Besançon Things to Do

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Best Rated Things to Do in Besançon

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    The Besançon Citadel

    by Loeffle Written Jun 27, 2003

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    As mentioned in my Besançon intro page this a magnificant place and I highly rate it as must see.

    The Besançon Citadel was built between 1668 and 1711 playing an integral part of Vauban's border fortification system (other examples are for example Belfort, Neuf-Brisach or Saarlouis) against the Germans. It extends over 11 hectares and stands more than 100 metres above the old town of Besançon, which lies below almost entirely encircled by River Doubs. The view is breathtaking as you can imagine.

    The Citadel is a fortress that has been restored to a remarkable high standard and is not a unique cultural and tourist attraction.

    For me the very special thing about the Besançon Citadel is the combination of a historical site which hosts modern museums. For example there's a small zoo in the ditches of the Citadel.

    In addition to the zoo the Besançon Citadel hosts the following museums and exhibitions:

    - Vauban exhibition and the ramparts
    - Franche-Comté Museum (regional)
    - Museum of the Resistance and the Deportations (WW II)
    - Noctarium (dark world of small nocturnal animals)
    - Insectarium (world of insects)
    - Aquarium

    During summer there are guided tours through the Citadel. You can also get audio guides.

    The Besançon Citadel is open all year round with exception of January 1st and December 25 th. Museums are closed on Tuesday from November 1 st to Easter. No dogs admitted!

    A miniature railway, a free bus from city centre (in summer), a café, snack bar, restaurant with panorama view over the city, a boutique, a bookshop and a seminar room can also be found there.

    Prices (Citadel and all museums) 3,50 to 7 €

    The Besan��on Citadel
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    • Zoo
    • Aquarium
    • Castles and Palaces

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    Church of Saint-Pierre

    by Loeffle Written Jun 27, 2003

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    The church was completed in 1786 by the architect Bertrand from drawings by Victor Louis, but its origins date back to the 4th century.

    The neo-classical facade with its Corinthian colonnade surmounted by a pyramid-shaped tower may strike a bizarre note, but inside the dominating impression is one of unity. The many works of art include the woodwork of the choir, the pietà by Luc Breton and the original Stations of the Cross.

    You will find Saint-Pierre easily: It is just across Hôtel de Ville on Place du Huit Septembre. Be careful! Most tourist are in this part of the town, so only thieves are there (own experience!)

    Church of Saint-Pierre
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    • Historical Travel
    • Religious Travel

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    L' Hôtel de Ville

    by Loeffle Updated Jun 27, 2003

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    Built between 1569 and 1573, the Hôtel de Ville presents a sober, austere facade to the outside world. Above the porch, the Besançon eagle bearing two columns reminds us of the town’s long history (there's a nice story about this eagle, but our guide couldn't really explain it well enough in a language I understand, sorry).

    On the right, an immense niche contained, up to the French Revolution, a bronze fountain representing Charles V astride a two-headed eagle; to this day it is surmounted by the town motto, Pleut à Dieu (“Pleasing to God”). The 15th century municipal aune (0.815 m) is on the extreme left of the facade.

    L' Hôtel de Ville is located just across Saint-Pierre on Place du Huit Septembre. I refer to the warnings I included on that tip.

    Anyway, Place du Huit Septembre offers some nice cafés and bars where you can sit outdoors. Especially in summertime a good and comfortable option. Prices are not too expensive (if you want to save money visit side roads)

    L' H��tel de Ville
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    • Architecture

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    Doubs River - Pont de Battant - Quai Vauban

    by Loeffle Updated Jul 10, 2003

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    The Doubs springs up at Mouthe (alt. 937 m). At times, it flows through lush limestone gorges, at times, it lingers through plains and meanders. It forms lakes Saint-Point and Chaillexon as well..

    The loop it forms around the city of Besançon is very famous and therefore the river was very important for the founding of the city (see Citadel and overview page). For many centuries Pont de Battant (replacing the old Roman stone bridge which was part of the road connecting Italy with the Rhine Provinces) was the only bridge over the Doubs in Besançon.

