From Academic Kids

Template:FRdot Besançon is a French city in the département of Doubs, of which it is the préfecture. Population (1999): 122,308.



Besançon is the capital of the Franche-Comté région of France, a région including the four départements of Doubs, Haute-Saône, Jura and Territoire de Belfort. As such, it is the seat of the Franche-Comté regional council, and the regional préfecture (government offices).


Its Latin name was Vesontio, recorded in the journals of Julius Caesar in his conquests of Gaul. The name permutated over time to become Besantio, Besontion and gradually arrived at the modern French Besançon. The locals retain their ancient heritage referring to themselves as Bisontins

The city's fortifications were upgraded by Vauban. 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 Citadel.

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 Citadel has a dual dry moat, with an outer and inner court. In the evenings, the Citadel is illuminated and stands above the city as a landmark and a crowning acheivement to Vauban's ingenuity. The Citadel was used by the Nazis during World War II.

Across the Doubs sits the Forts Brégille and Beauregard. The Brégille Heights were reached by a funicular built in 1913. It passed from private ownership during its usage to the SNCF until 1987 when it was finally shut down. To this day the tracks, stations and even roadsigns of the funicular remain in place.


The city is renowned for having 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 has little in the way of unseemly modern architecture, and presents a remarkable ensemble of classic stone buildings, some dating back to the Middle Ages. Among the most visited historic monuments are:

  • the 16th century Palais Granvelle, built by Cardinal Granvelle, chancellor to the Habsburg emperor Charles V
  • Vauban's citadel and remarkable riverside frontage
  • the St. Jean cathedral, dating largely from the 12th century
  • several Roman remains, notably the Porte Noire, a triumphal arch.

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, Zurbaran, Goya, Philippe de Champaigne, Fragonard, Boucher, David, Ingres, Géricault, Courbet, Constable, Bonnard, Matisse 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.


The city is famous for its microtechnology and watch industries. It is home to the biannual Micronora trade fair, one of Europe's major events in the field of microtechnologies. The city has a little-known speciality, automatic ticketing machines for car parking, airports, date stamping etc.

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, 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 been developing a reputation as one of France's leading centres for microtechnology in all fields, including telecommunications, medical technology, and components.


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 Low Countries 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.


As well as being famed as one of France's finest "villes d'art" (art cities), Besançon is the seat of one of France's older universities, of France's national school of micromechanics, and one of the best known French language schools in France, the CLA.

It is also reputed to be France's most environmentally-friendly city, with a public transport network that has often been cited as a model. On account of the topography, the historic city centre lies at the edge of the modern city, and hiking tracks lead straight from the centre and up into the surrounding hills.

The city council has been in the hands of the Socialists and parties of the left since the second world war.


Besançon was the birthplace of:

Twin towns

External links

fr:Besançon ja:ブザンソン pt:Besançon


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