FRANCE FRANCHE-COMTE DOUBS BesançonBesançon (pop 116,100) is the capital of the Franche-Comté region and it has long been an important European city. Starting off as a Gallic tribe settlement, Besançon quickly became a prosperous Roman city in 58BC. Following this, Besançon also slowly became an important military outpost; thanks to its surrounding ramparts which were built in the Middle Ages, and its 17th century citadel. In fact, the French army’s presence remained here well into the 20th century. Besançon was also an important link on the trade routes to Italy; hence, the city boasts a rich history which is well-displayed in its many museums and historical buildings. However, despite its old soul, Besançon has managed to remain relevant throughout the years by constantly reinventing and updating itself. Today, the city has also morphed into a university town, boasting the country’s largest foreign-student population.

The old city region is enclosed by the River Doubs, with the citadel located at its southeast. This area is linked to the Battant Quarter (another historic region across the river), via Grande Rue. The Besançon Gare Viotte, where you can arrive via train is north of this. A bus-stop (no bus station though) is also located here.

 FRANCE FRANCHE-COMTE DOUBS Citadelle de BesançonBesançon’s main sight is its citadel [99, rue des Fusillés, +33 381878333 ad/ch €8.20/4.60], which was built between 1688 and 1711 by military engineer, Vauban. The imposing structure stands on a rocky outcrop, overlooking the meandering Doubs River and it is a steep uphill climb from the ancient Porte Noire (Black Gate) that was built in the 2nd century AD. This fortress spans over 11ha, standing guard of over 100m of the old city. Today, the citadel is home to three of Besançon’s museums- the Musée Comtois focusing on local traditions, Musée d’Historie Naturelle harbouring insectariums, aquariums and a noctarium, and Musée de la Résistance de la Déportation examining the local events that occurred during WWII. The citadel admission charge covers the entry to all three museums.

FRANCE FRANCHE-COMTE DOUBS Besançon Musee Beau Arts, Auguste Renoir, Portrait of Adele Besson, 1918

Musée des Beaux-Arts
Place de la Révolution, +33 381878049, ad/ch €5/Free] originated in 1694 when Jacques Baptiste Boisot, abbot of St Vincent, bequeathed his collections to the city, and is said to be France’s oldest. The current modern building was restored by Louis Miquel, student of Le Corbusier, a pioneer of modern architecture. The museum exhibits archaeological displays dating back to the Gallo-Roman period, as well as fine art pieces dating back to the 15th century.




FRANCE FRANCHE-COMTE DOUBS Besançon Horloge astronomique

One of the most renowned artefacts of the city is however, housed in a different place- in the 18th century St-Jean Cathedrale [Rue du Chapitre +33 381811276 ad/ch €3/Free]. The Horloge Astronomique is a truly remarkable gadget that might seem mind boggling at first sight. A wrist watch it is not!  This astronomical clock stands 5.8 metres high, 2.5 metres wide, has over 30,000 parts, 57 faces, 62 dials, tells the time in 16 places around the world, the tides in 8 French ports and the local sunrise and sunset timings, and can register up to 10,000 years!  In a weird congruence of science and religion,
the clock either rings at the quarter hour and the hour, or performs the Resurrection of Christ at noon, and his burial at 3 pm.



If you would like to go beyond exploring the city on land, you can join the many summer visitors on a cruise around the Doubs River. Most river cruises also take through a cool 375m long tunnel trip under the citadel.

Besançon is also known for one other thing- the Festival de Besançon. This large-scale classical music festival is held every September and is highlighted by the international young conductor’s competition.

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BESANÇON:   1. Tourist office  2. Train station (north of map limits)  3. Citadel  4. Musée des Beaux-Arts (including  Musée Comtois, Musée d’Historie Naturelle & Musée de la Résistance de la Déportation),  5. Musée des Beaux-Arts  6. St-Jean Cathedrale (&  Horloge Astronomique)