illustration Citadelle de Besançon



Besançon Citadel History and visit

A place of history

Drone view of the Besançon Citadel

In 1674, Louis XIV, with the help of Vauban, conquered Franche-Comté. Now French, the Sun King gave Besançon an important strategic role: it was to protect the new frontier to the east of the kingdom of France. It was also the new regional capital. Besançon was naturally protected by a meander of the Doubs River, which encircled the city. A mountain closes this loop to the south: it was on this geostrategic site that Vauban decided to build one of Europe's finest strongholds.

The defensive enclosures designed by Vauban always fit in with the landscape, blending in perfectly and often deterring enemy attacks...
The Besançon Citadel is one of the most representative examples of these golden rules, still visible today.

During construction of the fortress, Mont Saint-Étienne, on which the Citadelle is built, was transformed into a veritable stone quarry. The entire square was completed in 1684, 9 years after construction had begun. Its fortifications are tiered according to the relief, creating several levels of fire. The main part of the square housed buildings for the soldiers' daily life.

Over the centuries, the citadel has served as a barracks, a training center for cadets(future officers), a prison and a military penitentiary. The darkest part of its destiny took place during the 1940s, when the monument was the place of execution for one hundred resistance fighters arrested in the area and sentenced to death after trial.

Bought by the City of Besançon in 1959, it is now a major tourist and cultural attraction in the Franche-Comté region, housing three museums recognized as Musées de France by the French government, and offering a multitude of activities, over a surface area of almost twelve hectares, to some 270,000 visitors a year.

In 2008, Besançon and eleven other French sites in the Vauban Network were inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List. These twelve fortifications are considered to be the most representative of Vauban's work, the most authentic and the best preserved. Thus, recognized for their "outstanding universal value", they illustrate Vauban's creative genius, symbolize the apogee of bastioned fortification and have long been a model for military architecture the world over. This prestigious recognition has been awarded to sites all over France: Briançon, Mont-Dauphin, Villefranche-de-Conflent, Mont-Louis, Blaye/Cussac-fort-Médoc, Saint-Martin-de-Ré, Camaret-sur-Mer, Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, Arras, Longwy, Neuf-Brisach. This series of sites thus becomes the 32nd French property to be inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List, under the name "Fortifications de Vauban".

Learn more about the history of the Citadel

Places to visit

The Saint-Etienne chapel and its historical multimedia show

A real plunge into the past, this multimedia show takes you back in time and space to discover the key moments in the history of Besançon and the Citadelle. As the story unfolds, you'll follow the various episodes in a fascinating history that begins with Julius Caesar, continues through the Middle Ages, then under Charles V, and finally into the 17th century under the tumultuous reign of Louis XIV. The glory days of Vauban and the construction of the Citadelle are retraced, before giving way to contemporary history and its darker periods.

This 15-minute show is an excellent introduction to the visit, giving you the keys to understanding the fortress and making it easier to discover.
Continuous screening in the Saint-Etienne chapel (heart of the site);
3 projections per hour.

Free for Citadelle ticket or subscription holders.
Discover some extracts by following this link.

Inside view of the Saint-Etienne chapel and its historical multimedia show

Interior view of the Espace Vauban at the Besançon Citadel

Espace Vauban

In the Cadets building, four exhibition rooms present Vauban and his century, that of Louis XIV, Versailles, Molière... They retrace the two French conquests of Franche-Comté, the construction of the citadel and the life of the King's Cadets from 1682 to 1694.

Your journey through time continues in the video area. "Au cœur d'une citadelle", a ten-minute computer-generated film, is shown continuously, tracing the construction stages and role of the buildings on this major Franche-Comté site. Subtitles in French, English, German and Dutch.

A 60 cm3 tactile scale model of the Citadel's architectural elements (gatehouse, bastion, facing, etc.) can be freely touched. Thanks to this tactile approach, everyone can discover the world of the builder's art and the various building materials used. Providing a different way of apprehending space, with a representation in plan and volume, this model is also of particular interest to visually impaired visitors and children. A new mediation tool, the tactile model covers several subjects: 17th-century know-how and techniques, construction trades, the nature and origin of materials, and Vauban's adaptation to the terrain.

The creation of this tactile model was made possible thanks to the support of the Comité d'experts d'usage accessibilité de la Ville de Besançon and the patronage of the Caisse d'Epargne de Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.


Continue your stroll along the circular walkways, nearly 600 meters long, 5 to 6 meters wide and 15 to 20 meters high, and enjoy unique panoramic views over the city of Besançon and the exceptional natural setting that surrounds it.

In addition to the lush green hills and the meandering Doubs River, don't miss
to take in the remarkably restored architectural heritage of the building and its various constructions. On either side of the main square, the King's and Queen's gatehouses dominate the site, and are the starting point for your discovery of the battlements.

View of the ramparts of the Besançon Citadel

Photo of the interior of the underground gallery at the Besançon Citadel

The underground gallery

In the 17th century, most of Vauban's citadels and strongholds were equipped with underground passageways. These were strategic defensive locations. Soldiers could circulate under cover of fire, and thus hear the arrival of an enemy, or keep watch over city entry points.

