Visiting Rocroi, France and its walls: impressive, fortified town
Walls near borders
It must have been Vauban again.
Well, actually, it wasn't all Vauban's work. This impressive and well preserved, fortified town in what is now northern France's Ardennes department is, it seems, one of the few fortified places in northern France which wasn't the responsibility of King Louis XIV's celebrated military engineer, although Vauban did strengthen existing defences in the late 17th century.
The fortifications were there already at Rocroi, substantially built in the 16th and early 17th centuries, initially at the initiative of French King Henri II.
Neighbouring Belgium was long regarded as the Cockpit of Europe, owing to the amount of foreign armies which would compete for influence on its soil, and Rocroi, close to the Belgian and former Spanish and subsequently Austrian Netherlands' border, was certainly regarded as being in a strategic location.
1643 saw a battle at Rocroi, between the forces of French King Louis XIV, commanded by the Duke of Enghien, and a Spanish army led by Francisco de Melo. The battle resulted in a French victory. A museum devoted to the battle of Rocroi (Musée de la bataille de Rocroi ) exists at the town.
The town's extensive fortifications may be visited, and information panels have been supplied, with details of their lay-out. The basically intact series of thick, defensive walls are in the form of a star, in the centre of which is the downtown area of Rocroi. Coming to Rocroi is thus almost like stepping back some centuries.
The church of St. Nicolas, Rocroi, was built in 1844, replacing a previous church building dating from 1626. Records appear to show that a church stood on this site as far back as circa 1198. A number of noted buildings face onto the main square centred on an old fountain.
A note on authentic spelling, authentic cheese...
There have been two, widespread spellings of the town's name: 'Rocroi' and 'Rocroy'. Today, spelling 'Rocroi' is the one which dominates.
The local cheese industry is significant, and, interestingly, a brand known as Le véritable Rocroy , (The authentic Rocroy) has used the older spelling, as may be seen.
Also worth seeing
Charleville-Mézières (distance: 71 kilometres) has a picturesque and historic grand ducal square.
Dinant , Belgium (distance: 64 kilometres); scenic town on the Meuse River, with impressive ecclesiastical architecture.
Bouillon , Belgium (distance: 71 kilometres); scenic town on the Semois River, overlooked by a Medieval castle associated with Godefroid de Bouillon .
Givet (distance: 40 kilometres); historic military town on the Meuse River , overlooked by Charlemont fort.
Guise (distance: 77 kilometres), a town strongly associated in history with dukes of the same name, whose castle may be visited.
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Rocroi: 203 kilometres). However, Brussels (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ) airport, from where car rental is available, is the nearest large airport to Rocroi (distance: 127 kilometres). Please note that facilities mentioned may be withdrawn without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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