Castles in France: within a day's drive of 3 (F) Wing, RCAF Station Zweibrücken, Germany

French Castles (Châteaus) in the Moselle and Bas-Rhin area near former RCAF Station Zweibrücken and RCAF Station Baden-Soellingen, Germany

Most Canadians who lived in Zweibrücken, Germany from March 1953 to 27 August 1969, will be familiar with the numerous medieval castles within a short drive of the city.  There are many, and the aim of this page is to tell you a bit about them. My father Aage C. Skaarup served with the RCAF at 3 (F) Wing, Zweibrucken, Germany, (1959-1963), and he took our family castle hunting often throughout our time there.  This generated a huge interest for me in exploring and examining these historic time capsules.  When I joined the Army, I had the extraordinary privilege of serving with HQ CFE in Lahr from 1981 to 1983, and with 4 CMBG based at CFB Lahr, from 1989 to 1992.  I often returned to visit the castles I explored with my parents and brother Dale, and have taken my own family to see them as well.  I have explored, photographed, painted pictures and documented castles from one end of Europe to the other, and you will find other pages describing some of them on this website. This page is specifically dedicated to Castles and Châteaux found in the Moselle and Bas-Rhin area of France within an hour or two's drive from Zweibrücken, particularly around Metz (1 CAD HQ), Marville 1 (F) Wing and Grostenquin 2(F) Wing.

Moselle is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790.  It was created from the former province of Lorraine.  Bas-Rhin (Lower Rhine) is a department in Alsace, also created on 4 March 1790.

(Marc Ryckaert Photo)

The Porte des Allemands (German's Gate) is a medieval bridge castle and city gate in Metz, Lorraine, France.  It is "a relic of the medieval fortifications, with two 13th c. round towers and two gun bastions of the 15th c."  It is listed as a monument historique of France.

Metz.  When Canada's Air Division overseas began expanding in 1952, a planning team sought a headquarters location easily accessible to the various planned RCAF units on the continent.  Their ultimate choice was the Châteaux de Mercy at Metz, France.  The Canadian Headquarters of 1 Canadian Air Division (1 CAD) moved from Paris to Metz in April 1953, at which time the entire 35-acre estate had only four buildings on it: the Chateau, in which renovations were nearly complete; the coach house, tenable but unprepossessing; the lodge at the entrance of the estate, which had no floors and virtually no roof; and the chapel.  Châteaux de Mercy in Metz became the home for 1 CAD, and many Canadians and their families live there from 1953 to 1967.

There were many RCAF facilities located outside of the 1 CAD HQ buildings on the estate of Châteaux de Mercy. A Microwave Site as well as a Receiver Site were constructed amidst the remains of older fortifications.  A Transmitter Site was established at the remains of L'Ouvrage de Jury.  A radar station, No. 61 AC & W Squadron, was constructed outside of and nearby to the C, and the RCAF also made use of L'Ouvrage d'Ars over the years as home to their Combat Operations Centre (COC) and other military sections.

The fortifications which surrounded the city of Metz were not part of the Maginot Line, but part of a group of fortifications originating between 1870 and 1916.  Southeast of Metz are fortifications known as the "Groupe Fortifie la Marne".  Some of its components included the "L'Ouvrage de Jury" and "L'Ouvrage d'Ars", both of which were used by the RCAF during their tenure at Metz. This string of bunkers was built by the Germans after the Franco-German war in 1870.  Their purpose was to defend Metz against French attack.  An assault did not materialize and the fortifications were used as storehouses during the First World War by the Germans . At the end of the 1914-1918 war they were in serviceable condition.  

