History and descriptionSituated in the valley of the river called Furieuse (altitude: 300 m.), the site of Salins-les-Bains has been occupied since the Gallic period. The fact that it developed in a narrow valley, but especially the presence of salt mines in the adjacent hills (Saint-André at 588 m., Belin at 558 m. and Bracon), explain the strategic value of Salins-les-Bains, which was the second town of Franche-Comté in the middle Ages. It was surrounded by an urban wall from 1249. This urban wall was modified in the 15th century by the Duke of Burgundy, who added circular towers for archers and caponiers on its eastern flank. The Furieuse served as a moat to the west of the town. The defence of the nearby plateaus started from the 18th century, during which time the château Belin and the château Bracon were constructed, as well as a watch tower on the plateau de Saint-André (in 1265 in the latter). The château Belin and the château Bracon were square keeps surrounded by rounded towers and curtain walls. The tour Saint-André was reconstructed in 1347 after a siege. The first modern constructions came during the Thirty Years war. A French threat drove the Spanish to reinforce the defences of the tour Saint-André with the addition of a rampart equipped with battlements and gun casements around it. New barracks were constructed. This construction took place from 1638 to 1645. Following the restoration of Franche-Comté by France in 1668, the Spanish modernised the armaments of fortified sites but the urban wall and the château Belin and the château Bracon remained medieval. This was not enough to prevent the French from taking over Salins-les-Bains in 1674 during the war of Holland. The urban wall was largely destroyed, likewise the two castles and the tower.
Vauban set out his projects for Salins from 1674. The tour Saint-André disappeared, and was replaced by a fort designed for five hundred soldiers. To achieve this, a new bastioned front on the attacking flank (to the west) was built. It included two bastions, a ravelin, a drawbridge, a gate and a guardroom. The remainder of the defensive rampart was nothing but a single wall on the other shorter flanks. In the fort, the construction included a chapel, two barracks with two hundred fifty beds, the governor’s residence, stables, a powder keg and two cisterns. The construction was disrupted by a landslide in 1675 but it was completed in 1679. The defences of the colline Belin (Belin hill) were improved. A medieval tower remains but the urban wall of the castle was redesigned as a bastioned rampart with a gate featuring a drawbridge and guardroom. A cavalier and a barracks were also constructed there. The remainder of the modifications consisted of levelling the summit of the hill to ensure an unobstructed view. The construction was completed in 1679. The château Bracon was replaced with an earth redoubt and stonework. The fundamental element of the construction consisted in work involving clearance of surplus land and levelling of the surrounding high ground. While it was completed at the same time as the other, the fort Bracon only got its first garrison in 1688, on the eve of the war of the League of Augsbourg. As regards the urban wall, Vauban planned in 1680 to replace it with a larger urban bastioned wall and expand the town. Louis XIV rejected the latter project and limited the scope to ordering the restoration of the medieval urban wall.
The 18th century saw very little change in Salins. The access to the fort Saint-André became a paved road in 1736, as a replacement for the former paths. The three forts were used as prisons during the Revolution, which saw the abandonment of the redoute Bracon (redoubt of Bracon). The two forts were ravaged in an Austrian siege in 1814. The fort Saint-André had its ramparts penetrated at three points, its parapets and its access bridge overthrown and its two cisterns filled in. However, it was restored to its original state from 1833 to 1841 under the July Monarchy. The fort Belin was razed during the siege of 1814 and then reconstructed as new in 1828, under the reign of Charles X. It consisted at the time of a casemated fort divided in two by a dry ditch, the southern portion of which was used as an inner fortified structure. The whole facility was surrounded by a dry ditch, a shelter and a counterscarp with tunnels. A crenelated covered way connected it to the batterie de Bas-Belin. To improve the defences of the town, the fort des Rousses was constructed from 1841 to 1862-63 twenty kilometres from Salins, on a mountain 1150 m. high. This fort was bastioned, comprising three fronts and three bastions on its faces of attack. The remainder of the rampart was a single wall bordering a precipice. Three set of barracks with four storeys, the commander’s residence, powder kegs and casemated magazines occupied the interior, which was designed to house a garrison of three thousand men and two thousand five hundred horses. It was also designed to accommodate eighteen cannons, as in 1868. This fort was the only one to be reused by Séré de Rivières after 1871.
The urban wall of Salins-les-Bains was demolished. All that remains is a tower. The fort Saint-André and the fort Belin, however, have been preserved and in good condition. The fort Saint-André has become a hotel complex and a reception space for weddings, receptions and seminars. The barracks accommodate the hotel. The powder keg is used as a brewery. The function of the chapel and the governor’s residence remains to be decided. All the facilities can be visited by contacting the hotel owners. The fort Belin is private property and inaccessible. The redoute Bracon was removed and has been built over. As for the fort des Rousses, included in the regional natural park of Haut-Jura, it houses an administrative area and two craft-related companies. Visits and adventure tours are possible there by arrangement with the local tourist office.
46° 56' 25.7258" N, 5° 52' 43.082" E
- GRESSET (M.), Vauban et la Franche-Comté, Saint-Léger-Vauban, 1996, éd. Les Amis de la Maison Vauban.
- Le fort des Rousses, site officiel, http://www.fort-des-rousses.com/
- MARTIN (P.), La route des fortifications dans l’Est, Paris, 2007, éd. Le Huitième Jour, coll. Les étoiles de Vauban.
- Vauban et ses successeurs en Franche-Comté, trois siècles d’architecture militaire, Besançon, 1981.
- Village Vauban : fort Saint-André, http://www.fort-st-andre.com/topic/index.html