article | Reading time3 min
article | Reading time3 min
Set on a vast rocky promontory at the crossroads of several valleys, the fortified village of Mont-Dauphin bears witness to the power of Louis XIV. We tell you the story!
In 1692, as part of the war of the League of Augsburg (a conflict between the kingdom of France and the Jacobites to a coalition of eight European sovereigns), the Duke of Savoy led a 40,000-strong army on a raid into the Durance valley, in the heart of the Alps. The towns of Guillestre, Embrun and Gap were pillaged and partially destroyed.
Louis XIV became aware of the French kingdom's lack of defense on this Alpine frontier. He sent Vauban (then commissaire général aux fortifications) to inspect the territory and find a solution.
Vauban arrived in the Alps in autumn 1692 and noticed the Plateau des Mille Vents. Some twenty kilometers from the Col de Vars, through which the Duke of Savoy had passed, this rocky promontory was ideally situated to keep watch over the four surrounding valleys!
Vauban decided to build fortifications and military buildings to house a garrison and defend the territory. But he didn't stop there, choosing to add a village to accommodate a civilian population. This is what we call a stronghold!
Indeed, in this remote territory with its harsh climate, he hoped to prevent soldiers from deserting by offering them pleasant living conditions thanks to inns and shops.
Work began in 1693, and by the time Vauban returned to Mont-Dauphin in 1700, most of the town had already been built (fortifications, powder magazine, barracks), although development work continued until the end of the 19th century.
Mont-Dauphin is one of nine new towns created by Vauban.
Did you know? Mont-Dauphin is named after the Dauphin, the King's eldest son.
The Mont-Dauphin garrison originally numbered around 1,000 men. An effective deterrent, the stronghold never suffered a siege! In 1713, the signing of the Utrecht Peace Treaty moved the frontier further away. Mont-Dauphin was no longer on the front line, and its development slowed.
During the 19th century, improvements were made to maintain the buildings and adapt them to changes in artillery technology. It was during this period, for example, that the fabulous Philbert Delorme-style framework of the Rochambeau barracks was built.
It was also in the 19th century that the fortified village of Mont-Dauphin saw its largest population: around 400 souls in 1850.
Yet Vauban had imagined the development of a veritable small town of 2,000 people. So what happened?
Firstly, the prospect of cohabitation with the military and the associated constraints (curfews, military maneuvers, closed gates) did not attract the local inhabitants.
Secondly, the signing of the Peace Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 halted the development of the garrison and thus the interest of new merchants in settling there.
In the course of its history, Mont-Dauphin has experienced only one major incident: an Italian bombardment in 1940, which destroyed part of the arsenal.
In 1966, the stronghold was listed as a historic monument, before being demilitarized in 1980, when the fortifications and main buildings were transferred to the Ministry of Culture.
In 2008, the fortified town of Mont-Dauphin was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites as one of Vauban's fortifications: it is one of the nine new towns created by Vauban, and the archetypal mountain stronghold.
Today, Mont-Dauphin is a village with around 170 inhabitants who enjoy an incredible lifestyle in a virtually intact fortress. Craftsmen (wood, leather, ceramics, stained glass, textiles) and artists live and work here, contributing to its reputation.
Would you like to find out more about Vauban's World Heritage listing?