Besançon (in French and Arpitan; German: Bisanz), is the capital and principal city of the Franche-Comté region in eastern France, with approximately 220,000 inhabitants in the metropolitan area in 1999. Located close to the border with Switzerland, it is the capital of the Doubs department.
Sited with three sides within an oxbow of the Doubs River (a tributary of the Rhône River) with the fourth side closed by a mountain, in the first century BC through the modern era, the town held a significant military vantage point aided by the fact that to the immediate south, the Alps rise abruptly presenting a significant natural barrier. In historic times the town was first recorded in the journals of Julius Caesar as the largest town of the Sequani, a smaller Gaulic tribe, in his commentaries detailing his conquest of Gaul; he gave the name of the town as Vesontio (possibly Latinized) and mentions that it was surrounded by a wooden palisade.
Over the centuries, the name permutated to become Besantio, Besontion, Bisanz in Middle High German and gradually arrived at the modern French Besançon. The locals retain their ancient heritage referring to themselves as Bisontins (feminine: Bisontine).
Surrounding the central city are walls built in that era, and between the train station and the central city is a complex moat system through which traffic has been directed. All of these fortifications are built with Vauban's classic star points. Surrounding the city a large number of fortifications were built at the time of Vauban, including the Fort de Trois Châtels, Fort Chaudanne, Fort du Petit Chaudanne, Fort Griffon, Fort des Justices, Fort Beauregard and Fort de Brégille, but the crown jewel of these is la Citadelle.
Built upon a mountaintop, bounded by sheer cliffs on one side, the Doubs river on the others, and the Boucle or Shield, the city centre surrounded by the Doubs, giving it a fantastic defensive stance. Upon this hilltop, Vauban built the largest of his structures in the region. The Citadelle has a dual dry moat, with an outer and inner court. In the evenings, the Citadelle is illuminated and stands above the city as a landmark and a crowning achievement to Vauban's ingenuity.
The city initially developed in a natural meander (or oxbow loop) of the Doubs River with a diameter of almost 1 km (3,281 ft). The flat inner loop has an elevation of about 250 m (820 ft) and is bounded to the south by a hill called Mont Saint-Étienne, which has a maximum height of 371 m (1,217ft). The city is surrounded by six other hills which range in elevation from 400 m (1,312 ft) to 500 m (1,640 ft).
|Avg temperature °C (°F)||1.6 (35)||3.3 (38)||6.1 (43)||9.4 (49)||13.3 (56)||16.5 (62)||18.9 (66)||18.3 (65)||15.7 (60)||11.3 (52)||5.6 (42)||2.1 (36)||10.2 (50)|
|Avg rainfall mm (in)||91.1 (3.6)||81.8 (3.2)||83.5 (3.3)||91.6 (3.6)||111.4 (4.4)||100.1 (3.9)||80.5 (3.2)||86.9 (3.4)||93.2 (3.7)||85.8 (3.4)||103.7 (4.1)||99.0 (3.9)||1108 (43.6)|
|Source: Météo France|
|City of Besançon||28 436||29 718||36 461||46 786||54 404||57 556||57 978||55 652||65 022|
|City of Besançon||63 508||73 445||95 642||113 220||120 315||113 283||113 828||117 733||115 400|
|Urbanized Area||116 200||126 349||120 715||122 623||134 376|
Mayor of the City of Besançon is Jean-Louis Fousseret.
The watch industry, for which Besançon remains the French capital, endured a major crisis in the 1970s when the advent of far-eastern quartz watches knocked out the traditional watch industry in the space of just a few years. This industrial crisis was epitomised by the famous "Lip" affair, by the name of one of Besançon's most prestigious brands of watches. Refusing to be beaten, the workers of Lip took over their factory and set it up as a worker's cooperative. The event branded Besançon as a city of the radical left, and though it produced a lot of notoriety and sympathy for the workers, it did little to help revive the watch industry, with the cooperative going out of business after a short period. The city took a long time to recover from the collapse of the watch industry and its other major industry of the industrial age, artificial textiles.
Since the 1980s, Besançon's watch industry has clawed its way back on the basis of its historic reputation and quartz watches, establishing itself in a number of niche markets including customized watches, high quality watches, and fashion articles. Since the 1990s, the town has developed a reputation as one of France's leading centres technology in all fields, including telecommunications and biotechnology.
