One of the greatest military engineers of all time, Sébastian Le Prestre de Vauban built the famed citadel of Blaye in the 17th century to protect Bordeaux.
The architect was a legend, a rock star among the French court – so much so that he is often referred to simply as ‘Vauban.’ While the iconic Vauban (1633-1707) built over a hundred citadels, his own personal favourite is that of the Blaye Citadel.
Located along the right bank of the Gironde River, just downstream of Bordeaux, the ancient town of Blaye was of strategic importance, dating back to Roman rule. A castle was built here as early as 625 AD as the town was attacked numerous times during the Middle Ages. Artillery fortifications may have first been installed during the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598), a time of civil infighting between Catholics and Protestants.
In 1685, Vauban was sent to Blaye to update the citadel even further, building one of the strongest fortresses along the French Coast. Born in 1663 in the city that now claims his name, Saint-Léger-Vauban (previously known as Saint-Léger-de-Foucheret), France’s foremost military engineer of his time was both engineer and soldier. At age 17, Vauban enlisted with Le Grand Condé in the war of the Fronde. Later, despite being held captive, he became devoted to the monarchy, his once-enemy. He began engineering new designs while still a soldier and was soon known for his designs as much as (or even more than) his ability to strategically break through them. His ideas were the dominant model in sieges for almost 100 years, inspiring engineers even to this day.
Vauban wrote in his memoirs that Blaye was his favourite design. The fortress effectively closed the river to enemy ships. Most of the walls follow the Gironde’s jagged shoreline, allowing most guns to face directly out over the river. A few others were positioned so they could fire up or down the water as well. These fortifications were called to action for ten days during the Napoleon Wars in 1814, when the British attacked. Napoleon’s abdication ended the conflict – but Vauban’s designs held their own over 100 years of their construction.
The imposing citadel has four large arrow-headed bastions, three demi-lunes and a deep ditch. Port Royale is the main entrance, which is found on the east side – visitors can walk through or even drive through. Sometimes, you may even spot a horse-drawn carriage! Be sure to walk around the walls for captivating views of the town and the Gironde estuary below. The Clock Tower (Tour de l’orlonge) and portrait of Vauban (found in the convent) are also must-sees.