Visiting Givet, France: Overlooked by Fort de Charlemont, Recalling Emperor Charles V, and a Complicated Past
Exciting historic associations from Emperor Charles V to General Massu
Named for Emperor Charles V, who ordered its construction, Fort de Charlement dates from the 16th century.
It is among the largest, historic military forts in France.
But interestingly it was built as protection from France (1).
A rocky hill overlooking to a part of the Meuse Valley previously belonging to the Prince-Bishops of Liège was chosen by advisers to Charles V, who in 1555 ordered the construction of a Fort: hence the name 'Charlemont'.
Not until 1680 did Givet — today, close to the Belgian border — become part of France, under Louis XIV, whose military engineer Vauban further built up the Fort's defences, to make it a citadel.
Bizarrely, after the defeat of Napoleon I in 1815, the victorious British and Prussians forces could not agree among themselves about who should occupy Fort de Charlemont. Forces holding the Fort included the British, the Prussians and even the Russians.
In World Wars One and Two, Imperial German and Nazi German forces respectively occupied Fort de Charlemont; but in 1944 American troops — up to 11,000 of them — took the Fort and held it despite the Von Rundstedt Offensive, advance units of which actually reached the Meuse, during the Battle of the Bulge.
After World War Two, the Fort eventually became a French army commando training base. For a time its commander was General Jacques Massu (1908-2002), among whose other roles was as putschist President of the 1958 Algiers Committee of Public Safety. (One can only speculate whether, if events had played out differently, Fort Charlemont might once again have proved to be a focal point of conflict.)
In 2009 the Fort passed to civilian control. It was later renamed 'Citadelle de Charlemont', in order to distinguish it from its historical military designation.
Alongside the Meuse River, which it overlooks and over which its sitation appealed originally to Emperor Charles V, a gate known as the Porte de France marks an entry into Givet.
October 16, 2017
(1) Unlike some other areas of France, the northern borders of the country remained indefinite and/or temporary in nature until relatively recent centuries.
Some sourcing: Wikipedia
Also worth seeing
Givet itself has some interesting ecclesiastical architecture and a striking Town Hall; the Tour Victoire has watched over the Meuse River since the Middle Ages; a nature reserve was designated in the Pointe de Givet (see also above) at the end of the 20th century.
Dinant , Belgium (distance: 20 kilometres); this town on the Meuse River has an impressive, collegiate church, a fortified citadel and the Bayard Rock landmark.
How to get there: The nearest large, international airport to Givet is Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), Belgium, to which Brussels Airlines flies from New York. Car rental is available from Brussels Airport. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. For any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities, please refer to appropriate consular sources.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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