuries. The bastions detached from the central body at either end are distinguished by the Grosse head, a horn work on the east side, and the Little-head, a half-moon found on the west side. The upper plateau, supported by high 40-metre curtain walls, was originally occupied by functional buildings of which only the chapel and some casemate remained after 1870. The underground network, with its galleries and vaulted rooms, contained all the installations necessary for the garrison’s in the event of a siege.

Chapelle de la garnison ©Moselle Tourisme

© Moselle Tourisme

The honour of those men, who, dressed in the uniform of their respective homelands, fought and, in some cases died, resonates in the bowels of the Citadel. In underground trenches and old barracks, the visitor can discover centuries of history thanks to a rich museum collection. A lifelike film reconstruction, composed of scenes from the film “The Besieged Fortress “, takes you back to the very heart of events including the famous siege of 1870-1871. Year after year, the Citadel renews its range of live shows events.

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