Fort de Bellegarde
What a view!
What a view! exclaimed Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban when he entered the ruins of Bellegarde for the first time. Marquis de Vauban, already in his lifetime awarded with the honorary title “Ingénieur de France“, is considered as the most important military architect of baroque. The master builder of Louis XIV is the creator of the “ceinture de fer“, the iron belt which was designed to protect the external frontiers of France. Until today, Fort Bellegarde is marked by the personal style of the famous architect, which engaged in the construction or remodelling of 160 fortifications.
Located solitarily on a rock in a height of 420 metres, the potent Fort de Bellegarde towers until today above the village of Le Perthus. After having entered over a drawbridge, one is immediately stunned by the views, just as Vauban a few centuries ago. In the South, one’s eyes travel over La Jonquera, Figueres and the vast plain of the Empordà. On the other side, mountain Canigou touches the clouds in heaven; and in the East, the mountain chain Albera extend to the Mediterranean.
Since the Treaty of the Pyrenees, signed in 1659, the powerful fortification has marked the borderline between France and Spain. During the Middle Ages the castle owners demanded tolls for crossing the mountain pass of Le Perthus and thereby financed their expensive lifestyle. Later on, there had to be paid customs duties and nowadays we are driving on toll roads.
300 years before the construction of the first highway, Vauban was aware of the strategic importance of this place. On behalf of Louis XIV, he ordered the demolition of the old castle and planned a strong fortification, which would be able to control the arterial road of the Pyrenees and demonstrate the absolute power of his king. In today’s united Europe, military border posts have, fortunately, disappeared. The renovated buildings have been transformed into museums. One of the expositions explains the history of the fort and one might also visit the fountain system of 18th century, including a well of 62 metres depth and a diameter of six metres. It was drilled into the rock and later plastered over a height of 50 metres.
The fort’s real highlight, however, has always been the panoramic view. Therefore, on clear weather days the excursion to our neighbour country is always worth it.
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