During the Second World War the Germans again used the bunkers as storehouses.  Two American ground attack aircraft were cruising overhead late in the war and spotted activity on the ground.  Investigating, they saw what appeared to be bombs andexplosives being transferred from a truck into one of the bunkers.  They launched a strafing attack on the target and touched off one of the bombs at the entrance, which set off a chain reaction down to the heart of the cavern.  This resulted in one-ton blocks of concrete being scattered over a mile-wide area.  Some of the smaller debris peppered the Châteaux les Metz, and the city of Metz itself.  The remaining bunkers were untouched by this explosion.  L’Ouvrage de Jury, was used by the American Army after the war for demolition experiments.  In three attempts to penetrate the walls, they only succeeded in cracking the one wall and shifting it out about two feet. When the RCAF moved into the Châteaux, the bunker, L’Ouvrage d’Ars, was renovated and used as a supply warehouse.  During Exercise Carte Blanche, in June 1955, the Air Division Headquarters used part of the bunker system as a field headquarters.

(Aimelaime )

Vieux Château  de Louppy sur Loison (Old Louppy-sur-Loison Castle), locally known as Château Feodal de Louppy-sur-Loison, lies in the village of the same name, in the Meuse department in France.  The fief of Louppy-sur-Loison at first belonged to the Count of Verdun.  At the end of the 12th century the fief yielded to the Count of Bar.  In 1198, Theobald I, Count of Bar, built a new castle here, next to an earlier fortification.  The present remains however date back to a castle built in the 13th or 14th century. I t was built on an elevated piece of land in a loop formed by the Loison river.  Originally the feudal castle had a quadrilateral groundplan with circular towers at its corners.  It had a deep moat which was fed by the Loison.

In 1214, the fief of Louppy-sur-Loison was divided between the Châtelain of Stenay and that of Marville.  In the middle of the 13th century one part was owned by Hugues de Montquintin and the other part by Gerard de Haraucourt.  This shared ownership of the fief continued until the arrival of the Pouilly family in the 16th century, who joined both parts together again.  The was likely abandoned and fell to ruin after Simon II de Pouilly had the New Louppy-sur-Loison Castle built in the first half of the 17th century.  The present church was built on the ruins of the old castle in 1878.  At present the remains of Old Louppy-sur-Loison Castle are part of the grounds of the village church and town hall.  Its exterior can freely be visited.  An impressive remnant.

(TitTornade Photo)

Neuveau Château de Louppy sur Loison (New Louppy-sur-Loison Castle), about 100 meters away from the Old castle.

RCAF Station Marville (also known as 1(F) Wing or 1 Wing) was an RCAF station located near Marville in the Meuse department, Lorraine, in northeastern France.  It was one of four RCAF wings, consisting of three fighter squadrons each, established in Europe in the early 1950s  to support the goals of NATO in Europe during the Cold War.  The other three wings were located at RCAF Station Grostenquin (2 Wing) in France, and RCAF Station Zweibrücken (3 Wing) and RCAF Station Baden-Soellingen (4 Wing) in the former West Germany.

No. 1 Wing, Canada's first NATO fighter wing, was initially located at North Luffenham, England, because its French base was was still being prepared for their arrival.  The first of the wing's three fighter squadrons (all squadrons flying Canadair CL-13 Sabres), No. 410 Squadron, arrived at North Luffenham in November 1951.  The squadron and its aircraft, along with those of No. 441 Squadron, were ferried across the Atlantic to Glasgow, Scotland aboard HMCS Magnificent.  The personnel of No. 441 Squadron arrived by ocean liner in February 1952.  In May–June 1952, No. 439 Squadron flew from RCAF Station Uplands via Bagotville, Goose Bay, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland, in an exercise known as "Operation Leapfrog."

Nos. 410 and 441 Squadrons left North Luffenham in 1954 for temporary bases in Germany.  No. 410 Squadron was relocated to 4 (F) Wing, Baden-Soellingen, and No. 441 to 3 (F) Wing, Zweibrücken.  They finally arrived at the completed 1 (F) Wing Marville base in 1955.  No. 439 Squadron flew directly from North Luffenham to Marville in 1955.

No. 5 Air Movements Unit serviced flights between Marville and CFB Trenton, Ontario.  A barracks block was used as a transient hotel, called the Lorraine Inn, for personnel and families en route to or from other bases.

