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Besançon history
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Places of interest on the outskirts of Besançon

Historical and Architectural sites / Museums / Natural sites

Anyone could spend hours walking around the streets of the beautiful town centre of Besançon, but there are many intersting sites around the city that owe to be visited. Besides, going to those sites will let you go through Franche-Comté's beautiful landscape, from the plains of the Saone River, to the forests and mountains of the Jura, with it's lakes, point of views and natural reserves (small video).

Special thanks to the French Society for Microtechnics and Chronometry for the content of this page

Historical and Architectural Sites

Citadelle de Besançon

The Citadel of Besançon dates back to the Celtic era. In his De Bello Gallicum, Julius Caesar already said about the fortress of Vesontio (celtic name of Besançon) that it was one of the best defensive sites he had ever seen. Under Louis XIV, Vauban turned it into a stronghold consisting of three successive lines of defensive walls, on top of the rocky promentory that closes the "Boucle du Doubs", the loop made by the Doubs River in which the city developped itself. Today, the Citadel hosts many museums (of Natural History, of Resistance and Deportation, Local Art, etc...) a zoo, and other administrative offices.
Website : http://www.citadelle.com/accueil-en.php
Contact : +33 381 878 333 / citadelle@besancon.com

Saline Royale d'Arc-et-Senans

The Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans, near Besançon, was built by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. Its construction, begun in 1775 during the reign of Louis XVI, was the first major achievement of industrial architecture, reflecting the ideal of progress of the Enlightenment. This vast, semicircular complex was designed to permit a rational and hierarchical organization of work and was to have been followed by the building of an ideal city, a project that was never realized. Today, one can see how salt was extracted and brought to the Saltworks in the 18th century, and the different stages of the transformation of the salted water (saumure) into salt. An permanent exhibition is devoted to the life and works of Ledoux, a forerunner in modern city planning. This site is incribed on the World Heritage List of the UNESCO.
Website : http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/203/ or http://www.salineroyale.com (french only)
Contact : +33 381 544 545 / visites@salineroyale.com

Ville d'Ornans

Ornans is a very interesting and picturesque small town on the Loue River, with well preserved buildings from the 16th century (city hall, townhouses) and a 12th century church. It is the hometown of Gustave Courbet and hosts a small museum dedicated to this great painter and sculptor of the 19th century. The remarkable interest of Ornans is it's finely decorated houses and restaurants overhanging the Loue River.
Website : -
Contact : +33 381 622 150 / otsi.ornans@wanadoo.fr

Château de Belvoir

Belvoir is an entirely restored medieval fortress of the 12th and 13th centuries. The visit takes you to all the rooms of the castle, including the arsenal, the reception room, and the living quarters of the former inhabitants. A huge medieval arms collection includes a unique chainmail armor of the 12th century. In one of the rooms you will also discover a stone-carved cupboard, typical piece of Comtois rural art of the Middle-Ages.
Website : -
Contact : +33 381 910 602

Porte Noire et Square Castan

The Porte Noire (Black Gate) is one of the biggest Roman triumphal arch in France. It's colour is due to the fire that devastated the granary it hosted in the Middle-Ages. Dating back to the 2nd century, the arch was erected under emperor Marcus-Aurelius and is remarkable for the size of its sculptures, representing divinities and scenes of fighting. Just a few metres away stand the ruins of a Roman water-tank that collected springwater from Arcier (east of Besançon), via an aqueduct of 15 kilometres.
Situated Rue de la Convention, town centre of Besançon.


Théatre Romain de Mandeure

The large Roman Theater of Mandeure (142 metres in diameter and about 20000 seats) was part of a vast religious and certainly pilgrimage ensemble dating back to the end of the 1st century. It was hosted by the second largest city of Sequania (Roman Franche-Comté), then called Epomanduodurum. The site is still under excavation, and large urban areas have been localised, as well as many workshops.
Highway A36 to Mandeure.
Contact : +33 381 300 339

Château de Joux

The fortress of Joux represents a fairly interesting view of the evolution of military architecture, from it's medieval towers to the half-burried fortress of the 19th century. It hosts one of Europe's deepest wells, and the largest French museum for arms and uniforms, with collections dating from the 18th century to orld War I.
Website : http://chateaudejoux.com (french only)
Contact : +33 381 694 795 / contact@chateaudejoux.com


