Monday, 16 May 2011

Vauban at Saint-Martin-de-Ré

We spent two days at St-Martin-de-Ré, on Ile de Ré, an island in the Atlantic just off La Rochelle. I say an island but it is now connected to the mainland via a 2.9 kilometre bridge. The island was of strategic importance and St Martin was fortified in the 1620s by order of Cardinal Richelieu. The original fortifications are said to have inspired Vauban - the architect of the French defensive buildings. 

In 1627, an English invasion force commanded by the Duke of Buckingham(!) attacked the island in order to relieve the Siege of La Rochelle. After three months of fighting against the French under Marshal Toiras, the Duke was forced to withdraw in defeat. Vauban was engaged to strengthen the fortifications and the result is the walls which today surround the town, together with a stronger fortress that is now a prison. The fortress has it’s own small but well defended harbour - presumably to supply the garrisons posted there.

Today St-Martin-de-Ré is a holiday destination although entry is still defended: cars can’t enter the inner area unless they can pass the barrier. We had to park outside and negotiate the code from our hotel but I don’t think this aimed at keeping the English out!

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