Citadel of Bitche
General view of the Citadel of Bitche. Source: freizeit-saarmoselle.eu
In Lorraine, in the far north-east of the Moselle department, the Citadel of Bitche stands on its pink sandstone rock in the heart of the city.
Despite the many restoration projects, the former Château of the Counts Deux-Ponts was in ruins when Louis XIV took Bitche in 1680. Aware of the strategic importance of the rocky crag overlooking the city and the region, Louis XIV decided to have a first citadel built, entrusting the work to Vauban, who completed it in 1683.
The citadel was razed by French troops in 1697, when the Treaty of Ryswick handed Lorraine over to Leopold I, Duke of Lorraine. Louis XV took possession of Lorraine on 21 March 1737 and ordered the reconstruction of the citadel using plans by the engineer Cormontaigne based on Vauban’s construction. The end of the work was marked by the installation of a marble plaque above the main entrance that we can still see today: “Louis XV, Roy de France, auguste, victorieux et pacifique, en réédifiant cette forteresse de fond en comble, a voulu qu'elle fermât les Vosges et la Lorraine à ses ennemis, qu'elle défendit la frontière de l'Alsace et qu'au pied de ses murs les camps des armées françaises trouvassent une puissante protection. Année 1754” (Louis XV, King of France, august, victorious and pacific, by fully rebuilding this fortress, desired that it should close off the Vosges and Lorraine from their enemies, that is should defend the Alsace border and that at the foot of its walls the French army camps might find powerful protection. Year 1754). From 1846 to 1852, the citadel was reinforced with the construction of a fortified perimeter wall, defended to the north by Fort St Sébastien.
During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, German troops laid siege to Bitche and carried out deadly bombardments targeting first the citadel, and then the city. The Bitche garrison resisted gloriously for six long months before opening the doors of the fortress on 27 March 1871, not before receiving Battle Honours. Now German, the citadel was once again refurbished to house a garrison: the perimeter walls were destroyed, the chapel was used to house troops and two barracks were built. When Alsace and Lorraine were returned to France, the city received the Legion of Honour from the hands of President Poincaré in testimonial to the suffering endured during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.
During the Second World War, Bitche was the theatre of fighting starting in the winter of 1944, during which the population took refuge in the underground galleries of the citadel. Liberated by American troops, the city received the War Cross in 1949, and was commended in the Army Order.
The citadel still bears the scars of its close ties to the history of France. Some buildings of the bastioned central plateau central have miraculously escaped the many bombardments that have tried to conquer the legendarily invulnerable fortress. The chapel can still be admired – it is only vestige of the château built under Vauban – as well as the former bakery and the arsenal. Visitors to the site can notably admire the two bastions placed at the ends of the citadel, protecting the long south curtain wall, the “Grosse Tête” and “Petite Tête” walls, which defend the short curtain walls, and the wealth of the fortress’s underground network built by Louis XV’s engineers. A first museum is located on two levels in the chapel and presents a collection of weapons as well as a relief map of the citadel in the 18th century. In the former bakery, the second permanent exhibition houses a museographical area dedicated to Bitche during the Second Empire.
Visitors to the citadel can enjoy a unique feature: infrared transmitters placed along the itinerary provide commentaries in several languages through audio headphones, while olfactory effects give visitors a realistic perception of life at the citadel over the centuries.
Citadel of Bitche
Tel.: +33 (0)3 87 96 18 82
Fax: +33 (0)3 87 06 11 78
Opens the last Saturday of the month of March and closes the first Sunday of November. Every day from 10 am to 5 pm. Sundays, bank holidays and the months of July and August: 10 am – 6 pm.
Visits take 2 hours. Group visits by appointment
Access: From Strasbourg (65 km): Take the A4 motorway in the Strasbourg-Paris direction, and take the Haguenau Nord exit. Before reaching Haguenau, take the Sarreguemines exit and continue on toward Bitche. From Metz (110 km): Take the A4 motorway in the Paris-Strasbourg direction, take the Sarreguemines exit and continue on toward Bitche.
Quizz : Forts and citadels
Rue Bombelle 57230
Tél. : 03 87 96 18 82Fax : 03 87 06 11 78
D'avril à octobre Tous les jours de 10H à 17H Tous les dimanches, jours fériés et les mois de Juillet et Août : 10h-18h. Visites de groupes sur rendez-vous