Citadelle Vauban
Le Palais, Belle Île, France

Constructed: 1658(?)-1690(?)
Used by: France
Conflicts in which it participated:
Seven Years' War

Belle Île is a small island (17km by 9km) off the coast of central France, near the town of Saint-Nazaire. Folks have lived on Belle Île since at least the Bronze Age (3750-600BC), but the history of our lovely starfort begins in the 17th century.

Belle Île belonged to Nicolas Fouquet (1615-1680), the immensely rich Superintendent of Finances for France, who worked for King Louis XIV (1638-1715). Fouquet had some fortifications built at Le Palais, the island's port, for his own personal protection, "in case of disgrace." Superintendent of Finances was an incredibly powerful, lucrative post in 17th century France, and Louis had apparently decided that nobody was allowed to be as conspicuously wealthy as the Sun King!

Not just a starfort corner: A Vauban starfort corner.
Fouquet was unable to barricade himself in his personal fort before he was arrested in August of 1661. His trial, which is still referred to today as one of the most outrageous misuses of the legal system in French history, lasted three years. Fouquet was found guilty of whatever the King felt he was guilty of, and died in prison in 1680.

Three years later, Vauban (1633-1707), the ultimate authority on all things starfort, arrived on Belle Île to oversee the improvement of Fouquet's fortifications. Vauban would return twice more, in 1685 and 1689. Why King Louis felt that La Palais needed such world-class fortification is unclear, but it likely had something to do with the port's eventual use as a major victualing station for the French Navy.

All the Vaubannery in the world was unable to prevent Belle Île's capture by the British in 1761, however, during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763).

On April 22, 1761, a British amphibious force made a successful landing on the south end of Belle Île, whereupon the island's defenders, led by the Chevalier Sainte Croix, fled into the Citadelle Vauban, and the English obligingly laid siege. The Chevalier hoped to hold out long enough for reinforcements to arrive from the mainland, but the Royal Navy completely ruled the waves, and no help was forthcoming. After six weeks of being pounded upon by British siege guns, the French in the Citadelle surrendered.

Great Britain gleefully took up residence in the Citadelle Vauban for the next two years. At the end of the Seven Years' War, the Treaty of Paris (1763) traded Belle Île for the British possession of Minorca, an island in the Mediterranean, which France had captured early in the war.

Entertainingly, many of Belle Île's inhabitants at the time of the British invasion of 1761 were Acadians, families who had been ejected from formerly French lands in what is now Canada and the northeast US, by the British! How they must have enjoyed this chance to be pushed around by Great Britain once again! Even after the French regained control of Belle Île in 1763, many of the Acadians decided that this place sucked, and emigrated to Louisiana.
Vauban visited Belle Île three times. On his last visit he left his goat, Mimosa, behind to oversee construction. Today, contrary to all laws of nature, Mimosa survives, angrily chasing visitors from its home in the northeast bastion. Thanks to Visoterra for the picture!

Like much of the rest of France, Belle Île was captured by Germany during the Second World War (1939-1945), and was liberated by the Allies in May of 1945.

Today, Belle Île has a population of about 4,000 (many of whom are descendants of resettled Acadians), which balloons to over 25,000 in the summer, as the island is a major European vacation destination. The Citadelle Vauban is both a hotel (of the sort that one would need the financial resources of Nicolas Fouquet to afford a stay) and an art museum.

The Main Square Festival, an annual, enormous musical concert that has taken place for a great many years in the French city of Arras, since 2010 has been held at the Citadelle Vauban: In 2013, such acts as Green Day and Sting are scheduled to perform.

As a personal note, I feel it incumbent upon myself to address the issue of the Vauban Dinglebery. I have made fun of the nonsense pictured to the left on other forts, most of which are Portuguese and Spanish (such as Fort Orange in Brazil and San Juan Ulúa in Mexico), and have referred to the thingies in question as dingleberries. To me, the whole point of a starfort are clean lines and symmetry. A starfort has pointy corners so as to afford its defenders an unfettered view of its attackers, and an unrestricted arc of fire to slaughter them.

The dingleberry seemed like an unnecessary ornamentation, committed by the Spanish and Portuguese, who so often added loads of equally unnecessary decoration on their starforts just because they liked looking at pretty stuff, and seemed to have no problem with the added expense. It certainly can't have an actual military purpose, because, well, look at it! It looks like it's pretending to be some sort of watchtower, but if you actually put a soldier in there during an attack, what do you suppose would happen to the guy, perched there in a bigass target for every gun for miles? This is not by any means a protective device. This is needless ornamentation.

However. This particular dingleberry is on the Citadelle Vauban, and here I've been spouting off about how awesome Vauban is for the past three years, about how he's the ultimate, last word in starforts and bla bla bla. And as much as I'd like to imagine that he was somehow not responsible for the offending dingleberry (maybe one of his engineers was unhappy with his wages, and climbed to the tip of this bastion when Vauban wasn't looking and whipped up a dingleberry just to get even?), this fort is named after the guy. The sad truth seems impossible to escape.

This dingleberry looks to be on the northwest bastion, which appears to be the only bastion disfigured in such fashion. Interestingly, this is the only point of the star that's looking out over perhaps the dingleberry did serve a purpose? Further study is needed, but in the meantime I have to somehow come to terms with the fact that this most offensive of starfort aspects has taken on a sudden and unwelcome sheen of respectability.