History of the fortress city of Saarlouis

L'ïleVauban ©Mairie de Saarlouis

Vauban island
© City of Saarlouis

The founding of the town and fortress of Saarlouis, in the year 1680, was initiated by Louis XIV who, following the Treaties of Peace of Nijmwegen, wanted to use the new fortress to secure the occupied region of Lorraine. Saarlouis was built from nothing following the proposals and plans of Thomas de Choisy, on a wide meadow directly beside the River Saar, in order to integrate the river into the defensive system.

The fortress builder, Vauban, put together the blueprints for the fortress, which was completed in 1685. In addition to the name of its founder, the city bears Louis XIV’s coat of arms, with the symbols of the Sun King.

Saarlouis remained in French possession after the Treaty of Rijswijk in 1697. Following the Treaty of Paris in 1815, the fortress city belonged to Prussia. After the Franco-Prussian war, the fortress lost its strategic importance and was finally set aside in 1889 and was defortified in the following years. After the defortication, the city extended far beyond its original boundaries and is now a modern service and business location.

The Ford factory in Saarlouis is one of the largest employers in the state of Saarland. The special character of Saarlouis is provided by its atmosphere of French charm in conjunction with the successful symbiosis between its historical elements and modern lifestyle.

Saarlouis is considered to be the “secret capital” of the state of Saarland and, due to their many international activities that take place there, in 2006 it has given the title of  “Europastadt” (European City).

The fortifications of Saarlouis

The layout of the Saarlouis fortress follows the fundamental principle of a regular hexagon with horn work, according to Vauban’s ‘first system’ of fortification.

Wallgraben ©Mairie de Saarlouis

© City of Saarlouis

Saarlouis was designed as a floodable fortress: The Saar Schleusenbrücke (water gates) could be dammed in the event of an attack, in order to flood the surrounding land and ditches.

The Schleusen-Brucke, impressive components of the former horn work, the “Bastion VI” and the Vauban island, all bear witness to the French period of the fortress. One of the characteristic features of the city are the casemates, which were built by the Prussians during the enlargement of the fortifications between 1824 and 1829, and, today, these are home to many restaurants and gastronomic outlets.

Also originating from the Prussian period is the 181 m long Kaserne VI (Barracks No. VI), which today houses the police station, the municipal museum, town archives and library.

Parc des fortifications ©Mairie de Saarlouis

Park of the fortifications
© City of Saarlouis

For the past few years, the city has increasingly concentrated on the reconstruction and restoration of the fortifications. An outstanding example is the “Ravelin V” park that is currently under construction and which will explain to visitors how the Saarlouis fortress functioned in its heyday. The basic idea of the design is to present the existing fortifications with all their geometry and clarity. Together with the surrounding environment of the Saaraltarm (a cut off meander of the river) and the Stadtgarten (town gardens), it creates a representative entry to the fortifications; in future the area will also be increasingly used for cultural events.

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