At the borders of Lorraine, nestled in the arms of its monumental citadel, the fortified city of Bitche watches over. Inhabited today by five thousand people, it owes its foundation to the strategic character of the rock which overhangs it and which, since the 12th century, is topped with defensive works. True to his military destiny, Bitche is the heiress of an unusual history, marked by facts that have sometimes lulled her, especially bruised.
The citadel, whose sharp lines soar above the roofs of the city, seems to have sprung from time immemorial, braving the assaults of the elements and oblivion. One can guess the characteristic traces of the genius of Vauban, its designer, although it meets the constraints of its particular geographical location and was rebuilt during the 18th century.
Witness to the great turning points of history, from the French Revolution to the end of the Second World War through the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the citadel became the guardian of memory. Classified as a historic monument since 1979, it is preserved to remind us that peace has finally imposed itself only at the cost of painful trials and remains fragile.
To allow you to fully inquire about the citadel of Bitche and its history, the places have been arranged and equipped with surprising interpretative routes, deployed between museums, audiovisual resources and interactive equipment. From the top of the ramp, you will enjoy a panoramic view of the city and hills of the Vosges du Nord. On the way down, you can finally relax by crossing the delightful garden for Peace and its ephemeral thematic creations.
1297 → 1606
The earliest references to the occupation of the rocky promontory on which the Bitche citadel now stands date from the 12th century. The Dukes of Lorraine had a hunting lodge there.
As early as 1297, the Count of Deux-Ponts (Zweibrücken) Eberhardt II, who had just inherited the lordship and the castle in fief, decided to reinforce the fortifications of this strategic location in order to establish the seat of his power.
In 1572, the Duke of Lorraine Charles III, pursuing a policy of enlarging his states, used the extinction of the Deux-Ponts family as an excuse to take over the lordship and the castle.
After the dispute between the Dukes of Lorraine and the Counts of Hanau-Lichtenberg was settled in 1606, the castle became one of the best defended in the duchy.
1634 → 1697
In 1634, during the Thirty Years War, the French took possession of the place. The refusal of Duke Charles V to accept the conditions of Louis XIV at the treaty of Nijmegen (1679) resulted in the occupation of Lorraine by France. Vauban, starting in 1681, was charged with completely modifying the fortification system of the town of Bitche.
Taking advantage of the height of the site but constrained by the narrowness of the rock, Vauban applied his theories of fortification while adapting them.
The staging of the fires was ensured by splitting the rock into a central body, a half-moon to the west (the petite tête) and a horned structure (the grosse tête) to the east. The flanking was provided by four bastions attached to the central body. However, this first citadel only lasted a short time. In 1697, under the Treaty of Ryswick, Lorraine was ceded back to its sovereign, Leopold I. The French, forced to leave Bitche, took care to destroy all the fortifications they had built there.
1737 → 1754
In 1737, the French king Louis XV obtained the installation on the throne of Lorraine, for the rest of his life, of his father-in-law, the former king of Poland Stanislas Leszczynski. The latter, at his death, was to allow the duchy to officially integrate the kingdom of France. This deadline did not occur until 1766. However, in the secret convention of Meudon (1736), France reserved the right to rebuild the strongholds abandoned earlier, including Bitche. The Count of Bombelles, military governor of the Three Bishoprics, was ordered to rebuild the citadel. Vauban's plans were taken up again but modernized by the military engineer Cormontaigne. Work began in 1741 and lasted until 1754.
1870 → 1960
It was during the French Revolution that the citadel was for the first time subjected to a military assault. During the 1870 war, under the orders of Commander Teyssier, the citadel withstood the longest siege in its history, including three deadly bombardments. As the territory of the current department of Moselle became German in 1871, a German garrison took possession of the place of Bitche until 1918, the date of its return to France.
Gradually losing its military interest in the face of the evolution of artillery, the citadel underwent a few refurbishments at the end of the 19th century, notably to armor the superstructures. During the First World War, it did not suffer from the hostilities. However, the Second World War and the Allied bombing raids of 1944-1945 put an end to the military use of the fortress.
The municipality of Bitche acquired the citadel in 1960 with a view to preserving it and enhancing its heritage value.