Beaux-Arts et Archéologie

The oldest museum in France, the museum of Fine-Arts and Archeology of Besançon is also one of the richest. It's various collections include Prehistoric times, Archeology (local, Egyptian, Roman and Greek), Medieval Art, and a large collection of paintings (Tintoretto, Courbet, Renoir, Rubens, etc...). Local findings (a three horned sculpted bull) go along international ones (Egyptian sarcophaguses, ceramics, etc...).
Website : -
Contact : +33 381 878 049 / musees@besancon.com


Histoire Naturelle

The museum of Natural History is hosted by the Citadel. It includes a large Zoo, an aquarium, an insectarium, and many collections. It's Paleontology room prime attraction is a rare prehistoric fossile fish, a Coelacanth. A well furnished butterflies collection, local wildlife animals as well as exotic ones, combine to make of this museum a very attractive place to visit.
Website : http://www.citadelle.com/zoo-en.php
Contact : +33 381 878 333 / citadelle@besancon.com

Résistance et Déportation

Also hosted by the Citadel, the museum of Resistance and Deportation is unique in France. It evokes the exactions of all kinds committed during World War II. There is also a special room that shows art works made by prisonners of concentration camps during their imprisonment that reveals their fears and thoughts. Contemporary works inspired by this period are also exposed.
Website : http://www.citadelle.com/musee_resistance-en.php
Contact : +33 381 878 333 / citadelle@besancon.com

Maisons Comtoises de Nancray

This outdoor ever growing museum depicts the evolution of local housing, with ancient farms and rural houses, like the "Tuyé" farm, used for the smoking and conservation of meat. All the houses were dismantled in their original village, and brought to the site of the museum to be re-built there, with their original landscape and environment. They are all completely furnished and give a real view of what our ancestors living conditions were.
Website : http://www.maisons-comtoises.org/index_uk.htm
Contact : +33 381 552 977

Musée Peugeot

Peugeot, one of France's largest vehicle manufacturer, now has its own museum for automobiles, but also for all kinds of products the enterprise has manufactured in its past (bicycles, firearms, sewing machines...). Racing cars and protoypes are also on exhibit, totalising near 100 models of automobiles from various periods.
Website : http://www.peugeot.com/histoire/musee/en/
Contact : +33 381 994 203 / musee-peugeot@wanadoo.fr


Musée-Fromagerie de Trepot

The old cheese-dairy co-operative of Trepot in activity from 1818 to 1977 has evolved into a local museum for cheese and all the activities related to it. The visit includes an explanation of the processing stages of the Comté cheese, the region's reknowned speciality.
N57 to Saone, then Tarcenay and Trepot.
Contact : +33 381 867 106

Musée du Temps

Besançon's watchmaking past deserved a museum that would depict all the aspects of horology. This is now done with this quite recent Museum of Time. Collections of Watches, Comtoises Clocks and exhibitions about the glorious industrious past of the city and the region in the domain of time, show the world of precision often unknown of this noble industry.
Website : -
Contact : +33 381 878 150

Natural Sites

Grotte d'Osselle

Discovered during the Middle-Ages (used at that time for refuge) and explorated for centuries afterwards, the Osselle karst Caves are considered one of the most fascinating natural sites in Europe. Coloured caves of various shapes, "forests" of stalagmites and stalagtites, an underground river, offer the visitor a wonderful show for the eyes and the mind in an unsuspected atmosphere.
Website : http://www.franche-comte.org/anglais/sites/grottes_gouffres/grottes_en.html
Contact : +33 381 636 209

Vignoble Jurassien

With the first french wine A.O.C. (wines of verified origin and quality), the vineyards of Jura are still mostly unknown, even in France. Dating back to the Roman period and the Middle-Ages, local wines used to be reknowned at the courts of France and the Empire. Although it was weakened by the two world wars and the Phylloxera, Jura still produces wines of high quality in small quantities (like the famous "Vin Jaune" or Yellow Wine) with very few exports, so that locals can keep them for themselves...;)
Fruitière de Voiteur : http://www.fruitiere-vinicole-voiteur.fr/indexeu.htm
Fruitière d'Arbois : http://www.chateau-bethanie.com/index.htm (french only)

Gouffre de Poudrey

Discovered in 1899, the Poudrey Chasm is one of the most impressive natural attractions of the region. It is more than 100 meters deep and has one of the biggest subterranean halls in Europe (600 meters of circumference and 60 meters in height). You will discover there beautiful limestone formations (enormous stalagmites, etc...) and a small underground lake, formed by moisture water. The music that will accompany you (mostly Wagner and Jean-Michel Jarre) will add to the mistery of this site.
Website : http://www.gouffredepoudrey.com/gouffre/english/index_uk_gouffre.html


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