Walk in Besançon, mirror of the Beau Siècle

Walk in Besançon, mirror of the Beau Siècle

“To make the city the most beautiful stronghold in Europe”, such is Vauban’s ambition when he launched the construction site of the citadel of Besançon. Louis XIV’s chief engineer saw the potential of this city erected in a meander of the Doubs. Conquered in 1674 by the troops of the Sun King, the city acquired the status of capital of Franche-Comté and was transformed during one hundred and twenty years of economic, demographic and cultural growth.

The new bastion of the kingdom of France imposes its style with its constructions in Chailluz stone. This local limestone rock with ocher beige hues illuminates the sober facades of the houses on the Place du 8-Septembre, where Saint-Pierre church (1). Built between 1782 and 1786, on the plan of a Greek cross signed by the Besançon architect Claude-Joseph-Alexandre Bertrand, the neoclassical building provides a setting for the splendid Pieta by Luc Breton, a local sculptor.

Other artists take advantage of the vitality of this 18th century to shine in there St. John’s Cathedral (2), located rue de la Convention. Inside, a masterpiece of Baroque art catches the eye: the apse of the Holy Shroud, dated 1729, floods the building with its splendor with its marble walls, its gilding, its paintings monuments of the passion and resurrection of Christ. The prosperous context also benefits the influence of culture. The Ledoux theater (3), rue Mégevand, imposes its silhouette of ancient inspiration, punctuated by six Ionic columns. Built between 1778 and 1786, this temple of entertainment houses the first orchestra pit in the world. Unfortunately, its interior decorations were destroyed by fire in 1958.

Finally, the time is conducive to the emergence of a new district. On the site of former vineyards belonging to the Church, mansions rose on either side of the current rue de la Préfecture to accommodate the representatives of power. The Franche-Comté architect Nicolas Nicole was entrusted, in the 1770s, with the direction of the work of the seat of royal authority: the Intendance hotel (4), whose portal forms a triumphal arch. At the corner of the surrounding wall of this building, nestles the Fountain of the Ladies (5). With its two intertwined dolphins supporting a conch on which sits a mermaid, the monument marks, in 1785, a new fruitful association between Claude-Joseph-Alexandre Bertrand and Luc Breton. Essential, the two men belong to this generation of architects, town planners, sculptors and painters who have sublimated the city. To find out more about their achievements and these times of Besançon opulence, conclude this urban walk by pushing the doors of the Museum of Fine Arts and Archeology (6). The exhibition “Le Beau Siècle” awaits you there.

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