Vauban's first major project was the redesign of Lille - its city walls and the citadel.  Today, many of the plans relief of France's forts reside in Lille at the Musee des Beaux-Arts, including the model of Lille itself.  As the city walls were demolished in the late 1800s, the model gives the best impression of Vauban's design for the walls.  Fortunately the citadel still exists although the moats have been largely drained.


Vauban's design for the citadel was inspired by the 1567 Antwerp citadel.   Vauban himself spent quite a bit of time inside the citadel.  Built in swampy land, a besieger would find it difficult to impossible to dig siege lines and bring up artillery.  A besieger would have to capture not only the usual covered way, but two of them.  He would then find himself facing more layers of defense.  Most of the bastions were protected by counterguards, and the demi-lunes between the bastions were redoubted so that they could still be defended even if the enemy entered them.  For these reasons, it was generally regarded that in order to capture the citadel, an attacker would first need to capture the city.   The citadel's glacis, or field of fire, was broad facing the city - called the esplanade.

Fortress construction was a massive undertaking.  Built between 1668 and 1671, a canal was even built just to transport building materials to the site as 12,000 sandstone blocks had to be delivered.  The citadel was built by over 1,800 men, including 60 master masons and 400 skilled workers.  Sixty million bricks were baked on site.  

Although the citadel is not in pristine condition and is now occupied by NATO's Rapid Reaction Force, we are able to see some of the outside.  Here we are approaching the gate of a demi-lune.  

A little closer and we can see a bastion in the distance largely obscured by the counterguard to its front.  A wet ditch existed in Vauban's time, which has since been filled in.  Note that the gate has two slits above for a drawbridge, no longer there, and it also features decoration.

Having walked through the gate, barely visible on the far right of this nearly 360 degree view, we are now where the road passes through a brick redoubt within the demi-lune.  You can see the demi-lune's fighting areas, the grassy mounds at left and right of the panorama.  Visitors would be stopped here at the guardhouse before proceeding to the prominent gate through the curtain wall.  Next we continue down the road and over the bridge.

Once covered with water, the ditch is now a garden area drained by a small canal.  As we approach the gate we will pass the false bray, an additional layer of defense in front of the curtain wall.

We have passed the false bray and reached the gate.  Above us, a wonderful decoration reminds us of the King's wealth and good taste.  Meanwhile, any men on the flanks of the bastions on either side of us could dominate this area with their fire.  A drawbridge provided a final level of security.  Sadly we can't enter the citadel as it is an active military base.

Note: Distortion has curved the curtain wall, which is straight.

Before we leave, let's go into the ditch, now dry.  In this 360 degree view, you can see the features that we have discussed.  The counterguard at right has some masonry visible at right.  This allows the near portion of the counterguard to be defended if the salient has been captured.  Next, let's go back to the museum to see what the city walls looked like.  They were also quite formidable.

The bastions have counterguards in front of them, and the demi-lune at right has a redoubt inside it.  At center an outwork juts considerably forward.  All these features add depth to the defense.  Traverses on the covered ways protected the infantry against enfilade richocet fire, a technique that Vauban frequently used when besieging a fort.

Dauphine Gate with Hornwork

The Lille city walls included four hornworks.  The hornwork at the Dauphine Gate has an interesting design.  It is in front of a demi-lune, and it includes a redoubt.  The demi-lune dominates the hornwork, which also has two diagonal defense lines within the hornwork.  Another feature, between the bastions of the city walls, and between the demi-bastions of the hornwork, are tenailles, which protected the bases of the curtain walls behind them.  The one between the demi-bastions is a simple version.  The one between the bastions is bastioned itself; fire from it could dominate the demi-lune and its redoubt..


Like many forts built on low ground, a river was used to circulate water through the moat.  This helped maintain the health of the garrison and of the residents.  Here at the Watergate the River Deule flows through the city walls.

The citadel is at left.  Outworks were built well forward of the city walls in this northern sector.

A detached work was built in front of a demi-lune, providing more depth to the defense.  The model has been damaged and is missing the bridges over the moat.

Fort Sain-Sauveur

Fort Saint-Sauveur is in upper right - in place of a bastion.  It is reduit, like a mini-citadel or poor man's citadel.  It was designed to hold out even if the rest of the defenses had fallen.

The standard bastions of the city walls had counterguards to their front.  Here you can see where a hornwork was built in front of a counterguard.  In turn, the hornwork is protected by a demi-lune.  In the 1708 siege of Lille, the besiegers tried to advance their works between two hornworks, which proved difficult.  Despite the strength of the defenses and a valiant and creative defense that included inundating areas of Allied supply, Lille fell to a besieging army in 1708.  No fortress is impregnable.  

Copyright 2011 by John Hamill

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