Besançon Things to Do

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Most Recent Things to Do in Besançon

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    The Museum of Time: History

    by Nemorino Written Nov 9, 2014

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    This museum is about Time in two senses: Time as History and time as the craft of clock- and watchmaking, which for many years was an important industry in Besançon.

    The History section includes this replica of an eighteenth-century model that has been preserved (but is currently not on display) at the Invalides in Paris.

    Second photo: Another view of the model of eighteenth-century Besançon.

    Third photo: The Siege of Besançon in 1674, by Jean-Baptiste Martin (1659-1735), a painter who specialized in depicting the battles and sieges of Louis XIV. In the foreground is the king, surrounded by his counselors, watching his troops besiege the city of Besançon, which was occupied by Spanish forces at the time. The siege was directed, as usual, by Vauban, who had 36 artillery pieces carried up a nearby hill under cover of darkness, on the backs of men and mules. The city surrendered on May 15, nineteen days after Vauban’s arrival, and the citadel surrendered a week later.

    (280 years later the Viet Minh general Võ Nguyên Giáp used similar tactics – perhaps inspired by Vauban? – to defeat the French at Ðiện Biên Phủ.)

    Fourth photo: The Museum of Time has a series of monumental tapestries devoted to the life of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558), who was also the King of Spain, Prince of the Netherlands and King of Sicily. This tapestry is called Le Triomphe and shows Charles V, dressed as a Roman emperor, triumphantly entering Hungary after the retreat of the Turks in 1532. The label in the museum explains that Charles was “coming to the rescue of his brother Ferdinand, who had been elected king of Hungary against the wishes of numerous Hungarian dignitaries. They had appealed to the Turks to aid them in their revolt.”

    Fifth photo: This is Charles V as I ‘know’ him from one of my favorite operas, Verdi’s Don Carlos. Charles V had by this time abdicated, divided up his vast domains and withdrawn to a convent in Spain. The opera deals mainly with the conflict between his son, King Philip II of Spain, and his grandson Don Carlos, but Charles V is there as an unseen presence, perhaps appearing as an old monk or a voice from above.

    For more about Verdi’s Don Carlos, please see:
    • the third chapter of my Wiesbaden intro page
    • the third chapter of my Geneva intro page
    • the first chapter of my Strasbourg intro page
    • the third chapter of my Dresden intro page
    • the list of Verdi’s operas on my Busseto intro page

    Address: 96 Grande Rue, 25000 Besançon
    Directions: Aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr
    Vélocité bike station # 12, Place Granvelle
    Phone: +33 3 81 87 81 50
    Website: http://www.mdt.besancon.fr/

    Next: Clocks and watches in the Museum of Time

    Model of Besan��on Model of Besan��on Siege of Besan��on, 1674 The Triumph of Charles V The Meditation of Charles V
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    Museum of Time: Clocks and watches

    by Nemorino Written Nov 9, 2014

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    At the end of the 18th century some skilled watchmakers from nearby Switzerland came and settled in Besançon. Under their influence, Besançon became the major center of the French watchmaking industry in the 19th century, winning top prizes at the Universal Expositions.

    Since watchmaking was a mainstay of the economy in Besançon for nearly two centuries (until industrially produced quartz watches became economically viable in the 1980s), the Museum of Time devotes an entire floor to the craft of clock- and watchmaking.

    Fourth and fifth photos: At the Museum of Time there is also a Foucault pendulum, suspended from the inside of the tower, so if you are in any doubt about the rotation of the Earth you can observe it here.

    Address: 96 Grande Rue, 25000 Besançon
    Directions: Aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr
    Vélocité bike station # 12, Place Granvelle
    Phone: +33 3 81 87 81 50
    Website: http://www.mdt.besancon.fr/

    Next: Place Granvelle

    Clock mechanism Watchmaking Clocks Foucault pendulum Foucault pendulum
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    Place Granvelle

    by Nemorino Written Nov 9, 2014

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    Place Granvelle is the wooded square between the theater and Granvelle Palace. I happened to be there when the first edition of the art fair “Place des Arts” was taking place.

    This was an exposition where over sixty artists from at least three of the regions of France – Franche-Comté, Burgundy and Alsace – came together to display (and sell) their works. It was organized by the city of Besançon in conjunction with an association called Accessibl’Art, a name which means exactly what it looks like, Accessible Art.

