Besançon Things to Do

  • Things to Do
    by Nemorino
  • Espace Vauban
    Espace Vauban
    by Nemorino
  • Vauban on the road
    Vauban on the road
    by Nemorino

Best Rated Things to Do in Besançon

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Birth house of Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 29, 2014

    4.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Victor Hugo was born in Besançon for the same reason that the poet Paul Verlaine was born in Metz. Their fathers were military officers who happened to be stationed in these out-of-the-way places in the eastern frontier provinces of France. Verlaine’s father was only a captain, whereas Hugo’s was (later) a general.

    Verlaine lived the first seven years of his life in Metz, but Hugo spent only about six weeks in Besançon, from February to April 1802, before his family moved on. Hugo spent his childhood mainly in Paris and never returned to Besançon.

    Nonetheless, Besançon has always been proud of being the birthplace of Victor Hugo. There is a school named after him, and a square, a cinema, a symphony orchestra and a college, and now one of the new trams also has his name and picture on it.

    The apartment where Hugo was born was acquired by the city in 1932, but eighty years went by before the house was restored and renovated (in 2012) and turned into an exhibition on Hugo’s life and work, which was opened to the public in September 2013.

    (This video shows the new museum the day before it opened, and this one shows the inauguration of the museum on September 14, 2013 – both with narration in French.)

    On the ground floor there is now an exhibit called “Hugo and Besançon”, from which I learned that Hugo always identified with the city of his birth, even though he only lived there for the first six weeks of his life. His first published poems, while he was still in his teens, were signed “Victor Hugo from Besançon”. Later he had some close friends who had also come from Besançon, particularly the author Charles Nodier (1780–1844), who was twenty-two years older but by coincidence had also been born on the same square, which was then called Place Rondot Saint-Quentin but is now called Place Victor Hugo. Charles Nodier was the librarian of the Arsenal Library in Paris from 1824 until his death twenty years later. During these years he established an influential literary salon which included such writers as Victor Hugo, Alfred de Musset and Alexander Dumas.

    Second photo: The staircase in Hugo’s birth house now gives an overview of the major turning points in his life. In February 1830 his play Hernani premiered in Paris at the Théâtre-Français, now better known as the Comédie-Française. The play was a huge success and immediately established Hugo as one of the leading French writers of his generation. It also established Romanticism as the dominant literary movement for decades to come – much to the distress of the conservative Classicists, who detested the play and attacked it vehemently. Hernani was performed thirty-six times during its first season, and later inspired the opera Ernani by Giuseppe Verdi.

    1830 was also the year of the July Revolution which removed the king Charles X from power and replaced him with Louis-Philippe. For a long time Victor Hugo supported Louis-Philippe, whom he got to know quite well, but later he became disillusioned, writing that Louis-Philippe was a good man who ultimately failed because he had to “bear in his own person the contradiction of the Restoration and the Revolution”.

    Hugo spent most of 1830 writing a novel, Notre-Dame de Paris 1482, which was an immediate popular success when it was published in 1831 and was soon translated into English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

    1848 was the year of another revolution, which ended the reign of Louis-Philippe and resulted in the founding of the Second Republic. Hugo was elected to the Assembly where he made numerous speeches in support of political prisoners and universal suffrage, and against censorship and the death penalty.

    1851 was the year of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte's coup d’état establishing the Second Empire with himself as Emperor Napoléon III. Victor Hugo was very much opposed to this coup and went into exile for the next nineteen years.

    1855 was the year Victor Hugo moved to the island of Guernsey, where he lived until his return to France fifteen years later after the fall of Napoléon III.

    Third and fourth photos: The upper floor is now devoted to a permanent exposition about the struggles of Victor Hugo on issues that were important to him, illustrated by images, film extracts and excerpts from his speeches on the audio guide. There are four rooms dealing with four different topics:
    • Freedom of Speech
    • Poverty, Equality and Justice
    • Childhood and Education
    • The Liberty of the Peoples

    Fifth photo: The only really authentic large item in the whole house is this chandelier from Hugo’s last apartment in Paris, which has been installed at the bottom of the stairs leading to multi-purpose meeting and media rooms in the basement.

