If you read our most recent blog post, France’s Favorite Monument, you had a clue about the city we were off to explore today. We were especially interested in watching the TV program that aired just over a year ago to see who the 2020 winner would be since we’d visited some of the 14 candidates. The competition included the Chateâu and gardens of Villandry, the Imperial Chapel in Ajaccio, Corsica, Nice’s onion-domed Cathedral St. Nicolas, the stunning stained glass of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and the one that received our vote, the Canal-du-Midi that runs through Carcassonne. Even though we hadn’t seen the others, we’d at least heard of all but one, the Citadel and Lion of Belfort, so that went on our list of future vacation destinations. With travel restrictions within the country lifted for the fully-vaccinated, it was time to make good use of our Senior Discount Railcards for another trip.
Our primary target for this day trip from our base in Mulhouse was not going to be easy to miss both figuratively and literally. After all, we went to Belfort specifically to see the Citadel and its Lion and given that the statue alone is 22 meters (72 feet) long and 11 meters (36 feet) high, we were impressed soon after crossing the river a short distance from the railway station. The name of the sculptor was familiar to us, Frédéric Bartholdi, since he designed the Statue of Liberty. His work towering over us was created in 1880 as a symbol of French resistance during the Prussian invasion of 1870.
Because Belfort is located on an easy route into France for invaders from the east, much of the city involves fortifications, some of which have existed for at least 800 years. Another name that we recognized, Vauban, because of his design of 150 forts around this country in the 17th century, was prominent in fortifying the Citadel as well as building a second city wall and a series of other defenses still visible today.
One of those Vauban leftovers from 1687 is on the eastern entrance to the city at the Porte de Brisach which was a gateway into the fort. To gain access to the oldest part of the city we first passed through a portal, walked a narrow curving path lined by thick stone walls, crossed a bridge over a wide ditch, and through a second massive gateway. It was here above the entrance that we could see the emblem of Louis XIV, the Sun King, who ruled from 1643 until 1715.
While some of the defensive buildings are still in use by the military, many have been turned into cultural venues. There’s an archeological museum in the Citadel’s former barracks that covers the area from prehistoric times up through the 19th century. The city’s Fine Arts museum is located in the Citadel’s tower 41 and houses works by many artists we recognized including Albrecht Dürer and Auguste Rodin.
On the walk back to catch our train we went by a few of the other historic monuments in town. The cathedral St. Christophe, built from local pink sandstone, boasts a pipe organ believed to have been installed in 1752. A short distance from there are two fountains, the Petite and the Grande, both from the Middle Ages, with the latter being mentioned in the city’s accounts of 1497. To our pleasant surprise, even the train station that has been welcoming travelers since 1858 has been classified as a monument because of its 1933 Art Déco facade.