    Apparently the exposition was a great success, and they now intend to repeat it several times a year.

    Second photo: Another view of the art exposition.

    Third photo: Place Granvelle still has its old-timey bandstand, where jazz and folk concerts are often held.

    Fourth photo: The back side of Granvelle Palace, as seen from the square.

    Fifth photo: Behind the Palais Granvelle there is a Wallace Fountain like the ones you can see in Paris, with four lovely caryatids holding up the roof.

    Directions: Vélocité bike station # 12, Place Granvelle
    Website: http://carinebouvard.com/category/place-des-arts-besancon/

    Next: The theater of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux

    Place Granvelle art fair Place Granvelle art fair Place Granvelle bandstand Back of Palais Granvelle Wallace Fountain
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    The theater of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 8, 2014

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    Besançon’s municipal theater was designed in 1775 by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, who is known as “one of the most influential innovators of French Neoclassical architecture.” (Quoted from Carthalia.)

    In an age when most theaters were horseshoe shaped, so that many of the seats offered little or no view of the stage – La Scala in Milan is a drastic example of this – Ledoux designed a semi-circular theater in which the stage could be seen from every seat. He also designed a covered orchestra pit which made the orchestra invisible from the auditorium – nearly a century before Richard Wagner did the same in his Festspielhaus in Bayreuth.

    (Personally, I prefer having the orchestra visible, so I can look down and see who is playing what.)

    Ledoux’s theater was locked when I was there, but I looked in through the glass door and was surprised to see that the interior has a decidedly 1950s appearance. It turns out that that the inside of the theater was destroyed by a fire in April 1958, and was rebuilt the same year in the style that was in vogue at the time. But the eighteenth century façade was apparently not damaged by the fire.

    Originally the theater had 2000 seats, but after the rebuilding in 1958 it only had 1100. This is a typical development for older theaters, since people were smaller in previous centuries and needed less leg room.

    Historical postcard views of Ledoux’s theater on Carthalia.

    Second photo: Another view of the theater.

    Third photo: The columns at the front of the theater. Like most of the older buildings in the center of Besançon, the theater was built of local stone quarried in the nearby Forest of Chailluz. This view of the columns shows clearly the mottled structure of the stone. Note that the building in the background is also made of the same type of stones.

    Address: 49 Rue Mégevand, Besançon
    Directions: Vélocité bicycle station 12 (Granvelle)
    Aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr
    Website: http://theatreledouxbesancon.blogspot.de/

    Next: Church of St. Pierre

    Theater Theater Theater
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    Church of St. Pierre

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 2, 2014

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    The Church of St. Pierre (that would be St. Peter in English) is located in the center of Besançon on the Square of the 8th of September (Place du 8 Septembre), across from the City Hall.

    The four stone pillars at the front of the church look very similar to the six pillars at the front of the Theater of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, probably because the stones came from the same quarry in the Forest of Chailluz. The stones are mainly white and light blue, with some beige mixed in.

    (Come to think of it, I have no idea what kind of tools were used to cut the stones in these quarries in earlier centuries, or what the working conditions were like, or how much the workers were paid. I have read Zola’s Germinal, but that was about a coal mine, not a stone quarry.)

    The church was built between 1782 and 1786, replacing an earlier church which was further forward, closer to the City Hall.

    Second photo: Side view of the church and pillars. Note that the houses in the background are made of the same type of stone as the church and the theater.

    Third photo: The church tower. There are some bells inside, but at present they are not rung since the tower is in need of repair.

    Fourth photo: Inside the church.

    Fifth photo: Pillars inside the church.

    Address: 2-14 Place du 8 Septembre, 25000 Besançon
    Directions: VéloCité bicycle station 10 (8 Septembre)
    Aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr
    Website: http://www.patrimoine-religieux.fr/eglises_edifices/25-Doubs/25056-Besancon/119926-egliseSaint-Pierre

    Next: City Hall and Tourist Office

    Church of St. Pierre Church of St. Pierre Tower of the church Inside the church Pillars in the church

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    City Hall and Tourist Office

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 2, 2014

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    The Besançon Tourist Office is located on the ground floor of the City Hall on the Square of the 8th of September (Place du 8 Septembre), across from the Church of St. Pierre.