    Some of my reviews and pages on Victor Hugo:
    • Notre-Dame de Paris. 1482
    • Maison Victor Hugo in Paris
    • Travelogue on the Place des Vosges in Paris
    • Place Puget in Toulon
    • The Prison Colony in Toulon
    • In the footsteps (or wagon ruts) of Victor Hugo on my Liège intro page
    • Théâtre Royal de Liège
    • Palace of the Prince Bishops in Liège
    • Museum of Public Transport in Liège
    • Victor Hugo on the Rhine
    • Victor Hugo at Fürstenberg and Falkenburg on the Rhine
    • Hugoffenbach at the Théâtre Musical Marsoulan in Paris
    • Austerlitz Bridge in Paris
    • The Square of Gavroche's Elephant in Paris
    • Jean Valjean in the Sewers of Paris

    Address: 140 Grande-Rue, 25000 Besançon
    Directions: Aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr
    VéloCité bicycle station 13, Place Victor Hugo
    Phone: 03 81 41 53 65
    Website: http://www.besancon.fr/index.php?p=1328

    Next: Birth house of the Lumière brothers

    Birth house of Victor Hugo Career of Victor Hugo Exhibits on Victor Hugo Jean Valjean of Les Mis��rables Chandelier from Paris
    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Museum Visits
    • Arts and Culture

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Chapel in the Citadel

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 22, 2014

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    For each of his citadels, Vauban designed a simple chapel so the soldiers could attend Sunday mass. The one in Besançon is dedicated to Saint Étienne (Saint Stephen), in memory of a church by that name that was demolished to make room for the citadel.

    Vauban himself was a practicing Catholic, but was not interested in converting those with different beliefs. His insistence on building chapels in his citadels seems to have been motivated mainly by his desire to uphold the morale of the troops – an unusual concern for a 17th century military officer.

    Whenever he discovered a corrupt or incompetent priest on duty in one of his fortifications, Vauban complained to his immediate superior, the war minister Louvois. “I plead with you, sir, to give us a chaplain for the citadel who is a good man and capable of preaching.” Louvois was impatient with these complaints, and on at least one occasion told Vauban to find an honest chaplain himself, “so you will have no one but yourself to blame in case he turns out not to be so honest after all. Just send me his name and I will send you a royal certificate of appointment for him.” (Quoted by Monod, pages 49-50.)

    As an engineer, Vauban had numerous Protestant colleagues whom he greatly respected. And as a constant traveler around the border regions of France, he was well aware of the strength of the Huguenot (Protestant) religion and the widespread dissatisfaction, even among Catholics like himself, with the corruption of the established Catholic church.

    Consequently, Vauban was the only high French official who opposed Louis XIV’s Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685. In this edict, the king revoked his grandfather’s tolerant Edict of Nantes from 87 years before and effectively outlawed Protestantism or any other non-Catholic religion.

    Vauban feared that the Edict of Fontainebleau would lead to a civil war (which it didn’t) and to a mass exodus of some of the most skilled and productive people in France (which it did). He was especially appalled to find some of his best engineers and tunnel-makers suddenly fighting on the other side, against France.

    Second photo: The book by Alain Monod, Vauban ou la mauvaise conscience du roi (Vauban or the guilty conscience of the king), Riveneuve éditions, Paris, 2008. I bought a used copy (“occasion”) at one of the Gibert Joseph bookshops on the Boulevard Saint Michel in Paris. This book includes excerpts from Vauban’s “Memoire for the return of the Huguenots” as well as his proposals for tax reform.

    See also:
    The Royal Chapel on my Versailles page
    Vauban memorial in the Dôme des Invalides on my Paris page
    A new home for the Huguenots on my Friedrichsdorf intro page

    Third photo: Inside the Saint Étienne Chapel.

