Thursday 29 September 2011
Tuesday 13 September 2011
Wednesday 7 September 2011
Saturday 3 September 2011
My wife and I took a trip to Europe this summer, the first time for both of us. Most of our time was spent in Germany, and amongt other sightseeing excursions, we took a Rhine River cruise. Near the end of the cruise, the ship docked at Breisach. Rather than take the guided tour with the other passengers to visit a cuckoo clock factory in the Black Forest, we struck out on our own, taking a cab from the German side across the river into Alsace, France. Neuf-Breisach is not far from the Rhine, about 10 minutes drive.
The fortress town of Neuf-Breisach was built according to plans drawn up by Vauban and built as a replacement in lieu of French occupation of Breisach itself, which was ceded to the Empire by the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. Completed in 1701, this is one of the best-preserved examples of Vauban fortifications in existence.
It's not a bad idea to begin your tour at the tourism office located adjacent to the Place d'Armes (town square). There's no guarantee you'll get fluent English-speaking assistance, but I was able to get by tolerably well in my rusty high school French. This map gives a good overview of the place, with an outlined walking tour around the ramparts and the town itself.
Unfortunately, we were somewhat pressed for time and I was only able to take a partial circuit of the fortress walls. I was also unable to take in the Vauban museum due to the time contraints. Although not large (occupying half of the Porte de Belfort gate house), no doubt this is also well worth exploring. As you make your way around the ditch, there are plaques explaining various aspects of the fortifications.
One thing to keep in mind, this is not a museum setting such as Fort Ticonderoga or Louisbourg. It's a living town, zoned residential or commercial, seamlessly incorporating the old and new in the way of the Europeans. Nor is it a particularly scenic town, retaining a rather stark, martial aspect. We visited on a Saturday morning, with a farmer's market in progress at the Place d'Armes. My wife found this rotisserie chicken truck a more impressive feat of French ingenuity than the works of Vauban.
All in all, we (or perhaps more accurately, I) really enjoyed the visit. One could easily spend the better part of a day there, exploring all aspects of this beautifully preserved fortress. Breisach itself on the German side is well worth a visit as well, which also features a walking tour of what remains of the fortifications, with a most impressive gate.