    The square is “semi-pedestrianized”, meaning it is closed to most motor vehicles, but there is one narrow strip that can be driven on by buses and by vehicles which are allowed to have access to nearby hotels.

    The name of the square refers to the liberation of Besançon after over four years of German occupation during the Second World War. This happened on September 8, 1944, when the 6th corps of the American army took possession of Besançon after four days of combat.

    Second photo: Entrance to the City Hall and the Tourist Office. The inscription above the door reads “The Nation The Law”. Apparently this replaced an earlier inscription pledging eternal allegiance to God and to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558).

    Address: 2 Place du 8 Septembre, 25000 Besançon
    Directions: VéloCité bicycle station 10 (8 Septembre)
    Aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr
    Phone: 03 81 80 92 55
    Website: http://www.besancon-tourisme.com

    Next: Mouvement Franche-Compté

    Place du 8 Septembre H��tel de Ville
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    Place de la Révolution

    by Nemorino Written Oct 25, 2014

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    Besançon’s Square of the Revolution (Place de la Révolution) is a large open space at the north end of the city center, near Battant Bridge. From my window in the Hôtel Vauban I could look our over the square, so that is where I took the first photo from.

    Actually I was surprised to find a square called Place de la Révolution because not many French cities have them, even though the Revolution starting in 1789 was undoubtedly a (or even the) major turning point in French history. Paris used to have a square called Place de la Révolution, but they have long since re-named it Place de la Concorde.

    Second photo: Another view from the window of my hotel room, showing the roofs of the old buildings near the Place de la Révolution.

    Third photo: During my stay in Besançon there was a two-day bicycle festival at the Place de la Révolution, organized by an association called Vélocampus. This was the 18th edition of the Fête du Vélo, which is traditionally held on the first weekend of June. They said they chose the Place de la Révolution as the main location for the bicycle festival “because it is, in our opinion, the best place to promote sustainable mobility. Every day this square is crossed by thousands of people on foot or by bicycle, and soon by tram.”

    Fourth photo: People at the bicycle festival.

    Fifth photo: Through this archway you can either go downstairs to get to the river bank or upstairs to get to the street Quai Vauban.

    Directions: Tramway stop: Révolution
    VéloCité bicycle station 20 (Révolution)
    Website: http://www.velocampus-besancon.org/?p=1066

    Next: Museum of Fine Arts & Archeology closed till 2017

    Place de la R��volution Roofs Band at the bike festival People at the bike festival Opening to the river
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    Cruising on the Doubs River

    by Nemorino Updated Oct 24, 2014

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    After watching the boat Le Vauban from the shore, I bought a ticket and took the next cruise, which was their last cruise of the day, leaving at 16:45 (= 4:45 pm). The cost of the ticket (as of 2014) was twelve Euros.

    In the first photo we are going past the new Cité des Arts, with the citadel up on the hill in the background.

    Second and third photos: Views of the citadel, from the top deck of the boat.

    Fourth photo: Looking up at the citadel from the boat, through the girders of the railway bridge.

    Fifth photo: On the river.

    Website: http://www.bateau-besancon.fr/

    Next: Tunnel under the Citadel

    On the boat On the boat Looking up at the Citadel Citadel through the bridge On the river
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    Going through the locks

    by Nemorino Updated Oct 24, 2014

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    In medieval times, the Abbey of Saint Paul had a mill on this site, using water power to grind the grain and make flour. Around 1689, Vauban enclosed the mill in a bastion.

    In the 19th century the mill was demolished to make room for the locks that were installed as part of the Rhone-Rhine canal, a canal which incorporates a section of the Doubs River.

    In 2009 this set of locks was renovated and new wooden gates were installed, as shown in this video.

    Second photo: Here the river boat Le Vauban is going through the locks. Its level being raised so it can continue upstream.

    Third photo: Here we can see water pouring into the locks, so as to raise the level of the boat.

    Fourth photo: The opening and closing of the locks is done by hand, by turning the crank.

    Fifth photo: Here the Vauban is leaving the locks to continue on upstream.