    Fourth photo: During my visit in 2014, the chapel was being used for a wrap-around multi-media show on the history of Besançon and the Franche-Comté region. This was no doubt a well-intentioned project, but as with most multi-media shows it was long on technology and short on substance. Its most annoying feature was the narrator, an overly handsome young man of the type the Germans would call a Schönling, which I suppose would be “pretty boy” in English, the type of person who ought to be hosting a quiz show on daytime television rather than trying to explain the history of an entire region. This narrator would pop up at odd moments at different places on the walls, recite a sentence or two and then disappear.

    Fifth photo: An amateur theater group rehearsing outside the chapel.

    Address: 99 Rue des Fusillés de la Résistance, 25000 Besançon, France
    Directions: Aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr
    Phone: +33 3 81 87 83 33
    Website: http://www.citadelle.com/en/

    Next: The well

    Chapel by Vauban In the chapel Multi-media show Amateur theatre group
    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Architecture

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Espace Vauban

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 26, 2014

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    This “Space of Vauban” is located in one of the buildings in the Citadel, near the entrance. It currently consists of four exhibition rooms which “explore the life and times of Vauban and other important figures and places including Louis XIV, Versailles and Molière.”

    Some of the exhibits “retrace the two French conquests of Franche-Comté, the construction of the Citadel and how young aristocratic soldiers in service to the King (the Cadets du Roi) lived here.”

    There is also a ten-minute film on the construction and history of the Citadel which is shown repeatedly throughout the day.

    Second photo: One of the rooms is entitled “Vauban, strategist and builder,” including excerpts from his book on how to attack fortified places.

    Today he is of course best known as a builder, since many of his fortifications still exist. But in his own lifetime he was equally famous as a strategist, since he was hugely successful in both attacking and defending fortifications. Sometimes he even had to attack and conquer fortifications that he had built himself. In such cases his advantage was that he knew these places in great detail, and knew where the weak points were.

    Military buffs call Vauban “one of the greatest military engineers of all time” but they say “his major contribution to warfare was his methods of attack, which revolutionised siege warfare.”

    (Since I am not a military buff, I’ll simply take their word for it. The reason I am not a military buff is that when I read about battles or sieges I immediately start thinking about how awful they must have been for the ordinary soldiers, so I lose track of the big picture.)

    Third photo: This display is entitled “The Citadel, a project of Vauban”. It shows how he built the Citadel on the site of a much smaller Spanish fortress that already existed there. Some of the old Spanish walls still exist as interior walls of Vauban’s Citadel.

    Fourth photo: Since he was responsible for all the fortifications around all the borders of France – as well as in other places that had been temporarily conquered by the French army – it comes as no surprise to learn that Vauban was constantly on the road for more than forty years of his life.

    Did I say “on the road”? Actually there were no roads in those days, just rough tracks, so travel was not easy. There were stage coaches for passengers and mail, but they were extremely bumpy, since steel spring suspension had not yet been invented.

    After decades of travel, Vauban was sick of being jolted around, so he invented a litter that he could ride in, carried by two mules. This was not a rapid means of transportation, but at least he no longer felt every bump.

    Fifth photo: As I have mentioned elsewhere, Vauban spent last two decades of his life trying unsuccessfully to convince Louis XIV of two things, first that he should restore freedom of religion and allow the exiled Huguenots (Protestants) to return to France, and second that he should institute a sweeping reform of the tax system. This exhibit shows the beginning of his book on tax reform, which he had privately (illegally) printed and distributed to his friends in the last year of his life.

    Although Vauban was the first to admit that he was not an economist, his forty years of constant travel around France had given him an unusually realistic overview of the state of the country. His work is of interest to present-day economists, such as Thomas Piketty, because Vauban made one of the earliest attempts to estimate the total national revenue and national capital of France. (See pages 99-100 of Piketty’s book Le capital au XXIe siècle.)

