Star Shaped Citadel
The star shaped citadel is not just a fortification, it is a self-contained town
Avenue du 43ème Régiment d’Infanterie
Tel: Tourist Office: 00 33 (0)320 21 94 21
Open: Visitors can take a guided tour of the citadel on Sundays from 3pm to 5pm between May and August and on selected dates outside this period. You must book in advance as no impromptu visits are allowed. Contact the tourist office to book. There is ample space for wheelchairs but the streets are cobbled and may prove a little bumpy.
Cost: 7 euros
Metro to Gare Lille Flandres, then line 1 to Republique
Bus 14 to Jardin Vauban
Louis IXV, the Sun King, having just conquered the town of Lille, wished to fortify it with a citadel. He commissioned Sebastien Leprestre, Marquis of Vauban, to build it just outside Vieux Lille. It was constructed with an impressive speed in just three years between 1667 and 1670 and remains the largest and the best preserved citadel in France. Construction of this amazing fortification proved to be quite a feat involving 3 million concrete blocks, 60 million newly baked bricks and the efforts of 2000 men.
The outer moats were used as execution sites during World War 1 and II and many French patriots were shot.
It is in fact self-contained town surrounded by five bastions and five demi-lune (half moon) fortifications in a star formation – a design which later inspired the US Pentagon. It can house up to 1,200 soldiers and there are usually around 1000 soldiers and foreign legionnaires stationed there at any one time. Historically, uniforms include the naval badges since the first regiment stationed here were marines.
The main entrance is at the gabled Porte Royale. The gate acts as a potent symbol of the monarchy and indeed of France. The facade is inscribed with Latin and the drawbridge is angled from the 4m-thick wall in order to evade enemy fire.
Every year in April, 14 of the 28 northern fortresses hold an open day, but usually the public are only permitted to visit this working garrison during an official guided tour.
To the side of the access path to the citadel there is a zoo and opposite is a memorial to Charles de Gaulle. He was born nearby at 9 rue Princesse which is now a museum to de Gaulle and his life.
The Bois de Boulogne park wraps itself around the citadel.
Vauban’s original models of the citadel are displayed at the Palais des Beaux Arts.