In 1956 four Avro CF-100 Canuck squadrons were established in Europe for NATO service.  This aircraft had all weather and night operation capabilities.  One squadron in each wing was replaced by a CF-100 squadron.  At Marville, No. 455 Squadron replaced No. 410 Squadron.  In 1962, the two remaining Sabre squadrons converted to Canadair CF-104 Starfighters, along with all the other 1 CAD Sabre squadrons.  The CF-104 supported Canada's new and controversial nuclear strike role since it could be equipped with nuclear weapons.  The Starfighter also had a reconnaissance role.  No. 445 Squadron was disbanded in December 1962.

NATO bases in France, including Grostenquin, were short-lived.  In 1963, the Government of France announced that all nuclear weapons in France were to be placed under French control.  This was unacceptable to the Canadian Government (and to other NATO governments with forces stationed in France), so the two nuclear strike squadrons of 2 (F) Wing (Nos. 421 and 430 Squadrons) were hastily relocated; No. 430 Squadron moved to 3 (F) Wing Zweibrücken and No. 421 Squadron moved to 4 (F) Wing Baden-Soellingen.  RCAF Station Grostenquin closed in 1964.  The remaining non-nuclear armed units in France were repositioned to Marville.  Marville's two remaining squadrons converted to a strictly reconnaissance role.  In March 1966 the Government of France announced that it would be withdrawing its military forces from NATO and that NATO units based in France would have to leave or fall under French command.  The RCAF then moved Marville's Nos. 439 and 441 Squadrons to CFB lahr, West Germany, in April 1967.

(Canadian Forces Joint Imagery Centre Photo, PL-81725)

RCAF Station Grostenquin, also known as 2 (Fighter) Wing or 2 Wing, was an RCAF station located five km north of the town of Grostgenquin in the Moselle department, Lorraine, northeastern France.  It was one of four RCAF wings, consisting of three fighter squadrons each, established in Europe in the early 1950s at the beginning of the Cold War.  The other three wings were located at RCAF Station Marville (1 Wing) in France, and RCAF Station Zweibrücken (3 Wing) and RCAF Station Baden-Soellingen (4 Wing) in the former West Germany.

These wings were components of the 1 CAD, part of the Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force (4 ATAF).  They functioned as Canada's western European air defence commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

No. 2 Wing's three squadrons flew from Canada between 28 Sep and 11 Oct 1952 during Operation Leapfrog II.  They were the first of the Canadian Air Division squadrons to arrive in mainland Europe, and the first RCAF squadrons to be based on the European mainland since March 1946.

All twelve Air Division squadrons flew the Canadair CL-13 Sabre day fighter.  The squadrons originally based at Grostenquin were Nos. 416, 421 and 430.  Beginning in 1956 four all-weather Avro CF-100 Canuck squadrons entered service with 1 CAD.  One squadron in each wing was replaced by a CF-100 squadron.  No. 416 Squadron was replaced by No. 423 Squadron at 2 (F) Wing.  In 1959 Canada adopted a controversial nuclear strike role in accordance with NATO's doctrine of "limited nuclear warfare" and began re-equipping with the new Canadair CF-104 Starfighter that could deliver nuclear weapons.  This aircraft also had a reconnaissance role.  In the fall of 1962 the Sabre squadrons of 1 CAD, including Nos. 421 and 430 Squadrons at 2 (F) Wing, were re-equipped with the Starfighter.  Concurrently, CF-100s ceased operation in 1 CAD and No. 423 Squadron was disbanded.

Pilots from all three Sabre squadrons at 2 (F) Wing flew with the aerobatic team, the Sky Lancers.  The team was formed in March 1955 and performed throughout Europe until October 1955.  The following year the team was based at 4 (F) Wing.  Other units located at Grostenquin include No. 601 Telecommunications Squadron and No. 109 Communications Flight.  Logistics support for 2 (F) Wing, as well as the other three wings, was provided by No. 30 Air Materiel Base (AMB) in Langar, UK.

Families of service personnel were mainly accommodated in permanent married quarters (PMQs), consisting of 443 apartments at nearby Saint Avold.  Other families were accommodated in private homes in local villages or in trailers on the base.  Some personnel resided in single quarters on the station.  Schools were located at Saint Avold and on the station.  Recreational facilities on the base included an arena and pool.  A grocery and general store, as well as a hospital were also located on the station.

