Neuf-Brisach (Alsace, France) – Town and Fortress (UNESCO)

Categories: Travel reports, Europe, France

Located about 15 kilometers east of Colmar, the French commune of Neuf-Brisach is an architectural masterpiece. It is a fortified city and was once laid out geometrically as a planned city. Since 2008, the fortifications have been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Fortifications of Vauban” along with other structures in France.

Neuf Brisach header image

Things to know about Neuf-Brisach (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

A visit to Neuf-Brisach makes a good day trip from Colmar, as the town is only about 15 kilometers to the east. From here it is then only about 3 kilometers to the Rhine, which at this point forms the border between France and Germany. Directly opposite on the German side is its namesake sister city, Breisach.

In 1697, France had to vacate the occupied and fortified Breisach in the so-called ‘Peace of Rijswijk’. As a result, Sun King Louis XIV decided to build a new fortified garrison town opposite Breisach on the Alsatian side of the Rhine to fend off a possible attack from the other side of the Rhine. He commissioned his fortress architect Vauban with the construction, who submitted three different development proposals to him. Louis XIV decided to build an octagonal fortified city. And so the city was built by Vauban between 1699 and 1703.

The peculiarity of Neuf-Brisach is its unique urban form. In addition to the octagonal shape, other distinctive details include the central parade ground (today’s market square), clean and unbroken lines, and a checkerboard street network within the fortress walls. This was the location of the soldiers’ and officers’ quarters, utilities, a church, and houses for non-military residents. The city is surrounded by a very impressive complex of walls, gates and moats. The city was bombed several times in past wars – but has been almost completely preserved to this day.

The fortress is considered Vauban’s masterpiece and has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Fortifications of Vauban” since 2008, along with eleven other structures throughout France.

Neuf Brisach Aerial View

Aerial view of Neuf Brisach

A map of Neuf-Brisach

On this map you get a very nice overview of the city shape and form of Neuf-Brisach. Symmetrical structures, clean lines, the square parade ground, the 48 square barracks blocks and the surrounding fortifications make the city a MUST on a tour of Alsace.

Tourist Map of Neuf Brisach

A Tourist Map of Neuf Brisach (France)

The old town

Who now thinks that such a unique and imposing city must surely have a beautiful old town, is unfortunately bitterly disappointed. Neuf-Brisach is really anything but beautiful and there is little to see: No half-timbered houses, as is so often the case in the region, no beautiful alleys or pedestrian zones. Everything looked very dull and unimpressive to us. As spectacular as the city shape and the fortress walls are, the city itself is unfortunately unspectacular. The reason for this is the bombardments during warlike conflicts: In the Second World War alone, 85% of the city was destroyed – but the fortifications were not hit and are still intact today.

The fortification

During the construction of the fortress, the master builder and military architect Vauban did not have to take into account any structural conditions, because the city was built completely new on the drawing board on flat terrain. Thus, he was able to implement the ideal form of fortress construction and create a masterpiece of a Baroque fortification. Vauban had the fortified city laid out geometrically, thus refining his so-called bastioned system, which he had already applied to other buildings and brought to a climax in Neuf-Brisach.

The main feature of the city is the very symmetrical, octagonal ground plan, with which Vauban expected maximum protection from conquest. At each of the corners there is a bastion with a pentagonal defense tower. The soldiers thus had a perfect view of approaching enemies everywhere and a good field of fire. Furthermore, upstream ditches, a battle rampart and a security rampart as well as walls protected the once approximately 4,000 soldiers and 2,000 non-military inhabitants in the fortress complex. Inside the walls, the streets run strictly in a checkerboard pattern; four point gates provide access to the city’s interior – with only 3 of the gates leading into the city from the outside, the fourth city gate leading into the fortress moat.

In the Belfort Gate, the fortress complex houses a Vauban Museum dedicated to the fortress builder Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, his work and the history of the city.

The most beautiful Alsace Villages (France)

Half-timbered towns, wine villages, castles, medieval city walls and tarte flambée... we spent a few days in Alsace, France. Here you can find our travelogues of some of the most beautiful towns in the region.
Alsace Villages » Strasbourg - Tourist Attractions, Things to Do & Photo spots
» Colmar - Top 15 sights in the old town
» Kaysersberg – Sights, Old Town & Castle
» Riquewihr - One of the most beautiful villages in France
» Eguisheim - Top sights of the medieval town
» Turckheim - A day trip from Colmar
» Ribeauvillé – Top Sights & Photo Spots
» Neuf-Brisach - own and Fortress (UNESCO World Heritage)