Espace Vauban

This “Space of Vauban” is located in one of the buildings in the Citadel of Besançon. It currently consists of four exhibition rooms which “explore the life and times of Vauban and other important figures and places including Louis XIV, Versailles and Molière.”

Some of the exhibits “retrace the two French conquests of Franche-Comté, the construction of the Citadel and how young aristocratic soldiers in service to the King (the Cadets du Roi) lived here.”

There is also a ten-minute film on the construction and history of the Citadel which is shown repeatedly throughout the day.

Vauban, strategist and builder

One of the rooms is entitled “Vauban, strategist and builder,” including excerpts from his book on how to attack fortified places.

Today he is best known as a builder, since many of his fortifications still exist. But in his own lifetime he was equally famous as a strategist, since he was hugely successful in both attacking and defending fortifications. Sometimes he even had to attack and conquer fortifications that he had built himself. In such cases, his advantage was that he knew these places in great detail, and knew where the weak points were.

The Citadel, a project of Vauban

This display shows how Vauban built the Citadel on the site of a much smaller Spanish fortress that already existed there. Some of the old Spanish walls still exist as interior walls of Vauban’s Citadel.

Vauban travelling in his later years

Since he was responsible for all the fortifications around all the borders of France — as well as in other places that had been temporarily conquered by the French army — it comes as no surprise to learn that Vauban was constantly on the road for more than forty years of his life.

Did I say “on the road”? Actually there were no roads in those days, just rough tracks, so travel was not easy. There were stage coaches for passengers and mail, but they were extremely bumpy, since steel spring suspension had not yet been invented.

After decades of travel, Vauban was sick of being jolted around, so he invented a litter that he could ride in, carried by two mules. This was not a rapid means of transportation, but at least he no longer felt every bump.

Tax reform

As I have mentioned elsewhere, Vauban spent last two decades of his life trying unsuccessfully to convince Louis XIV of two things, first that he should restore freedom of religion and allow the exiled Huguenots (Protestants) to return to France, and second that he should institute a sweeping reform of the tax system. This exhibit shows the beginning of his book on tax reform, which he had privately (illegally) printed and distributed to his friends in the last year of his life.

Although Vauban was the first to admit that he was not an economist, his forty years of constant travel around France had given him an unusually realistic overview of the state of the country. His work is of interest to present-day economists, such as Thomas Piketty, because Vauban made one of the earliest attempts to estimate the total national revenue and national capital of France. (See pages 99-100 of Piketty’s book Le capital au XXIe siècle.)

Piketty points out (as I have quoted previously) that Vauban and a few others, writing around the year 1700 in both France and England, “were promoting a very precise political objective, generally in the form of a project of fiscal modernization. By calculating the national revenue and the national patrimony of the kingdom, they intended to show their sovereign that it would be possible to raise considerable revenues using relatively moderate tax rates, if only one would take into account the totality of property and riches produced, and if these taxes were imposed on everyone, in particular on landowners, whether aristocrats or not.”

Location, aerial view and photos of the citadel on monumentum.fr.

My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2019.

See more posts on Besançon, France.
See more posts on Sébastien Le Prestre, Marquis de Vauban.

1 thought on “Espace Vauban”

  1. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that someone skilled in building fortifications should also be adept at figuring out how to breach them – even those that he didn’t design himself!

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