Luxembourg’s history

Nicknamed the “Gibraltar of the North”, Luxembourg represents an overview of European history. Located in an exceptional natural environment, the city was destined to become a disputed fortress of the major powers. It has successively belonged to Spain, Louis XIV, Austria, France, the Netherlands and the German Confederation over it history.

Bastion Beck  ©Christof Weber

Bastion Beck
© Christof Weber

Luxembourg’s fortress is the work of builders who came from all over Europe. Italian engineers built the first strongholds during the sixteenth century. The fortress continued to be extended during the seventeenth century. Fearing a French attack, the Spanish built several advanced redoubts. In 1684 the fortress suffered a siege led by Vauban, who after taking the city, was responsible for the reinforcement works, incorporating the suburbs, fortifying the high points, building barracks, powder magazines and a military hospital. However, the French’s stay there was brief. In 1715, Luxembourg came under the control of the Austrian Habsburgs, who completed the work begun by Vauban. They added outside forts and dug an underground defence system, the famous casemates. Luxembourg became a federal fortress with a Prussian garrison during the nineteenth century. In 1867, the London Congress decided to dismantle the fortress to prevent conflict between Prussia and France. The city finally released itself from its secular shackles, which opened up the possibilities for urban development.

Despite the dismantlement of the fortifications, the substantial work accomplished over the centuries remains visible in the urban landscape. Their impressive remains were classified as a “World Heritage site” by UNESCO in 1994.

Luxembourg’s architecture

Casemates du Bock et vallée de l'Alzette ©LCTO

Bock blockhouse

The site of the city of Luxembourg has a strongly marked topography owing to the confluence of two rivers: the Alzette and the Pétrusse. The rugged terrain lends itself perfectly to the fortification.

To discover the fortress, start from the Rocher du Bock (Rock of Bock), a rocky promontory on top of which stood the medieval Château Des Comtes. Move down through the Pfaffenthal valley passing by the Porte des Trois Tours (the Gate of the Three Towers). The two Vauban Towers (Tours Vauban) still remain in the lower town, consisting of two impressive fortified gates. They are connected by a footbridge stretching over the Alzette River. Next, we go back up to the Kirchberg plateau to see the crown-work of Niedergrünewald first, followed by the Obergrünewald horn work. Both forts were built by Vauban in 1684/85.

 FortThüngen ©ChristofWeber

Fort Thüngen
© Christof Weber

The Thüngen Fort, also called Three Acorns (Dräi Eechelen in Luxembourgish) stands in front of the Obergrünewald Fort. This structure is now home to the Dräi Eechelen Museum. Opened in 2012, this museum houses a permanent exhibition on the history of the fortress and temporary exhibitions on issues of identity and other historical topics.

Afterwards, we leave the hills and return down to the lower part of the town to Clausen where Peter Ernst I von Mansfeld-Vorderort, governor of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, built his castle in the sixteenth century. Only a few remains of the extraordinary Renaissance palace survived including two monumental gates. From here, the circuit of discovery takes us back to the starting point, the Rock of Bock. Also explore the famous casemates, the underground tunnels dug into the cliff. An archaeological crypt with an audiovisual installation gives information about the origins of the city.

The city has a particularly rich heritage and has many other points of interest-the Rham Plateau with the fourteenth century medieval walls and the Vauban barracks, the Pétrusse valley overlooked by the Louis and Beck bastions or the city parks with the Lambert and Louvigny forts.

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