Dwight Peck's personal Web site

Winter 2005-2006

Short breaks from poring over the newspapers as the Bushies implode


You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Besançon and the Citadelle

The ancient fortress with the birds and lions

Besançon's the capital of the region of Franche-Comté, a town of 120,000 (50,000 more in the 'burbs) not far to the north of us along the TGV train line from Lausanne to Paris. The old town, "le Boucle", is planted on any oxbowy loop in the mighty river Doubs, which must be one of the world's more meandery rivers, popping out of the Jura mountains in Mouthe, just near us here in the Jura, heading northeast for a long ways nearly to Basel, and then turning west without a care in the world, then north for a while, then southwest again until it joins the Sâone out near Dijon and bolts off southward. Almost completing a circle.

The town was called Vesontio when Julius Caesar saw it, with a nice wooden fence around it in the middle of the oxbow -- that evolved into Besontion not long after the town became a bishopric evidently as early as the 2nd century (and the locals are still called "Bisontins"; not to be confused with "Byzantines"). The town married into the Habsburgs in the 16th century, and in 1668 the Spanish Habsburgs began constructing the Citadel (at the bottom-right of the aerial photo above, which we found up on the wall near a bus stop) following a design by the famous French military architect and siege engineer Vauban. Louis XIV's French troops took the city in 1674 and needed someone to upgrade the fortress, and handed the job to Vauban (it was completed in 1711).

We're here on a grey Sunday in late October 2005, so things are blessedly pretty empty -- everyone's probably off to the NASCAR races outside of town. Which made our time in the exceptional Musée des Beaux-Arts more like a private showing.

That's the Eglise St-Pierre, which the narrator will remember always because it's located just next to a tiny café that places significant emphasis on the massive local specialty of cheese and sausage, something to die for. Or at least go lie down for the rest of Sunday afternoon.

Struggling unsuccessfully to walk off the local lunchtime specialties, we turn up the drizzly high street in search of the famous Citadelle de Vauban on top of the hill above the neck of the Doubs oxbow.

Fancy woodwork

The mighty Doubs

Either the cheese or the sausage would have been fine by itself, but together they are withstanding gravity badly. Here is the main gate of the Citadelle, looking much as it did 20 years ago when her Fond Papa brought Young Marlowe here . . . to see the lions!

This is from the tourist brochure -- LOOK at this great hilltop fortress. Aside from four restaurants and "sandwicheries", it's got an aquarium, an insectarium, a climatorium, and a "noctarium" featuring animals that only come out at night. And it's got a local museum of the region, and a little something on Vauban, and, second best of all, an extraordinary museum of the French WWII Resistance movement and the Deportations that's located in the long barracks in the centre. Best of all, it's got a ZOO, nicely tucked into the ramparts neatly blocking off the city from attack from the south (i.e., Switzerland).

The big parade ground in the centre, with the Resistance museum on the right.

The zoo in the ramparts

Kristin forced to choose between the lions (left), the birds (ahead), and the monkeys (right), not an easy decision for anyone

Lions down there behind that wall-sort of thing, but hard to see in this picture. Trust me, they looked like normal lions, just fine, very sleepy but otherwise okay.

Exotic birds and what not, nestled into the fortications

No space unused. These are the monkeys!! Some of them kind of disgusting.

And that's Kristin, gazing at strange sheep or goats in the moat.

Besançon and its fortress are definitely worth a visit.
The sites http://www.besancon-tourisme.com/ and http://www.besancon.fr/ are okay, but http://www.citadelle.com is a great Web site. With video clips of the lions, too. And "Goodies" (not originally a French word) like desktop wallpaper and e-cards.


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 27 January 2006, revised 6 February 2008, 14 December 2014.


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