The impressive fortifications of Luxembourg are a major attraction of this European capital city of the similarly named country. The ruins of these Luxembourgian fortifications, which were amongst the strongest in nineteenth-century Europe, were added to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list in 1993.
Luxembourg city’s history goes back to the tenth century when Count Sigefroi of the Mosel picked the Bock promontory to erect a fortress. He called his castle Lucilinburhuc – the name evolved through the centuries to the French Luxembourg and the German Luxemburg. In English, the French spelling is mostly used.
Luxembourg was originally part of the Holy Roman Empire but through history, the territory also found itself under control of Burgundians, the Austrian Habsburgs, the French, Spanish, Dutch, and Prussians. Independence free of foreign interference only came in 1867.
The important strategic position between Germany, France, and mostly foreign-controlled Belgium meant that Luxembourg was always going to be contentious territory. As a result, between the sixteenth and late nineteenth centuries, Luxembourg was one of the strongest fortified cities in Europe. During the early nineteenth century, it was even compared to the impenetrable Gibraltar.
UNESCO-listed Fortifications in Luxembourg
Luxembourg Castle was built from 963 onwards. The town that grew around it was enclosed by a wall during the eleventh century and a second outer wall followed a century later.
Full fortification of the city started under the rule of Habsburg Emperor Charles V from the mid-sixteenth century onwards. Over the following three hundred years, some of the best military architects in Europe would expand and maintain the fortifications.
At is peak, Luxembourg’s fortifications had three defense rings, a citadel, more than 20 forts, and 23 km (14 miles) of casemates or bombproof tunnels. The fortifications in total covered a surface area of 180 ha (450 acres) while the civilian town Luxembourg was only 120 ha (300 acres) large.
The European superpowers decided in the Second Treaty of London (11 May 1867) that the fortifications had to be torn down. In return, Luxembourg’s perpetual neutrality was agreed upon and the Prussian garrison had to leave town. The destruction was mostly completed by 1883 and today only about ten percent of the original fortifications remain.
The fortifications of Luxembourg as well as part of its old town was inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list as an outstanding example of European military architecture spanning several centuries.
Visiting the Luxembourg Fortifications
Most of the fortifications can be appreciated for free and at will by hiking around them – the views from the Chemin de la Corniche are particularly good but it is also rewarding to walk through the valleys to see what attackers had to face. Such hikes give visitors the opportunity to appreciate not only the natural and architectural beauty of Luxembourg but also its clearly advantageous location for pre-twentieth-century defense purposes.
Around 17 km (10 miles) of the casemates survived the nineteenth-century destruction. Some of these tunnels are open to the public:
The Bock Casemates with museum are open daily from March to October, from 10 am to 5 pm and may be explored at will.
The Petrusse Casemates are only open during Luxembourgian school holidays, daily from 11 am to 4 pm. Tours are compulsory – tour times are posted at the entrance.
Luxembourg has many other sights worth seeing from beautiful nature to interesting architecture ranging from historic to ultramodern buildings. It also has a US Military Cemetery with the grave of General George S. Patton. Although Luxembourg is slightly removed from modern communication routes, various transportation options are available to reach Luxembourg from other European cities.
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