Besançon

City in motion

The project is underway – by 2015, Besancon will have a new tramway line scheduled to transport 50,000 a day. Since December 2011, a new high-speed line put Besancon only 2:10 hours away from Paris.

On a cultural level, Besancon is on the move as well. After the inauguration of the Rodia, a new stage for modern music, an Arts and Culture Complex will see the light of day in 2013 on the site of the old port. Designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, it will house a new music school and a modern art museum.

Welcome to Victor Hugos house

On the square where were born Charles Nodier and the Lumiere Brothers while painter Gustave Courbet lived nearby, the native house of Victor Hugo will be opened to the public in 2013. The aim is not to create yet another museum to the great man but to evoke his commitments and his struggles. 

The new Art and Culture Complex seen from the Bregille bridge - © Kengo Kuma et Associates / ArchidevArchitect Kengo Kuma - © www.citedesartsetdelaculture.fr
18 previous stages
Population: 120,000
Prefecture of Doubs (25)Economy : clock-making, microtechnology.   
Sport : women’s handball, judo,  Amicale cycliste bisontine.
Celebrities : Victor Hugo, Proudhon, Fourier, Jean de Gribaldy, Tristan Bernard.
Festivals : Foire comtoise, Besançon Franche-Comté music festival (September), Jazz in Franche-Comté (June). 

Timeline

  • 500 BC

    settlement of a Celt village named Vesontio. An oppidum becomes the stronghold of a Gallic tribe, the Sequanes. Greek period – The Greeks call Besançon Chrysopolis.
  • 58 BC

    Julius Caesar takes Vesontio and points out its strategic importance.
  • 212

    – Martyrdom of St Ferreol and St Ferjeux, killed by order of Roman governor Claudius as they were Christianising the town. Both are now the patron saints of Besancon.
  • 496

    Clovis conquers Vesontio, which had previously fallen to the Burgondes.
  • 888

    King of France Odo makes Richard II the Justiciar Duke of Burgundy with Besancon in his jurisdiction. The town becomes the see of an archbishopric.
  • 1016

    Rudolph III of Burgundy dies childless and Besancon becomes part of the Holy German Empire.
  • 1307

    After a series of marriages, Mahaut of Artois brings Besancon back into France and restores the authority of the Dukes of Burgundy.
  • 1477

    Death of Charles the Bold of Burgundy. His heiress, Mary of Burgundy marries Maximilian of Habsburg, the future emperor. Louis XI annexes Burgundy and Artois, but Franche-Comté stays under imperial control.
  • 1678

    Louis XIV claims unsuccessfully Franche-Comté back after his marriage with Maria-Theresa of Austria. He takes it back by force and asks Vauban to build a citadel.
  • 1793

    Swiss watchmaker Laurent Megevand announces plans to build a watch factory.
  • 1802

    Birth of Victor Hugo in Besancon.
  • 1875

    Besançon becomes the French capital of clock-making with some 400 manufactures in town.
  • 1942-44

    99 partisans by the Germans are shot in the citadel.
Victor Hugo statue by Ousmane Sow, Droits de l’Homme square - © WikipedroStatues of St Ferreol and St Ferjeux, patrons of the city - © Arnaud 25Siege of Besancon by Louis XIV, painted by Adam François Van der Meulen
18 previous stages
Population: 120,000
Prefecture of Doubs (25)Economy : clock-making, microtechnology.   
Sport : women’s handball, judo,  Amicale cycliste bisontine.
Celebrities : Victor Hugo, Proudhon, Fourier, Jean de Gribaldy, Tristan Bernard.
Festivals : Foire comtoise, Besançon Franche-Comté music festival (September), Jazz in Franche-Comté (June). 

Besançon and cycling

The prefecture city of Doubs was already on the 1905 Tour map, which makes it the oldest city associated with the race, after Paris, on the 2012 route. The first finish in Besançon is one of the race’s historical stages as the riders, who had set off from Nancy, went over the Ballon of Alsace, a difficulty which symbolized the future ascents in the mountains, for the first time. In 2009, Russia’s Sergei Ivanov was the winner there, by shaking off the other breakaway riders not long before the citadel came into sight. And on the subject of time-trials, Lance Armstrong won the last one organised in Besancon in 2004.

Besancon is also the town of legendary cycling coach Jean de Gribaldy, who created the most famous local cycling club, Amicale Cycliste Bisontine. The Viscount, as he was dubbed, was forced to give up the only time he rode through his hometown in the 1948 Tour de France. The Jean de Gribaldy climb, leading to the Fort de la Chaudanne, pays tribute to the city’s son. Among the riders trained by ACB feature Jacques Decrion, Laszlo Bodrogi or French hopeful Thibaut Piinot. Another Besancon-born celebrity was writer Tristan Bernard, a cycling fan who wrote a book about the Tour in the early years and was the manager of Paris Buffalo cycling track.

