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1, allée de Verdun - 04200 Sisteron
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La Citadelle de Sisteron


Dessin de la citadelle

The rock where the Citadel sits today has always been a fortified place. Unfortunately, nothing remains of the Roman oppidum (Latin word for settlement in ancient Rome), nor of the fortified castle of the upper Middle Ages, made of precarious fences and towers.

Indeed the fortress which sits today as a crown over the city is a mixture of works from various ages, the result of successive modernisations and remodellings. The upper rampart or covered walkway crowned with a majestic keep goes back to the XIIIth century. Of the two other towers which used to stand there, one has been completely levelled off (western point), the other lowered. After the damages of the Religious Wars, a series of bastioned works was added to this crest line, both in the North and the South, which joined the rampart enclosing the city since the XIVth century. The southern side consists of four walls closed by well protected gates, some of them by drawbridges. On the northern side called "Winter" by Vauban (1633-1707) because of its cold temperature, only three remodelled ones are numbered in the XIXth century. These works attributed without any ground to Jean Errard (engineer in fortifications) are most likely the work of Jehan Sarrazin, an engineer working in the second part of the XVIth century.

In 1692, following the invasion of the upper Durance valley by the Duke of Savoy, Victor Amédée II (1675-1730) Vauban conceived a vast defence project for the city and the fortress. Of that ambitious plan, only the construction of the powder store and of a well (on the northern side) was carried out (for lack of funds – an already existing problem !).

From 1842 to 1860 (Savoy and Nice County were not French yet), some final touches were aimed at updating the Citadel. Referring to the never forgotten recommendations by Vauban, the rampart walls were raised, the two carter's gates of the South side were opened. In the North, the second wall was remodelled, a cistern installed to collect the rain water. Casemates were erected and protected by escarps. The giant underground staircase was built connecting the fortress to the northern gate of the city.

Ever since 1863, funds have been allocated for maintenance only, the Citadel having lost its value as a fortified site with the appearance of artillery using guns allowing long distance shots.
In 1894, military decommissioning was decided. During the First World War, the Citadel became a detention centre for German prisoners.
Classified as a historical monument in 1925, it was bought by the City of Sisteron. An open-air theatre was then created where a festival, one of the oldest in France, is programmed every year.
In 1940, when requisitioned to become a prisoner-of-war camp for Germans, temporary buildings were erected. In August 1944, the bombing of the town left appalling damage which the association Arts, Theatre, Monuments (ATM) succeeds in repairing year after year, restoring the site to its original splendour thanks to admission fees.

Text by  P. Colomb, E. Robert

Some historical dates:

  • 1209: It protects Provence against the turbulent Dauphins. It is the postern of the Provencal State.
  • XIVth century: It defends the city threatened by armed gangs coming from the French kingdom.
  • 1516: Visit by François I. Bayard’s troops are stationed there.
  • 1562: The Religious Wars set Provence ablaze. Its independence is at stake. A refuge for Protestants, Catholics laid it to siege twice.
  • 1589: The main construction begins when Henry IV became King of France. It was the first award of contracts to two enterprises from the Val d’Aosta.
  • 1611: The architectural layout of the Citadel is established..
  • 1639: Richelieu imprisons Prince Jean Casimir Vasa in the dungeon. He had plotted with Spain against France.
  • 1692: After the invasion of the Upper Durance by the Duke of Savoy Victor Amédée II, Vauban “measures” the fort. From his project, only the powder store and a well would be built.
  • 1815 March 5: It worries Napoléon on his way back from the Isle of Elba. It could have stopped him and put an end to the epic. Short of gunpowder, its twenty guns let the Emperor and his 1200 soldiers go by.
  • 1944 -July: The Resistance sets free the political prisoners detained there.
  • 1944 – August 15: The Citadel is seriously damaged during the bombing of the city by the allied forces.
  • 1956 : An association (A.T.M.) takes charge of the restoration of the Citadel. Restoration and enhancement have been going on since then under the aegis of the city and the supervision of the Historical Monument Commission.