Located on the border with Luxembourg and Belgium, Longwy faced successive invasions owing to its strategic position. Its origins dates back to the Old Castle located at the southern tip of the promontory overlooking the Chiers and Moulaine confluence. A fortified Upper Town was founded on the site of the old castle between the fifth and ninth century under the authority of the Merovingian kings.
From the eleventh to the middle of the thirteenth century, the county of Longwy, owned by the Duke of Lorraine Mathieu II, Count of Bar, gained commercial recognition thanks to its merchants (Lombard bankers, tanners, drapers and weavers). Finally returned to the Duchy of Lorraine in 1480 under René II, the fortifications of the town and castle were embellished until the mid-sixteenth century.
Lorraine and Longwy were besieged by the Swedes, Poles and Croats during the 30 Years War (1618-1648). In 1646, Longwy, the last stronghold owned by the Duke of Lorraine, was attacked by the French and occupied until 1660, when the Treaty of the Pyrenees was signed.
Leopold I, the Duke of Lorraine, subsequently refused to recognise the Treaty of Nijmegen, a treaty signed in 1679 between the United Provinces and France that ended the war with Holland and that stipulated the unification of Longwy with France. Louis XIV decided to annex Longwy’s fortress and thus commanded Vauban to build a new fortified city to defend the defensive link of the North-East of France. This innovative fortress forms part of 9 towns built “from scratch” by the famous military engineer and best reveals its humanistic urban conception. Longwy became a key defence post opposite Luxembourg’s impressive fortress held by the Spanish.
The city suffered several sieges. The Prussians and the Revolutionaries fought in 1792, the European coalition troops late fighting the troops of Napoleon I in 1813 and 1815. Longwy surrendered to the Prussian army in 1871, as well as in 1914 (defended by the indomitable Colonel Darche).
At the same time, it underwent unprecedented development in the mining and metallurgical industry from 1818 up to the 70s. Place du Général Leclerc is worth a stop off for its very rich Art Deco architectural heritage, dating back to 1910.
The fortress’s fortifications are today undergoing extensive restoration. Longwy has also been developing a unique expertise regards its enamels and pottery since 1798, which is recognized thanks to the “Métiers d’Art” label of quality.
The fortress of Vauban
Built on a hexagonal plane of 6 bastion and demi-lunes (half moon), you can reach the upper town from the Porte de France demi-lune, surrounded by ditches and situated between two bastions. Walk through the monumental “Porte de France” gate, equipped with a drawbridge and a fixed bridge. Go up to the Kingdom of France gate, a real Arc de triomphe which glorifies war and grandeur of Louis XIV in its architecture that is extensively carved on two panels. Wide strips wrap around the warrior decoration: arrows, armour, quivers, helmets, shields and the head of Medusa. At the other end, we find the Burgundy gate, destroyed during the siege of 1914.
The fortress was largely destroyed during conflict in the First World War. Four bastions that have been preserved allow you to discover the military genius of Vauban along a trail of discovery. Make this initiatory and educative trip by roaming through the fortifications. Familiarize yourself with the architectural terms of the demi-lune, overlooked by the Porte de France gate, glaze, etc.
Containing all the amenities of a place of war, the Place d’Armes located in the centre of the fortress contains unusual military buildings. Have a stroll around the fortress and enter the Puits de Siège, dug from wells to a depth of 60 meters from 1679, which is powered by two sources.
Continue walking by the city hall which has a beautiful eighteenth century facade where you can contemplate the splendid groin vaults and a grand staircase on the way back, decorated with an eighteenth century wrought iron ramp.
A little further on, the St Dagobert church, whose construction was personally paid for by King Louis XIV, includes a 43 meter-high lookout tower.
Continue past the military bakery built in 1753, designed to make bread for 5,000 men. You will be amazed by its architecture consisting of vaulted rooms and a double central staircase. The building now houses the museum of irons and enamels.
Pass the old barracks, powder magazines and casemates.
The powder magazine of the St. Martin bastion will surprise you with its rib-shaped vaulted room originally surrounded by its outer wall, now transformed into a gallery. Explore the casemate next to the impressively big Notre Dame bastion, (75 meters long and 45 meters wide).
On the strength of its remarkable and exceptional fortified heritage, Vauban’s fortifications have been listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 2008.