NATO bases in France, including Grostenquin, were short-lived.  In 1963, the Government of France announced that all nuclear weapons in France were to be placed under French control.  This was unacceptable to the Canadian Government (and to other NATO governments with forces stationed in France), so the two nuclear strike squadrons of 2 (F) Wing (Nos. 421 and 430 Squadrons) were hastily relocated; No. 430 Squadron moved to 3 (F)Wing Zweibrücken and No. 421 Squadron moved to 4 (F) Wing Baden-Soellingen.  RCAF Station Grostenquin closed in 1964,

After 1964 the airfield was transferred to the French Armed Forces, but it remained abandoned until 1979 when it was re-used as an electronic warfare training range (POLYGON) by the French Air Force and French Army Aviation Corps, the Luftwaffe and the USAF.  Other than the hangars most of the RCAF logistics facilities are gone.  The runway, taxiways and tarmac remain visible from aerial photos, but markings have changed since the RCAF left in 1964.

(Freddo Photo)

Château Saint-Sixte is a 12th-century castle in the commune of Friestroff in the Mosell département of France.  The Château Saint-Sixte stands on a small plain between Freistroff and Rémelfang.  It was built in the 12th century by  the seigneur Wirich de Valcourt.  During the Renaissance, it was transformed into a residence and was altered again in the 18th century.  It was saved from ruin by the Gehl family in 1986.  Separated from the village on the left bank of the Nied, it has a strange oval plan, surrounding by ancient moats.  The six originally separate buildings are roofed with two slopes of tiles and arranged around an entirely enclosed courtyard.  In each corner, a polygonal staircase tower provides access to the upper stories.

The château is open to visitors every afternoon from April to October, with guided tours at weekends.  Organized groups may visit throughout the year.  The castle is privately owned.  In 1986, the Gehl family bought the castle and the estate around it.  Their sons Dominique, Philippe and Luc undertook a thorough restoration of the castle.  In 2007, Philippe Gehl bought the castle from his two brothers, and continues the work with the assistance of a restoration association.  It has been listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture since 1991.

(Rob124 Photo)
Château de Fleckenstein i
s a ruined castle in the commune of Lembach, in the Bas-Rhin département of France. This fortress, built in the shape of 52 m long boat, stands on a dramatic rock face and has a long history. The castle was built on a sandstone summit in the Middle Ages. An ingenious system for collecting rainwater fed a cistern and a hoist allowed water and other loads to be moved to the upper floors.

A castle is known to have existed on the site in 1165.  It is named after the Fleckenstein family, owners until 1720 when it passed to the Vitzthum d'Egersberg family.  The family had had a lordship that consisted of four separate small territories in the Bas-Rhin département.  In 1807, it passed to J.-L. Apffel and in 1812 to General Harty, baron of Pierrebourg (French word for Fleckenstein: stone town).  In 1919, it became the property of the French state.

The rock and the castle have been modified and modernised many times.  Of the Romanesque castle, remains include steps cut into the length of the rock, troglodyte rooms and a cistern.  The lower part of the well tower dates from the 13th or 14th century, the rest from the 15th and 16th.  The inner door in the lower courtyard carries the faded inscription 1407 (or 1423); the outer door 1429 (or 1428).  The stairwell tower is decorated with the arms of Friedrich von Fleckenstein (died 1559) and those of his second wife, Catherine von Cronberg (married 1537).

The 16th-century castle, modernised between 1541 and 1570, was shared between the two branches of the Fleckenstein family. Documents from the 16th century describe the castle and a watercolour copy of a 1562 tapestry illustrated its appearance in this period.  Towards the end of the 17th-century Fleckenstein was captured twice by French troops.  In 1674 the capture was achieved by forces under Marshall Vauban, who encountered no resistance from the defenders.  The castle was nevertheless completely destroyed in 1689 by General Melac.  Major restoration work was carried out after 1870, around 1908 and again since 1958.

