A brief history of Thionville

Plan de Thionville du XVIIIème siècle ©Mairie de Thionville

Thionville’s map on 18th century
© City of Thionville

Thionville made its first appearance in 753 in a chronicle relating the passage of Pepin the Short. The palatial “Theodonis Villa” saw great political and religious meetings held by Carolingian sovereigns, Charlemagne in particular, who stayed there six times.

From the tenth century onwards, Thionville formed part of the Germanic Empire, and became a fiefdom of the Counts of Luxembourg at the turn of the second millennium. Henry le Blondel accorded a franchise charter to the city in 1239.

Incorporated into Burgundy in 1461, within the 17 provinces of the Netherlands, the town became under the control of the House of Habsburg in 1477 prior to becoming a part of the Empire of Charles V on his accession in 1519.

It was taken by François de Guise (the Duke of Guise) in 1558 but was returned to France the following year. Unsuccessfully besieged in 1639, Thionville surrendered to the Grand Condé (Louis II) in 1643 and became officially French in 1659 through the Treaty of the Pyrenees.

The entry into the Kingdom of France was beneficial to Thionville, which under the reign of Louis XIV, made important administrative and legal developments while establishing its primary military role. The stronghold resisted sieges from the coalition in 1792 and the Prussian armies in 1814 and 1815.

The War of 1870 did not spare the town which suffered serious destruction, and following the Treaty of Frankfurt, it was annexed for almost half a century. During this period, a major urban development took place following demolition of the walls. Liberated on 22 November 1918, Raymond Poincaré awarded it the Cross of the Legion of Honour in 1920.

The citizens of Thionville suffered deportation and expulsion during its occupation from May 1940 to November 1944. Thionville, which was named “The Iron Metropolis” by Millerand, underwent a strong period of growth following the war thanks to the development of the steel industry.

Despite the economic crisis and the closure of Usinor in 1977, Thionville, which is served by a vast transport network, showcases its unique location along the backbone of the European Community, next to three countries with which it has had historical and trade links since the beginning of time.

Thionville’s fortifications

Tour aux Puces & copy;Mairie de Thionville

The Tour aux Puces
© City of Thionville

Thionville’s first fortifications date back to the tenth/eleventh centuries when the Counts of Luxembourg decided to erect a fortress there. A castle was later built, the famous Tour aux Puces of which only the dungeon remains today, which is now a museum dedicated to archaeology.

The medieval fortifications comprising high stone cladding and masonry did not survive advances made in artillery at the beginning of the modern era. The “high” ramparts were levelled and replaced by a new defence architectural design during the sixteenth century, the bastion system.

Antoine des Fossez completed this system during the seventeenth century. The new space between the old and the new fortifications was used primarily for military purposes to improve the defence areas with the introduction of horn work, demi-lunes (half moon) and half bastions.

Thionville now belonged to France under the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) and Vauban began work on it, further reinforcing the existing fortifications via the lunette (work closely resembling a demi-moon) and constructing a bridge over the Moselle river which required the construction of horn-work on the right bank for its protection.

Porte de Saarlouis ©Mairie de Thionville

The Saarlouis gate
© City of Thionville

The right bank was finally fortified during the eighteenth century. Engineers Tardif and Duportal constructed the first crown-work between 1727 and 1735, and the Yutz crown-work was introduced under the auspices of Louis de Cormontaigne: a line of fortifications composed of three major bastions, a monumental entrance, the Sarrelouis gate and finally the digging of a floodway to prevent devastating floods in Thionville. The project was carried out between 1745 and 1753.

To protect the floodway and to ensure the continuity between the ramparts, defensive bridges known as “lock bridges”were built between 1746 and 1752 according to plans by Louis de Cormontaigne.

Fort de Guentrange ©Mairie de Thionville

The Guentrange fort
© City of Thionville

The twentieth century saw the birth of the concept of Fortified Groups or Festen in German, a group of combat bodies and buildings interconnected by underground tunnels thus ensuring coordinated action. The Guentrange Fort is one perfect example, which was completed in 1906.



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