    Piketty notes that Vauban and a few others, writing around the year 1700 in both France and England, “were promoting a very precise political objective, generally in the form of a project of fiscal modernization. By calculating the national revenue and the national patrimony of the kingdom, they intended to show their sovereign that it would be possible to raise considerable revenues using relatively moderate tax rates, if only one would take into account the totality of property and riches produced, and if these taxes were imposed on everyone, in particular on landowners, whether aristocrats or not.”

    Address: 99 Rue des Fusillés de la Résistance, 25000 Besançon, France
    Directions: Aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr
    Phone: +33 3 81 87 83 33
    Website: http://www.citadelle.com/en/

    Next: Chapel in the Citadel

    Espace Vauban Vauban, strategist and builder The Citadel, a project of Vauban Vauban on the road Tax reform
    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Museum Visits
    • Architecture

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Walking up to the Citadel

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 29, 2014

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    To go up to the Citadel, I docked my VéloCité bike at bicycle station # 14, Jacobins, and walked up the nearby street called Rue du Chambrier.

    This narrow street goes up some stairs and then through a tunnel underneath the Hôtel du Chambrier, a medieval house which was re-built in the 18th century by a man named François Gaspard de Grammont, who was the bishop of Aréthuse and the Suffragan (a sort of assistant or deputy) to the Archbishop of Besançon.

    The Hôtel du Chambrier now houses the regional council.

    Third photo: Street sign, Rue du Chambrier.

    Fourth photo: The view from about halfway up to the Citadel.

    Fifth photo: If you don’t feel like walking, you could take the number 17 bus that runs from La Rodia to the Citadel and back, but only between April and October. There is a free parking lot at La Rodia, so motorized tourists are encouraged to park there and walk up or take the bus rather than driving up to the Citadel, where parking is limited and also quite expensive.

    There is also a little tourist train starting from the Rivotte parking lot and going up to the Citadel by way of the city hall. This is not the sort of train that runs on tracks, but a string of small wagons pulled through the streets by a tractor disguised as a locomotive. I did not ride this train or even take a picture of it, but VT member smirnofforiginal rode it in 2007 at the insistence of her children. In her tip The Numpty Train she wrote that she found the ride “humiliating” because “Besancon has a large student population and where ever we went in the Numpty Train we were smirked at!!! And the driver was miserable!” But her children loved it.

    Website: http://www.racinescomtoises.net/?Rue-du-Chambrier-a-Besancon

    Next: Vauban statue

    Rue du Chambrier Rue du Chambrier Street sign View from halfway up Bus 17
    Related to:
    • Architecture
    • Historical Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Church of St. Pierre

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 2, 2014

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    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

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Place Granvelle

    by Nemorino Written Nov 9, 2014

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    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
    Related to:
    • Arts and Culture

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Museum of Time: Clocks and watches

    by Nemorino Written Nov 9, 2014

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    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
    Related to:
    • Museum Visits

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    The Museum of Time: History

    by Nemorino Written Nov 9, 2014

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    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
    Related to:
    • Arts and Culture
    • Museum Visits
    • Historical Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Palais Granvelle

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 9, 2014

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    This sixteenth century Renaissance palace was built from 1534 and 1547 on the Grand Rue, the main street in the center of Besançon.

    At that time the Franche-Comté and Burgundy did not belong to France, but were ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558). His local garde des sceaux (Keeper of the Seals, a function similar to the Minister of Justice today) was a man named Nicolas Perrenot de Granvelle (1486-1550), who became very wealthy by virtue of his close connection to the emperor.

    Granvelle’s palace was renovated in 2002 and now houses the Museum of Time.

    Second photo: Entrance to Palais Granvelle, from the street.

    Third and fourth photos: Courtyard of Palais Granvelle.

    Fifth photo: VéloCité bicycle station # 12 at Place Granvelle.