The castle is located between Lembach to the south and Hirschtal to the north, only about 200 meters to the southeast of the present French frontier with Germany, at a height of about 370 meters above mean sea level.  The nearest more substantial town is Wissembourg, approximately 20 km / 12 miles to the east.  The castle, is accessible by road or via (well established) hiking trails.  (Ministère français de la Culture. Château fort de Fleckenstein)


Fleckenstein castle, Merian illustration, 1887)

(Peter Schmenger Photo)

Fleckenstein castle, view from Hohenburg castle.

(Palatination Photo)

Château de Rothenbourg (Rothenburg Castle) is a castle ruin in the commune of Philippsbourg in the Moselle département of France.  The castle was built on a hill called Rothenberg or Rodenberg, to the north of another castle, the Château du Falkenstein, dates back to the 9th century.  Around 912, Otbert, the Bishop of Strasbourg, pursued by rebellious subjects, took refuge at Rathburg which is perhaps Rothenburg.  Shorlty afterwards, he was assassinated there.

The castle was built by the Duke of Lorraine in the 13th century, and is constructed of dressed sandstone.  At the end of the 13th century, it passed to the Counts of Zweibrücken-Bitsch.  In the 14th century, Château de Rothenburg partly belonged to Count Walram of Zweibrücken-Bitsch who gave it as a fiefdom in 1353 to Gerhard Harnasch von Weisskirchen.  In 1368, Rothenburg was captured and destroyed by the Strasbourgeois.  The castle seems to have given its name to the Blick de Rothenburg family, who held several fiefs from the Lords of Bitche, and who died out in 1749.  Château de Rothenburg is state property.  (French Ministry of Culture database)

(J.claude Photo)

Château de Ramstein (Ramstein Castle) is a castle ruin in the commune of Baerenthal in the Moselle département of France.  This 13th-century castle was built by the lords of Falkenstein on the instructions of the Bishop of Strasbourg, to control the Zinselbach valley, c1292.  During the course of the 14th century, the lords of Ramstein transformed it into a den of brigands.  For this reason the castlet was destroyed in 1355, during a punitive expedition by the Strasbourgeois and their allies from Berne.

Below the castle can be seen two underground passages dug in 1936 by French military engineers as part of the Maginot Line fortifications.  They were used as shelter by the local population during the battles of winter 1944-45.  This site is currently closed to protect a colony of bats.  The site has been protected since 1938 by the French Ministry of Culture.

(Palatination Photo)

The Château du Falkenstein or Falkenstein Castle (Burg Falkenstein), "falconstone's castle") is a ruined castle in the commune of Philippsbourg in the Moselle départment of France, at the heart of the Parc naturel régional des Vosges du Nord. The remains of this castle dominate the Zinsel valley.  The castle, built by Count Peter of Lützelburg, is mentioned for the first time in 1127.  It was intended to protect the possessions of the Count in the Forêt Sainte (Holy Forest) of Hagenau.

In 1150, Renaud, the son of Count Peter, died without an heir.  The castle was therefore shared between Folmar of Sarrewerden and the Hohenstaufen family.  Jacob of Falkenstein appears as a witness in a charter signed at Haguenau in 1205 and, in 1316, Gottfried, Conrad, Heinrich and Jacob of Falkenstein made peace with the city of Strasbourg.  A paix castrale (castle peace) was signed in 1335, dividing the castle in three shares along the transverse walls.

In 1419, Jacob of Finstingen made himself Lord of Falkenstein seeing that he was the occupier on behalf of the Sarrewerdens. In 1474 Wilhelm of Falkenstein died, whereupon his sons Godfrey, Ortlieb and William inherited the castle and made an agreement to divide the property among themselves, agreeing that no part could be ceded, even to another member of the family, without the consent of the other shareholders.  The shareholder in residence in 1479 attempted to sell the castle to the counts of Zweibrücken-Bitsch, and in 1482 a conflict blew up over non-respect of the agreement between the members of the family.  When the dispute was finally settled in 1487, with the castle in the hands of Wilhelm of Falkenstein, he dedicated a new chapel in the castle.

