On our final day in Alsace we headed up the road to the nearby vauban of Neuf-Brisach, a strategically located town on the French side of the Rhine, across the river from the German town of Breisach-am-Rhein. An enormous octagonal fortress surrounds the town, designed to protect it from invaders, which over the centuries has been a real threat. In a 150-year period, Alsace changed hands between the French and the Germans five times – that’s once every 30 years!
The vauban of Neuf-Brisach was the last of a series of fortifications built along France’s borders by the great military engineer Sébastian Le Prestre de Vauban in the late 17th/early 18th centuries. The fortifications are impressive and comprise a layer of 30-40ft sheer stone walls that enclose the town. There are further outer layers of defences and in between is a network of deep trenches. Within the walls there are lots of tunnels and gaps for firing weapons at the enemy, while four gates, three of which are accessed by small bridges, provide entry to the town.
We walked the 2.4km around the fortifications to admire the forbidding defences. In the grassy trenches, there were a number of contemporary art installations, including an impressive fallen horse made of straw, a series of lampshades and a large metal ship that marked the entrance to a gate to the town. Inside the gate was the Musée Vauban, a museum dedicated to the town’s fortifications.
There was also what looked like a contemporary art exhibition within the vauban’s tunnels, although we were told we were not allowed in by a stern tourist train operator. It seemed as though only those who’d travelled on the train from the town centre were allowed inside, which seemed rather short sighted as five adults were turned away in the few minutes we were there!
We also briefly walked along the top of the stone walls. There was a grassy path on top of the walls, but the path was a little uneven under foot and rather too close to the edge for my liking, and having seen the 40ft drop that awaited me if I tripped, we thankfully didn’t spend too long up there.
The vauban was interesting and gave me an insight into a part of France’s military history that I wasn’t familiar with. It was the first time I’d visited a vauban, but there are another 11 (all named UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2008) that were built along France’s borders to keep them safe. This visit has whetted my appetite for these amazing fortifications and I’ll definitely look to explore more of them on future trips to France.