    The superb architectural sweep of the Quai Vauban punctuated by the arcades of the 17th century houses.

    At Villers-le-Lac, the Doubs spreads out in large pools and soon turns into an impressive 27 meters waterfall, called Saut du Doubs (the Doubs Sault). Boat cruises are available from Villers-le-Lac.

    The river gave its name to the Doubs department and makes its mark along its course. Its name (Doubs) originates in the Latin word "Dubius" meaning "doubtful". To achieve a distance of 90 km from its source to the point where it flows into the Saône river, it changes direction three times and flows 430 km with 190 km of navigable waterways.

    The Doubs in evening twilight
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    • Architecture
    • Historical Travel
    • Fishing

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    Birthplace of Victor Hugo

    by Loeffle Written Jun 29, 2003

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    In this building French writer and poet Victor Huge (1802 - 1885) was born. But actually he just lived for two weeks in Besançon, because his family just stayed in town to visit his grandfather who was garrisoned in Besançon.

    In another house on Place Victor Hugo (northern end) Auguste and Louis Lumière (1862-1954 and 1864-1948) were born. They eventually invented cinematography.

    You can see the "faces" of all these famous sons of Besançon in different windows at Place Victor Hugo.

    Victor Hugo's birthplace
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    • Arts and Culture
    • Historical Travel

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    There are many activity...

    by exotique18 Written Feb 25, 2003

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    There are many activity opportunities and many places to visit in Besançon.Hotel de Ville,Palais de Justice,Eglise St.Madeleine,Musée des Beaux Arts are some of place that should be visited.If you want you can do a tour around the city with a bateau-mouche.Citadel is also very attractive place.There is a zoo and botanic garden in it.In summer many spectacles and festivals are made in it.
    You may go there by bus (from Place du Huit Septembre).Many festivals,concerts especially jazz&classic and competitions such as chess (le concours d'échecs) are taken place throughout the year.There are also many beautiful parks in Besançon.
    Besançon is a very beautiful city that should be visited.It is a wonderful,historical green city surrounded by natural beauty.

    Related to:
    • Wine Tasting

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    The Juras wine road.

    by Pierre_Rouss Written Feb 25, 2003

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    Not the most renowned wine around, but excellent. Think about the red and white wines, but also the yellow wines and 'vins de paille' (very slow fermentation giving wines up to 17%). You must taste these!!!
    Classification: Wine Tasting , Hiking , Photography , Site Seeing

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    • Wine Tasting

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    Château et Le Lion de Belfort

    by Pierre_Rouss Updated Oct 19, 2002

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    The castle at the bottom of which can be found the Lion de Belfort, symbol of the city resistance in 1870-1871 which commemorates the 104-day siege of the Franco-German War; it was sculptured by Bartholdi. It is roughly 22 meters long by 11 meters high.
    Classification: Photography , Site Seeing

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    "La Citadelle"

    by thinking Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Museum of the Resistance and Deportation
    A poignant witness to this period of history

    20 rooms spread over two floors examine, with the help of photographs,
    writings, documents and original objects, themes linked to the
    second world war; Nazism and its origins, the war and
    the Vichy regime, the deportation, the resistance in
    Franche-Comté, in France, Europe-wide and the Liberation.

    Plan to spend one to two full days here.

    The Citadel View of the Citadel The Citadel at night WW2-France imprisoning Jews & then deporting them
    Related to:
    • Work Abroad
    • Business Travel
    • Historical Travel

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    Birth house of Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 29, 2014

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    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
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    • Historical Travel
    • Museum Visits
    • Arts and Culture

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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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    • Museum Visits

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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 Visits
    • Historical Travel

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    Birth house of the Lumière brothers

    by Nemorino Written Nov 11, 2014

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    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

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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 well

    by Nemorino Updated Nov 19, 2014

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    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

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Besançon Things to Do

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