    Address: 1 Rue de la Préfecture, 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: The Museum of Time

    Palais Granvelle Entrance to Palais Granvelle Courtyard of Palais Granvelle Courtyard of Palais Granvelle V��loCit�� bicycle station # 12 at Place Granvelle
    Related to:
    • Architecture
    • Historical Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Birth house of the Lumière brothers

    by Nemorino Written Nov 11, 2014

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    All you loyal readers of my Lyon page (thanks again to both of you) may recall that Lyon was where Auguste Lumière (1862-1954) and his brother Louis Lumière (1864-1948) invented the motion picture camera and made their first film -- a very short film of workers coming out of their factory after work. This film had no plot and only lasted 46 seconds when cranked by hand through the Lumières’ patented projector, but it was a big hit when it was first shown in Paris in 1895, because no one had seen anything like it.

    Auguste and Louis Lumière were born in this house in Besançon at 1 Place Rondot Saint-Quentin, which now has the address 1 Place Victor Hugo. They lived here until 1870, when their family moved back to Lyon.

    Older photos show a plaque on this house saying that the brothers were born here, but this plaque seems to have been removed.

    Both Auguste and Louis Lumière were still alive when the Second World War began, and they both made themselves unpopular in their native city by coming out in favor of the collaborationist Vichy regime of Marshal Pétain. In addition, Louis admired the Italian Fascists and Auguste supported the “Legion of French Volunteers” who fought on the side of the Nazis.

    After the war no mayor of Besançon was willing to even mention the Lumière brothers, much less commemorate them in any way. Now, nearly seventy years after the end of the war, the first slight exception is being made, since one of the nineteen new trams in the Besançon tramway system has been named after them and even has a picture of them on the front.

    My tips/reviews on the Lumière brothers:
    Villa Lumière in Lyon.
    Lumière Museum in Lyon.
    Institut Lumière in Lyon.
    The multimodal interchange hub, aka train station in Toulon.

    Second photo: Looking up the Rue de la Convention from Place Victor Hugo, with the historic Porte Noire (Black Gate) and the cathedral in the background. Actually the Black Gate is not black at all, at least not any more.
    Aerial view and photo of Porte Noire on monumentum.fr.

    Address: 1 Place Victor Hugo, 25000 Besançon
    Directions: Vélocité bicycle station 13, Place Victor Hugo
    Website: http://bisonteint.net/2013/09/29/une/les-freres-lumiere-ces-bisontins-dont-besancon-senorgueillit-si-peu/

    Next: Cathédrale Saint-Jean

    Birth house of the Lumi��re brothers Rue de la Convention
    Related to:
    • Photography
    • Historical Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Going through the locks

    by Nemorino Updated Oct 24, 2014

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    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

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Synagogue

    by Nemorino Written Oct 23, 2014

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    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
    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Architecture

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    The theater of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 8, 2014

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    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
    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Theater Travel
    • Architecture

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    The well

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 19, 2014

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    To withstand a siege, it was essential to have a secure supply of water, so one of Vauban’s priorities was always to dig a deep well that would not go dry and could not be sabotaged from the outside.

    In 1681 he had this well dug in the center of the Citadel, near the chapel. At a depth of 132 meters it reached the water table. Water was lifted out of the well in buckets that were raised by means of a large wooden wheel, visible in the photo to the left of the well. The wheel was four meters in diameter and was operated by a man who walked inside. Unfortunately the water from the well soon turned out to be brackish and undrinkable, so he also built four cisterns to collect rain water.

    Address: 99 Rue des Fusillés de la Résistance, 25000 Besançon, France
    Directions: Aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr
    Phone: +33 3 81 87 83 33
    Website: http://www.citadelle.com/en/

    Next: Museum of the Resistance and Deportation

    The well
    Related to:
    • Architecture
    • Historical Travel

    Was this review helpful?

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo

    Fortified towers

    by Nemorino Written Oct 22, 2014

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    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
    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Architecture

    Was this review helpful?

Instant Answers: Besançon

Get an instant answer from local experts and frequent travelers

26 travelers online now

Comments

Besançon Things to Do

Reviews and photos of Besançon things to do posted by real travelers and locals. The best tips for Besançon sightseeing.

View all Besançon hotels