    Address: 18 Avenue Arthur Gaulard, 25000 Besançon
    Directions: VéloCité bicycle station 26 (Bersot).

    Next: Cruising on the Doubs River

    Bastion of the mill of St. Paul Le Vauban in the locks Water rushing in to raise the boat Cranking the locks Le Vauban leaving the locks

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    Museum of Fine Arts & Archeology closed till 2017

    by Nemorino Written Oct 24, 2014

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    Unfortunately I arrived in Besançon six and a half weeks too late to take part in the three day “closing festival” of the Museum of Fine Arts and Archeology. This prestigious museum closed on April 13, 2014, for three years of renovation work.

    I was surprised to learn that this is one of the oldest public museums in France. It was established in the year 1694, during the reign of the French king Louis XIV, nearly a century before the Louvre in Paris became a public museum.

    Second photo: This poster at the museum entrance says that the museum is closed for renovation and will re-open in 2017.

    Third photo: Façade of the museum.

    Fourth photo: The new tramway tracks going past the museum. The clock on the museum façade is unusual in that the clock face is in the pendulum, so the entire clock swings back and forth.

    Address: 1, place de la Révolution, 25000 Besançon
    Directions: Tramway station: Révolution
    VéloCité bicycle station 20 (Révolution)
    Phone: +33 (0)3 81 87 80 67
    Website: http://www.mbaa.besancon.fr/en-attendant-2017/

    Next: Synagogue

    Museum on Place de la R��volution Museum closed for renovation Museum fa��ade The new tramway
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    Synagogue

    by Nemorino Written Oct 23, 2014

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    At first glance you might think this building on the left bank of the Doubs River was a mosque, but it is actually a synagogue.

    When the Jewish community of Besançon commissioned the building from the local architect Pierre Marnotte (1797-1882), they specifically requested him to design a synagogue “de style mauresque” (in the Moorish style). It is not known why they wanted this particular style, but it is known that they were dissatisfied with the original proposal, from a different architect, for a neo-classical building, like many other synagogues built in France in the nineteenth century.

    In any case, this is said to be the only neo-Moorish synagogue in France or in fact anywhere in Europe. Construction began in 1869 and was completed in 1870.

    During the Second World War, while the German army occupied Besançon, around forty Jews from the city were deported and presumably killed in concentration camps. Their names, along with the names of other victims from the surrounding region, are listed on a plaque inside the synagogue.

    The building itself was not damaged during the war, because the local German army commander declared it to be German property and under his personal protection. The Germans used the building as a warehouse, but after the war it was returned unharmed to the Jewish community.

    The Torah scrolls and furniture of the synagogue also escaped destruction because they were kept hidden by the Catholic Archbishop of Besançon for the duration of the war.

    The synagogue is normally not open to the public except during the European Heritage Days each year on the third weekend of September.

    Second photo: Façade of the synagogue.

    Address: 2 Rue Mayence, 23C Quai de Strasbourg
    Directions: Tramway station: Battant
    Vélocité bicycle station 3 (Madeleine)
    Aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr
    Phone: 81.80.82.82
    Website: http://www.racinescomtoises.net/?Synagogue-de-Besancon

    Next: Cruise boat Le Vauban

    Synagogue Synagogue
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    Cruise boat Le Vauban

    by Nemorino Updated Oct 23, 2014

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    To do a one hour circle cruise around Besançon on the Doubs River, you have your choice of two boats, which are called (of course) the Victor Hugo and the Vauban.

    I took the Vauban, which is the smaller of the two. First I watched it from the shore as it left its dock, started upstream and went through a set of locks at the mill of St. Paul. An hour and a half later I got on board and went along on their late afternoon cruise.

    The reason this is a circle cruise is that there is a tunnel underneath the citadel connecting two parts of the same river. So the boat goes upstream and then turns right and goes through the tunnel, with a set of locks which lowers its level. After the tunnel it turns right again into the Doubs River and continues on upstream to its starting point.

    Second photo: The dock of the Vauban on a wooded island near the bridge of the Republic (Pont de la République).

    Third and fourth photos: The Vauban on the Doubs River, as seen from the bicycle path.