The city has one of the most beautiful historic centres of any major town in France. The old town, "la Boucle", is enclosed in a broad horse-shoe of the river Doubs, which is blocked off at the neck by Vauban's imposing Citadelle. The historic centre presents a remarkable ensemble of classic stone buildings, some dating back to the Middle Ages. Among the most visited historic monuments are:
Besançon also has one of the finest city art galleries in France outside Paris. The Musée des Beaux Arts has a collection built up since 1694, and expanded over time by a remarkable series of bequests. The building itself was totally rebuilt in the 1960s by the architect Miquel, a pupil of Le Corbusier, its interior taking the form of a gently rising concrete walkway that takes visitors up from classical antiquity to the modern age. Among its treasures are a fine collection of classical antiquities and ancient Egyptian artefacts, as well as a very rich collection of paintings including works by Bellini, Bronzino, Tintoretto, Titian, Rubens, Jordaens, Ruysdael, Cranach, Zurbarán, Goya, Philippe de Champaigne, Fragonard, Boucher, David, Ingres, Géricault, Courbet, Constable, Bonnard, Matisse, Picasso and many others. Perhaps the most remarkable of the city's masterpieces is the massive Virgin and saints altarpiece in the St. Jean cathedral, by the Italian Renaissance painter Fra Bartolomeo.
|Besançon Racing Club||Football||Championnat de France Amateurs||Stade Léo Lagrange|
|Entente Sportive Bisontine Masculin||Handball||Nationale 1||Gymnase des Montboucons|
|Entente Sportive Bisontine Feminin||Handball||Division 1 (women's)||Palais des Sports|
|Besançon Basket Comté Doubs||Basketball||Pro A||Palais des Sports|
Besançon is situated at the crossing of two major lines of communication, the NE-SW route, following the valley of the river Doubs, and linking Germany and North Europe with Lyon and southwest Europe, and the N-S route linking northern France and the Netherlands with Switzerland. A key staging post on the Strasbourg-Lyon (Germany-Spain) route, it also has direct high-speed train (TGV) links with Paris, Charles de Gaulle International Airport, and Lille. Unusually for a town of its size, it does not have a commercial airport, though two international airports, EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg and Lyon Saint-Exupéry International Airport, can be reached in about 2 hours.
[1.38] When he had proceeded three days' journey, word was brought to him that Ariovistus was hastening with all his forces to seize on Vesontio, which is the largest town of the Sequani, and had advanced three days' journey from its territories. Caesar thought that he ought to take the greatest precautions lest this should happen, for there was in that town a most ample supply of every thing which was serviceable for war; and so fortified was it by the nature of the ground, as to afford a great facility for protracting the war, inasmuch as the river Doubs almost surrounds the whole town, as though it were traced round it with a pair of compasses. A mountain of great height shuts in the remaining space, which is not more than , where the river leaves a gap, in such a manner that the roots of that mountain extend to the river's bank on either side. A wall thrown around it makes a citadel of this [mountain], and connects it with the town.
Eventually he saw the white walls beyond the distant mountain; it was the citadel of Besancon. "What a difference", he said, sighing, "if I could come into this fine city as a sub-lieutenant of one of these regiments of the post." Besancon is not only one of the prettiest cities in France, but it abounds in brave and intelligent men. Julien, however, was only a little peasant, without any means of approaching distinguished personages.
This century was two years old. Rome was replacing Sparta; Already Napoleon was emerging from under Bonaparte. And already the First Consul's tight mask Had been split in several places by the Emperor's brow. It was then that in Besancon, that old Spanish town, Cast like a seed into the flying wind, A child was born of mixed blood -- Breton and Lorraine -- Pallid, blind and mute,... That child, whom Life was scratching from its book, And who had not another day to live, Was me.
Balzac's novel Albert Savaron takes place in Besançon.
Colonel Sainte-Hermine, the fictional hero of Alexandre Dumas' The Last Cavalier, is a native of Besançon.
The Christmas carol "Berger, Secoue Ton Sommiel Profond", known in English as "Shepherds, Shake Off Your Drowsy Sleep" originated in Besançon in the seventeenth century.