At the Besançon Citadel, an underground gallery, known as "Communication 110", reveals its secrets during guided tours scheduled according to the season. This 127-meter-long gallery links the Front Saint-Etienne and the Front Royal. In Vauban's time, it enabled soldiers to move around and retreat in the event of an attack. On a guided tour, you can relive the soldiers' daily lives and understand the architecture, history and role of this type of underground passageway.

The Chamber of Soldiers.

The room was a living space for the twelve soldiers who shared it
, serving as a place to sleep, cook, feed
or even entertain themselves.

This faithful evocation, with furniture and objects, of an interior dedicated to the life of
soldiers of the Sun King allows you to immerse yourself in their daily life and to
discover another facet of this unique site. In this fully accessible exhibition space
, young and old alike can enjoy a unique experience by taking advantage oforiginal mediation tools: sound effects, virtual reality device
, costume fittings...

Illustration of the soldiers' barracks room
Project supported by Région Bourgogne Franche-Comté and Grand Besançon
Métropole (Département and DRAC under
reserve). Patrons: Pateu-Robert and C3B.

Guided tours

Group photo with guide

  • Citadelle express visit
    Enjoy a quick but intense dive into the history of the site, sweeping through the essential stages from its construction to its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
    Duration: 30 min.
  • Visit the Secret Citadel
    Discover Vauban's masterpiece in the best possible way, including the underground gallery known as "communication 110", which was completely restored in 2011. 127 meters long, connecting the Front Saint-Etienne to the Front Royal, it allowed, in Vauban's time, an optimal circulation and withdrawal of the soldiers in case of attack.
    Duration: 1 h 15.
  • Visit Espace Vauban
    Discover quickly the history of the site through the collections of the Espace Vauban: the tactile model, the cannon defender of the city or the canteen of the military engineer.
    Duration: 45 min.
  • Universelle Citadelle
    Why were the Citadelle and the fortifications of the city of Besançon, the work of Vauban, included on the UNESCO World Heritage List? During this visit, a mediator will provide you with the answers to this question through her presentation of the site, and will also take a broader look at the notion of world cultural, natural and intangible heritage.

Tours led by an actor

Photo of an actor-guide with visitors
  • Guided tour by an actor In the footsteps of Vauban
    Vauban himself reveals all the secrets of the Citadel, and shares his knowledge and passion for the history and architecture of the Citadel. A visit to remember!
    Duration: 1 hr. The tour may be cancelled 1 h beforehand in the event of no-shows or inclement weather.
  • "La Citadelle inattendue" (a walk led by an actor)
    Born to defend and protect, La Citadelle aims to be an ambassador for the values and ideals espoused by UNESCO: the conservation and enhancement of heritage, the preservation of biodiversity and education for sustainable development, the dialogue of cultures and the awakening of consciences to build peace. So, as you explore the Citadelle and its museums, learn from the past to understand today and act tomorrow.
    Duration: 1 h.

Self-guided tour

  • With the MaCitadelle application
    Equipped with a smartphone or tablet, take the Citadelle by storm with the whole site in your pocket! The MaCitadelle visitor application is designed as a interactive guide allowing you to find your way on the site and discover the Citadelle: its historyhis heritagebut also its museums and animations proposed. You have access to practical and heritage information with multiple reading levels. Content includes text, video, images and slideshows, sound and voice-overs, 2D and 3D animated videos (available in English, German and Italian).

    Fun and interactive, the MaCitadelle proposes a choice of courses according to your needs, the time you have available and your desires :
    • The Site Vauban tour for adults and children (available in French, English, German and Italian),
    • The FALC (Facile A Lire et à Comprendre) course for people with intellectual disabilities
    • Two quiz games (available in English, French, German and Italian),
    • La Citadelle at a glance, with must-sees (available in English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Spanish and Japanese),
    • In conjunction with the Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation, a tour of symbolic sites linked to the Second World War (available in French, English, German and Italian),
    • Wildlife trail (available in French).

Photo of a user with a touch-sensitive tablet
- Application (all tours) available free of charge to all Citadelle visitors, no download required.
- Tour duration: 45 min. to 2 hrs.

A vast restoration program

Photo of a worker restoring the façade of the Besançon Citadel.

La Citadelle is the subject of a regular restoration program designed to enhance the value of this jewel of military architecture, while preserving its original appearance.
Some of these restorations have been highly technical and exemplary, particularly in terms of the mastery of skilled craftsmanship: repairing roof frames and roofs, creating ironwork identical to that of the 17th century...

Restoration of the Front Royal half-moon

Restoration of the King's and Queen's sentry boxes
Restoration of the two sentry boxes

The 2015-2020 works plan, worth €6m, will see fourteen new operations carried out on Besançon's fortifications, including seven at the Citadelle: staircase leading to the Musée Comtois, roofing of a former gunpowder magazine, orillon of the half-bastion known as "87"...