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- the Connoisseur's guide to France
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walls of Aigues Mortes, near Montpellier
To visit a fine walled city in
France, there is
no need to go as far as Carcassonne
way down south in the Languedoc.
While Carcassonne is the most emblematic of walled cities in France, it
is by no means the only such location, and in actual fact there are
walled towns and cities in many parts of France, from the Pas de Calais
to the Pyrenees, and from Alsace to Brittany.
On account of its location in the heart of
western Europe, France is a country which, historically, had changing
borders and fragile frontiers, right up until the 20th century.
In the 17th century, Vauban, Louis XIV's great military
architect, fortified many towns and cities round France's border and
frontier regions. He frequently consolidated existing medieval walls
city walls or
ramparts; and his successors continued the work. Until the 19th
century, France was still consolidating the walls and ramparts of
strategic cities in its eastern marches.
Before the age of Vauban, many French towns had
medieval fortifications; a few of these, including such examples as
Carcassonne, Avignon or Guérande, survive more or less
intact - though renovated - to this day. In addition to the selection
of the best walled towns and cities listed below, France also has many
towns that still have vestiges of their former ramparts and/or city
gates, and also a large number of small "bastide towns", mostly in the
southwest. Some of these remain largely fortified, others less so.
Walled bastides were built in the Middle Ages to provide a safe haven
for people to live in what was, in those days, dangerous territory. For
more information on these, see France's Bastide towns
Several of Vauban's fortifications are UNESCO World Heritage sites, as are some of France's older fortified cities.
best preserved and most impressive walled
cities and towns in France.
walled or substantially walled cities
and its ramparts
walled or almost fully walled smaller towns in France
most famous walled city in France, old Carcassonne - a UNESCO world
heritage site - is fully enclosed in its ramparts. Though the site is
authentic, it was heavily restored in the nineteenth century, and
embellished with a certain amount of fantasy by the great
neo-gothic architect Viollet-Le-Duc. The old walled city is genuine,
ramparts are medieval; but most of the battlements as well as the
steep slate roofs on the towers are due to Le Duc's imagination of how
the old city ought to have looked in medieval times, rather than how
the normal tourist track, a hill town and county capital almost
entirely encircled by defensive walls, towers and and city gates. The
fortifications of Langres were periodically renovated and developed
until the 19th century.
: dramatically sited hill town, dominated by its great 12th century
cathedral. The city walls and three city gates remain largely intact,
though in parts the walls have been reduced in height. A delightful
small town with an attractive and active historic city centre.
: The old port city of Saint Malo stands on what was once
an island at
the mouth of the river Rance. The old town was protected by walls from
medieval times onwards, but it was Vauban, the great military
engineer, who redesigned them in the 17th century, and gave them the
form they have today.
UNESCO world heritage site - among the best and most complete set of
city walls in France, the 14th
century walls of Avignon, 4.3 km long, were protected and restored in
the nineteenth century. All the old town of Avignon, including the
the Popes, is within the ramparts. Avignon still has four
of the old town of Besançon
is surrounded by defensive
culminating in the massive Citadel. While parts of these, notably the
Rivotte gate, are medieval, most of the fortifications date from the
17th to 19th centuries, and are in part the work of Vauban. Centre for
the Vauban UNESCO world heritage site.
Neuf-Brisach - Alsace. Fully encircled by its 17th century ramparts, and a UNESCO world heritage site.
- this small town, on a hilltop south of Boulogne sur Mer, is fully
encircled by 3 km of ramparts dating from the Middle Ages to the
seventeenth century. Visitors can walk round the ramparts.
Quesnoy (Nord-Pas de Calais)
fortified small town with some 3.5 kilometres of ramparts and remains
of a moat. The town, fortified since medieval days, had its ramparts
redesigned by Vauban in the 17th century
Brisach, in the Rhine valley, has the finest example of 17th century
military city walls in France. They are the work of the great military
architect Vauban. UNESCO World Heritage site.
is a small town in the Alsace vineyards, which has preserved its full
town walls dating from the early fourteenth century.
- Ville Close (Finisterre - Brittany)
: the old town of Concarneau stands on a small island just offshore,
protected by walls.
(Brittany) - The old town is
almost completely surrounded by ramparts.
(Loire Atlantique - Pays
de la Loire) . A
very attractive small town on the north of the Loire estuary,
completely encircled by medieval ramparts including ten towers and
four city gates. Among the most complete ramparts in France.
The 16th-17th century ramparts of Brouage rise up from the Atlantic
coastal marshes in southwest France. Now three kilometres from the sea,
Brouage was a naval port in the past. Today it is a small village.
Visitors can walk freely round the ramparts.
(Aveyron - Occitanie
- An old bastion of the Knights Templar, located at 700 metres in the
wilds of the Causse du Larzac, an arid plateau between Millau and
Montpellier. Today a small village encircled by medieval walls with
towers and a gate. Off the beaten track, but can be quite full in the
tourist season and on holiday weekends.
Minuscule walled city - La Couvertoirade, on the Larzac
Mortes (Gard - Occitanie
(Photo top of page) A medieval bastide city, Aigues Mortes,
once a Mediterranean
port, is a today a very impressive walled town at the edge of the Camargue
de Conflent (Eastern Pyrenees, Occitanie
Small unspoilt town, in a steep sided valley, fully
fortifications dating from the Middle Ages to the 17th century.
City gates. Departure point for the Little yellow
c) Other French medieval cities with substantial and impressive
sections of the old city walls still intact.
(Seine et Marne - Paris region)
This small city southeast of Paris, easily accessible by train, has
almost a mile of its old medieval ramparts, including two city gates,
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