Sunday, March 21, 2010

Metz's Ramparts

In the late Middle Ages, Metz was protected by seven kilometers of fortified walls, dotted with towers and gates. Although most of the walls were torn down in the early 2oth Century to modernize the city and make room for boulevards, some of the fortifications have survived. Additionally, Metz also retains significant fortifications, outside the old walls, that date from the 18th and 19th Centuries. If all of the walls had been preserved, Metz would have been the Carcassonne of the north.

Some of the remaining ramparts line the Moselle River at the northwest corner of the medieval city. There's a ramparts walk that takes visitors along these walls and towers, across the river to the later fortification, and then, depending on your path, to the ramparts along the Seille.

The towers were financed by different craft guilds, such as tanners and metalworkers. The ramparts are particularly strong at the point where the Seille river, which formed the city's north boundary, flows into the Moselle.

Looking upstream, the city's ramparts continue on the right. On the left the banks rise toward the fortifications built in the 18th and 19th Centuries and which were the site of difficult fighting in World War II.

The Fort de Bellcroix, first planned by Vauban for Louis XIV but built between 1734 and 1740 for Louis XV by Vauban's successor Cormontaigne, sprawls over a large part of the north bank of the Seille. Built into the natural terrain and laid out with an elaborate system of fortifications and dry moats, the fort was reinforced by Napoleon. Germany added later fortifications, as well. I think that only an aerial photograph could show the entire fort.

In World War II, German forces defended their positions in the city's fortifications, including the Fort de Bellcroix. The Battle of Metz lasted over three weeks. At the west entrance to the Fort de Bellcroix stands a monument of thanks to the soldiers of the U.S. Army's 95th Infantry Division, the "Iron Men of Metz," who fought this battle for the Allies and liberated the city. A panel near the monument explains the history of the battle.

The fort's layout is complex, with long alleys between stone walls, gun positions within the walls, and multiple lines of sight. Many of the alleys and dry moats are clear. Others, like this dry moat just before the belvedere overlooking the Seille, have become overgrown. From the belvedere, visitors can catch a panoramic view of Metz, across the Seille to the north.

The last medieval fortification on the ramparts walk is the most spectacular: the Gate of the Germans. The gate, built in the 13th and 15th Centuries, guarded the entrance to the city over the Seille. The gate's bridge still crosses the river with its Gothic arch.

Portcullises, crenelations and machicolations defended against intruders.

No comments:

Post a Comment