The Falkensteins were sole masters of the castle in 1515 and the modernization begun by Balthasar was continued by his son.  In 1564, Philipp IV (1538-1590), Count of Hanau-Lichtenberg, bought the castle from Balthasar's children and grandchildren and, some months later, it was completely destroyed by fire and never rebuilt.  In 1570, a part of the ruined castle was still inhabited by a forester employed by the Count of Hanau-Lichtenberg.  Between 1570 and 1605, a conflict erupted between the Hanau-Lichtenbergs and the Duchy of Lorraine, at the end of which the Falkensteins returned to Hanau-Lichtenberg in 1606.  In 1623, the castle was ruined by the troops of Ernst von Mansfeld during the Thirty Years' War, to such an extent that the foresters could no longer live there.  The final destruction of the castle was carried out by French troops.

In 1981, the Vosges Club (club vosgien) in Strasbourg placed a marker at the castle summit showing the altitude and directions to nearby land features.  The castle's sandstone has been shaped by wind and weather.  Elements of the castle of note, include the entrance, the remains of the keep, the cave rooms and the well tower, which had three functions: to protect the well, to defend the surrounding area and, on the top floor, to provide habitation.  Nearby are the ruins of the Château de Helfenstein.  The ruins are the property of the state, and have been classified since 1930 as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.  Access was banned from 1999 to 2013.  (French Ministry of Culture database)

(Jean Claude Photo)

Château de Helfenstein (Burg Helfenstein) is a ruined castle in the commune of Philippsbourg in the Moselle départment of France.  The castle is located 100 m from Château du Falkenstein.  The castle was mentioned in the 14th century as the property of the Dukes of Lorraine.  It passed as a fief to the Wasselonne family and was destroyed around 1435.  In 1437, the Bishop of Strasbourg settled a difference between Guillaume de Falkenstein and Frédéric de Thann concerning the demolished fortress, zerbrochene Feste, of Helfenstein.

Following its destruction, the castle effectively disappeared from view and was virtually unknown until 1928 when Ad. Malye discovered and excavated it following research in documents and on the ground.  There is very little in the way of remains - among other finds, a well was discovered in 1928.  The ruins are state property.  (French Ministry of Culture database)

(Ralf Schultze Photo)

Château de la Petite-Pierre, Burg Lützelstein is a castle in the commune of La Petite-Pierre in the Bas-Rhin département of France, in Alsace. All the names of the place are related to "small stone", and come from Old Franconian Lítzelstäin, with the French name as a translation.

Originally there was a stronghold in the place, built by the family of Hugues IV of Nordgau, Count of Egisheim.  Built at the end of the 12th century, the Château de la Petite-Pierre is recorded from 1212.  Count Hugo, either the son or grandson of the powerful Count of Blieskastel, is held as the builder.  The fief was recognised as the "County of Lützelstein", within the German Holy Roman Empire, at roughly the same time.

The counts  used the title Graf von Lützelstein, later also Comte de Petite-Pierre, as well as Comte de Lunéville in Lorraine, which might be due to a confusion of transferral of power at some point.  In 1223, due to a conflict with the Bishop of Strasbourg, the counts of Parva Petra were forced to yield it as a fief to the bishop as an episcopal stronghold, under the bishop's reign.  In 1403, Friedrich of Lutzelstein died as the last was the last male heir of the castle.

His uncle Bourcard/Burkhard II of Lutzelstein, Bishop of Strasbourg (in office 1393 - 1394), was one of the claimants, as well as Friedrich's sister, married to Johann of Leiningen.  Burkhard (of Friedrich?) divided the property letting Palatine Count Robert III, Holy Roman Emperor, a fourth and the rest to his daughters.  Sons of Burkhard and of the Leiningen family ruled for some time in Lützelstein. The Palatine Count Frederick I (1425 - 1476) seized it all in 1452/62 as the new holders died without legitimate heirs.  In 1566, it became the residence of George John I, Count Palatine of Veldenz, who carried out major works. The French Army occupied the castle in 1677; in 1681 the county was joined with in France.  Vauban was charged with improving the fortifications.  In 1870 that the fortifications were removed.

