5 Things Not to Miss in Beautiful Besançon
“… It was then that in Besançon, that old Spanish town, Cast like a seed into the flying wind,
A child was born of mixed blood, Breton and Lorraine Pallid, blind and mute…”
That child was France’s greatest writer and poet Victor Hugo. Born in Besançon but only living there for his first six weeks. It is said Victor Hugo’s birthplace city has always had a special place in his heart. And it’s easy to see why.
Besançon is brimming with charm and beauty.
Located in the Franche-Comté region of Eastern France near the Swiss border. The city displays architectural elegance throughout. French, German and Spanish influenced facades line the streets. Mixed with Roman ruins, monumental forts, and Medieval and Renaissance homes.
The city’s geographical location sets the perfect scene to explore the outdoors. Overlooked by six densely forested hills, and wrapped in the Doubs river. Besançon is a haven for hikers, runners, and cyclists. Well marked footpaths are in abundance here. You can scout out many of the surrounding hill forts from the trails which run along the river.
There are plenty of attractions and sights to appreciate when you visit this provincial town. Including Maison de la Victor Hugo, the birth house of the literary great. But here are the top 5 things which should not be missed. The best sights which really showcase the city’s splendor and grace.
1 Besançon Citadel
The historical Citadel is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. The 17th-century fort was designed by the famous Vauban. It towers over the city with vast panoramic views. A visit to the Citadel is a full day outing in itself. You can walk around the fortifications and visit the enclosed attractions. There is a zoo, farm, a natural history museum, and a museum about Franche-Comté.
The most memorable museum for me though was the Museum of Resistance and Deportation. Founded by a concentration camp survivor, it was awarded the status of “Musee de France” by the French Government.
The permanent exhibition details the atrocities Nazism inflicted on the country and region. Stories are recounted of the brave men and women involved in the resistance movement and liberation. The exhibition is an emotional yet respectful account of what should never be allowed to surface again.
2 The Roman Porte Noire Arch
The Black Door arch is an impressive Roman archway built in 175 AD. The 16-metre high monument still stands proudly over the entrance road to the Citadel. It is the oldest remaining Roman monument in Besançon.
Built as a sign of loyalty to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aureli, by the occupying tribe of Vesontio, a city where Besançon now stands. Detailed decorative sculptures on the arch have sadly worn over time. However, it is still an impressive piece of history worth seeing.
3 Cathédrale Saint-Jean
Built in the 3rd century, with Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque modifications and rebuilds. Positioned just behind the Roman Porte Noire on the road that leads to the Citadel. Grand in every way a cathedral should be, inside and out.
Regional multicoloured tiles decorate the bell tower roof. Inside you will find up to 30 historical paintings and Besançons 19th Century Astronomical clock. 30,000 parts make up the mechanical masterpiece. Impressively displaying 122 separate indications of time, dates, seasons, lunar eclipses, tidal dates… and so on and so on.
4 Notre-Dame de la Libération
Perched high above the city at almost 1,600 feet, sits the Notre-Dame de la Libération church and monument. Built in memory of those who lost their lives during WWII. It is said, during the war, the Archbishop of Besançon promised to build a remembrance site if the city survived the bombing. Thankfully it did, and the magnificent memorial was prominently positioned on the ruins of a 19th-century military fort.
Just outside the city, the monument can be reached following footpaths signposted from the Doubs river. It is quite an uphill hike, but the panoramic views are totally worth it. Views of Besançon to the West, and green rolling hills out to the East. This place really shows off the beauty of the city and its surrounding area.
5 The Doubs River
The Doubs river forms the heart of the city’s outdoor lifestyle with canals, bridges, footpaths, and parks alongside it. A wonderful way to enjoy the city’s green open spaces is to follow the river which leads you out into the countryside.
Forget you are a tourist
When you visit Besançon, ‘that old Spanish town’, you will certainly not be disappointed. It is a magnificently diverse city with so much to offer. And the best part is that it is still positioned off the popular tourist route. So you can enjoy Besançons sights alongside local life.
Who knows, perhaps one day you will feel the same as Victor Hugo. And Besançon will become a city which finds a special place in your heart.
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