Serguei Ivanov won a Tour stage in Besancon in 2009 - © Presse SportsJean de Gribaldy (right), with Joaquim Agostinho - © Private collection of De Gribaldy-Dieterle families / www.jeandegribaldy.com
18 previous stages
Population: 120,000
Prefecture of Doubs (25)Economy : clock-making, microtechnology.   
Sport : women’s handball, judo,  Amicale cycliste bisontine.
Celebrities : Victor Hugo, Proudhon, Fourier, Jean de Gribaldy, Tristan Bernard.
Festivals : Foire comtoise, Besançon Franche-Comté music festival (September), Jazz in Franche-Comté (June). 

What to see

The citadel:

Impressive with its anticline, its walls running for miles, its demi-bastions, its curtain walls and towers, the Besancon citadel is one of Vauban’s masterpieces. The entire fortification system devised by the celebrated military architect reshaped the city completely and stressed the power of the king over the town and the region. The fortress spreads over eleven hectares and stands some hundred meters above the old town. Restored recently, it has been turned into a history museum.

The citadel has been a World Heritage site since 2008.

Granvelle palace:

Inspired by Italian Renaissance, the palace was built between 1532 and 1540 for Nicolas Perrenot de Granvelle, finance minister and first councillor of Emperor Charles V. The Granvelle gathered in their residence a large collection of works of art and books. In the 17th century, abbot Boisot surveyed the collection and decided to make it available to the public, creating the first public museum and library in France. It was bought by the municipality in 1864 and the museum of local history settled in it in 1950.

The palace is now home to the Time Museum, which opened in 2002 and combines treasures of the clock-making industry and the works of art previously acquired by the museum. The museum does not forget to address the future by presenting the work of contemporary clock-makers and nanotechnologies. A Foucault pendulum is also visible, hanging from the dome.

Astrononic clock

Made by Auguste Lucien Verite between 1858 and 1860, Besancon’s astronomic clock works with a complex and precise mechanism comprising more than 30,000 spare parts. Its 57 dials display  varied indications – movements of the planets, eclipses and tidal times in several ports.

St Jean cathedral

The St Jean cathedral (12th to 18th centuries) is remarkable for its two apses – a Romanesque choir and a richly decorated18th century choir.

Among the furniture, the most striking element is probably the round marble altar, unique in France. 

 

Saint-Jean cathedral - © Ville de BesançonGranvelle palace - © Ville de BesançonThe citadel - © Ville de Besançon
18 previous stages
Population: 120,000
Prefecture of Doubs (25)Economy : clock-making, microtechnology.   
Sport : women’s handball, judo,  Amicale cycliste bisontine.
Celebrities : Victor Hugo, Proudhon, Fourier, Jean de Gribaldy, Tristan Bernard.
Festivals : Foire comtoise, Besançon Franche-Comté music festival (September), Jazz in Franche-Comté (June). 

Clock-Macking, a revolutionary idea

The industrial destiny of Besancon owes a lot to the French revolution and to a Swiss man who supported it enthusiastically, Geneva-born Laurent Megevand. In 1793, disgraced in his country for his support to the revolutionary ideas and for an industrial project rejected by his countrymen, he crossed the border with 80 other watchmakers to try his luck in France. The Revolution leaders backed his project and so did Swiss banker Etienne Clavier, who brought most of the funds. Megevand relied a lot on sub-contracting – the parts of his watches were made by local craftsmen. After a while, some 700 Swiss watchmakers settled in Besancon, turning their industry into the main activity in town.

His ideas were right but a little ahead of their time and Megevand went bankrupt five years after launching his company. He was killed in 1814 during a siege by the Royalists.

Yet the trend was launched. Most clockmakers stayed and their industry developed quickly. In 1863, a World Fair was even organised in Besancon to showcase the quality of its production.

The two World Wars led to a decline of the clock making industry, which hit rock bottom in the mid-1970s with the Lip strike, which had a national impact.

Yet the taste for precision remained and in 1882 the Besancon observatory was launched, one of its missions being to give the most accurate time possible for the town’s public clocks. The town’s industry naturally evolved towards microtechnologies. The Time Museum, in the superb Granvelle Palace, bears witness to the brilliant clock-making past of Besancon. Yet the world centre for chronological instruments, set at the foot of the citadel is ample proof that Besancon changed… with the times. 

Arc-et-Senans saltworks - © Aurore Galland
18 previous stages
Population: 120,000
Prefecture of Doubs (25)Economy : clock-making, microtechnology.   
Sport : women’s handball, judo,  Amicale cycliste bisontine.
Celebrities : Victor Hugo, Proudhon, Fourier, Jean de Gribaldy, Tristan Bernard.
Festivals : Foire comtoise, Besançon Franche-Comté music festival (September), Jazz in Franche-Comté (June). 
video09/07/2012 

The towns 2012 : visit Besançon

Jersey wearers after the stage 20

Classifications after the stage 20

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