•Hautes-Alpes (05100) • Population: 12,301 • Altitude: 1024 m
Briançon, the highest town in Europe* is a great fortress town, walled and fortified by Vauban, and it's really something to see. The town has two parts: the lower town is at the junction of the Durance and Guisane rivers, where the N84 highway passes through from Embrun/Guillestre towards Grenoble; the upper town is the walled area at the top, fortified by Vauban and including the Fort du Chateau fortress at the peak. In photo-1 you can see the lower town in the foreground, with Ave de la République at the left leading to the upper town at the Porte d'Embrun.
* (The highest commune in Europe is St Véran.)
If you park at the top of the Briançon, you can enter the fortified town through one of two drawbridged entrances [photo-3] and explore the town from the top down.
There are many sights to see in the town, with fountains, squares, sundials, gargouille streets, etc. But it is a tourist town. On the nicest part of the nicest gargouille street, the cobblestone steps near the top were being half covered over while we where there (July 1998) by a restaurant's ugly wooden terrace -- the unfortunate cycle of beauty attracting tourists, and commerce destroying the beauty to take advantage of those tourists.
Gargouille. A gargouille is a small canal that runs down the center of the street. The only two towns in France with gargouilles are St Martin-Vésubie in the Alpes-Maritimes and Briançon. Briançon has two gargouilles running down through the fortified upper town. One runs down the central Rue Grande, also called Grande Gargouille. The second runs down Rue Mercerie, also called Petite Gargouille [photo-4].
The lower town is an active commercial center, with shops, cafés and restuarants, some along Rue Centrale leading to the Rond Point du Quyeras (where you may see kayakers going down the Durance through the town). The town market is here, in front of the ancient (but still active) fire station, at the bottom end of the Parc de la Schappe.
Fortress. Above the town part you can visit the Vauban fortifications of Fort du Chateau. You can explore much of the citadel for free, but the top part, including underground passages, cost 20F.
Forts of Briançon
Sitting at a junction of four stratgegic valleys (Durance, Guisane, Cerveyrette and Clarée) and only 15 km from the Col de Montgenère on the Italian frontier, Briançon is one of the most fortified areas of France. In 1690, Savoy joined a coalition against Louis XIV, bringing a threat of invasion. In 1713, the Utrecht treaty ceded eastern Dauphiné to the Piemont, making Briançon a frontier town.
Today the remains of the forts can still be seen in the mountains to the east withing 5 km of Vauban fortress, including the forts of Anjou, Randouillet, Trois Têtes, Dauphin, Infernet, Gondran, Croix de Bretagne, Selettes and some with no name (on our map).
Briançon was a medieval fortress before Vauban arrived in 1692 to prepare it for the days of canon warfare. He also ordered the building of Fort des Selettes on a hill to the north, a location from which Briançon could be bombarded. That fort was built in 1709 by Marshal Berwick (who has another small fort named after him north of Jausiers). Berwick also opened a road to the east in 1709-1710, protecting it with the Fort des Trois Têtes and Fort de Randouillet.
History of Briançon
Gallo-Roman: This was the Roman town of Brigantium, mentioned in the 8th century.
Medieval: Briançon was the capital of the Principality of Briançon, that
Tel : 04 92 21 08 50; Fax: 04 92 20 56 45
Swimming pool - Olympic size
Patinage - Ice skating.
• GPS: 44.896915, 6.634159
IGN (1/25,000) #3536 OT "Briançon, Serre-Chevalier, Montgenèvre"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #10 "Queyras Pays du Viso"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #6 "Ecrins Haut-Dauphiné"
Briançon Transportation is listed on a separate page.