Bastion Saint-Jean

Avesnes-sur-Helpe, fortification and collegiate church.© Havang(nl)

This fortified city clinging to the side of a rocky cliff was founded by Wédric Le Barbu in the 11th century.


Bastion No. 6, known as "Bastion Saint-Jean", is situated in the commune of Avesnes-sur-Helpe, in the North of France, in the region called Nord-Pas-de-Calais. This fortified city clinging to the side of a rocky cliff was founded by Wédric Le Barbu in the 11th century. Philippa de Hainaut, future queen of England who persuaded King Edward to spare the lives of the Burghers of Calais, was born into the family of Avesnes.



The edifice was established on the south-eastern boundary of the town, against a rocky outcrop, opposite the high grounds of Malassise and Guersignies to the south; it dominates the Helpe valley. The first elements of the motte-and-bailey castle were built in the 11th century; two ramparts circled the town in the 13th and 14th centuries. In the second half of the 16th century, the town of Avesnes was the site of Franco-Spanish rivalry to take control of the Netherlands. Avesnes had six bastions built according to the plans of Devanter and Guichardin.



Reference is made to a "Bastion in front of the tower of Saint Jean" in written sources dating to 1559. It has the form of an "arrow-head" and the odd characteristic of a truncated salient. When it became too small to meet the needs of the growing artillery, Bastion Saint-Jean was extended in 1650 with a new polygonal shape on two levels and was doubled in size. This configuration can still be seen. The firing chambers and the countermine shafts soon became obsolete as they were too far from the new installations.

The upper part of the bastion, to the south, occupies two-thirds of the area, and rises over 20 metres above the valley. The lower part, which is smaller, controlled the sluice bridge – the Pont des Dames –, which controlled flooding of the eastern-side approaches of the town and flanked the curtain wall. The two levels are separated by a covered way, the purpose of which was to prevent ricochet shootings and enfilade firing of the firing step on the left side from the southern high ground. A ramp to the left connects the two levels. Nine years later, Avesnes became part of the kingdom of France. Vauban modified the bastion from 1690 to 1723 by adding a cavalier in the gorge of the bastion to dominate the whole structure and at the same time provide surveillance for its southern and eastern approaches. The two levels were decorated with formal French gardens in the 18th century.

In 1831-1832, the building, now small and out-of-date, was renovated and modernised, but it was finally decommissioned in 1867. The bastion and its land were sold.


The Bastion Saint Jean was registered on the French supplementary inventory of historic monuments in 1995 and was restored between June 1999 and September 2001.



bastion Saint-Jean


Avesnes-sur-Helpe Tourist Information Office

41, place du Général Leclerc BP 208 - 59363 Avesnes-sur-Helpe

Tel./Fax: +33

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Quizz : Forts et citadels


  • Bastion d'Avesnes-sur-Helpe. Source : Office du tourisme d'Avesnes-sur-Helpe

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