    Directions: Tramway station: République
    VéloCité bicycle station 24 (Médiathèque) or station 6 (Office de Tourisme)
    Phone: +33 (0)3 81 68 13 25
    Website: http://www.bateau-besancon.fr/

    Next: Going through the locks

    Le Vauban Dock of Le Vauban Le Vauban on the river Le Vauban on the river

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    Tunnel under the Citadel

    by Nemorino Written Oct 23, 2014

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    After cruising upstream for a while along the Doubs River, our boat Le Vauban made a right turn and entered the tunnel under the Citadel.

    This tunnel consists of a canal for boats and a paved path for pedestrians and cyclists. There is a separate tunnel for motor vehicles about 170 meters to the north.

    The canal tunnel was first proposed as early as 1803, but wasn’t actually built until 1878 to 1882. It was intended from the start to be part of the waterway connecting the Rhone and Rhine rivers, and it was used for shipping for many years. Now it is too small for any serious shipping, but it is still used by small boats. Our cruise boat Le Vauban is the largest kind of boat that can fit into the locks.

    Both ends of the tunnel connect with the Doubs River, so the tunnel is essentially a shortcut to avoid having to take the long loop in the river around the center of Besançon.

    In 1987 the tunnel was dredged and renovated because water had started leaking in from the roof and blocks of calcium had fallen into the water. Some of the repair work is shown in this video from a French television news broadcast.

    Second photo: Looking back from the top deck of the boat Le Vauban, after we have just entered the tunnel.

    Third photo: The next day I went back to the tunnel again, and this time rode through it on a VéloCité bicycle.

    Fourth photo: The tunnel with the canal and the adjoining path for pedestrians and cyclists, with a man jogging in the background.

    Fifth photo: My Vélocité bike in the tunnel.

    Directions: Location of the tunnel on Google Maps
    Website: http://structurae.net/structures/canal-tunnel-below-the-besancon-citadel

    Next: The Citadel from the boat

    Approching the tunnel Looking back Cyclists in the tunnel Jogger in the tunnel My V��locit�� bike in the tunnel
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    Fortified towers

    by Nemorino Written Oct 22, 2014

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    Part of Vauban’s plan for the fortifications of Besançon was to build a wall along the river around the city center, with several two-story towers at the corners. These towers still exist, as does most of the wall, and they can be seen from the river boat as it circles the city.

    The towers were built so that defenders of the city could fire on attackers from both levels. The Chamars tower (first two photos) is said to be the one that still most closely resembles Vauban’s original design.

    Second photo: Another view of the Chamars tower, from the other side.
    Aerial view on monumentum.fr.

    Third photo: The Marais tower, a bit further upstream, was built between 1687 and 1691.

    Fourth photo: The Cordeliers tower, which looks somewhat taller than the others, was probably completed in 1691.

    Fifth photo: The Bregille tower was the only one that was made entirely out of stone. It is larger than most of the others and had a well in the middle, so it had its own water supply. It is located next door to the new Cité des Arts. Aerial view and photo of the Bregille tower on monumentum.fr

    Next: Cruise boat Victor Hugo

    Chamars tower Chamars tower Marais tower Cordeliers tower Bregille tower
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    Cruise boat Victor Hugo

    by Nemorino Updated Oct 11, 2014

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    When I was in Besançon there were two boats making the one-hour river cruise around the city and through the tunnel.

    This is the other one, the Victor Hugo, which looks somewhat larger than the one I took. (At least it can carry more passengers. But it couldn’t be wider because then it wouldn’t be able to go through the locks.)

    The Victor Hugo offers the circle cruise four times a day during July and August, and two or three times a day during April, May, June, September and October. From November to March there are no scheduled cruises, but it is possible for groups to book one.

    Second photo: Here’s the name of the boat with a picture of Victor Hugo with a white beard. The name of the company is Vedettes de Besançon.

    Third photo: Both cruise boats, the Victor Hugo and the Vauban, have their docks on a wooded island at the Pont de la République (Bridge of the Republic).

    Address: 2 Pont de la République, 25000 Besançon
    Directions: Tramway station: République
    VéloCité bicycle station 24 (Médiathèque)
    Phone: +33 6 64 48 66 80
    Website: http://www.vedettesdebesancon.com/

    Next: La City

    Le Victor Hugo Le Victor Hugo Le Victor Hugo

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