Since 1977, the building has housed the administrative services of the Parc naturel régional (Natural Regional Park) of Vosges du Nord.  In the multi-media exhibition there, a room is specifically devoted to the history of the castle with, in particular, a superb model of Staedtel, the fortified old town, according to plans of 1771, and an impressive sight of the castle's ancient cistern.  The fortified town, with the Saint-Louis chapel, the 15th-century church choir and the bastion tower protecting the cisterns, is closely linked to the castle.

The castle is located at the end of a crest, separated from the old town by an artificial ditch dating from the beginning of the 13th century.  The pentagonal keep was destroyed in the 19th century.  The residence has been greatly altered but in its cellar the filtering cistern dates from the 14th century.  On the southern façade are Romanesque windows.  The well with Renaissance decoration, the main door with pilasters and the staircase turret date from the 16th century.  The polygonal construction exhibits Gothic ornamentation, in particular hooked capitals.

(Ji-Elle Photo)

Entrance to Château de La Petite-Pierre.

Engraving of tChâteau de la Petite-Pierre, 1 Jan 1849.

(Ji-Elle Photo)

Entrance to Château de La Petite-Pierre.

(V. deGouey Photo)

Citadelle de Bitche is located in the French commune of Bitche and the department of Moselle.  A masterpiece of military art, the citadel is the most important historical site in the Pays de Bitche.

The first mention of the name of Bitche is found in a letter dated from the middle of the 12th century, in which the Duke of Lorraine Matthew I asked the Count of Sarrewerden to respect the limits as well as the inhabitants of his seigneury of Bitche.  In this letter written in Gothic letters but in Latin, the limits of this seigneury are specifically established.  As early as 1170, a "Bitis Castrum" appeared in a document in which Frederick I of Lorraine called himself Dominus de Bites (Lord of Bitche).  Tradition locates this first castle of Bitche, or Altbitsch, on the Schlossberg north of the village of Lemberg.  The castle gave its name to the seigneury, then to the town of Bitche.  This initial castle appears to have be a hunting lodge located in the nearby Lemberg Forest.  IAt rougly the same time, another pavilion was built on the Schlossberg on the site of the current citadel.  The strategic interest of this promontory with a panoramic view of several valleys could not have escaped the lords of the time.  The second fortified castle on the site was likely built at the end of the 13th century by Count Eberhard de Deux-Ponts, who died in 1321, on the current rock in the town of Bitche.  It was partially destroyed at the beginning of the 16th century during the Peasants' War. In the 13th century, the seigneury of Bitche was the only territory of the Duke of Lorraine located in the German-speaking linguistic domain and due to the fragmentation of the possessions of the counts of Deux-Ponts, it was geographically isolated.  Count Eberhard II of Deux-Ponts then proposed an exchange agreement to the Duke of Lorraine.  This transaction was carried out by two treaties: that of 13 May 1297 and that of 1 July 1302.  
Count Eberhard II of Deux-Ponts married Agnès de Bitche, daughter of Thiébaud II of Lorraine in 1309 and took the title of Count of Deux-Bridges and Lord of Bitche and after having transformed it, made the castle of Bitche his main residence.  Until the beginning of the 16th century, the seigneury of Bitche ultimately depended on the Holy Roman Empire.  When Reinhard de Bitche died in 1531, his two sons shared his domain.  Unfortunately they had a falling our and quarreled, leading to the Duke of Lorraine setting his sights on this lordship.  In the end, Amélie de Bitche, daughter of the late Simon Wecker and wife of Philippe de Limange, sold the land at Bitche to the Duke of Lorraine Charles II for the sum of 50,000 ecus.  

The situation for the castle deteriorated, as in 1563, Count Jacques de Bitche bought the houses at the bottom of the rocky promontory, had them razed and built ramparts to protect himself from the Dukes of Lorraine whom he did not want pay for his aid.  Jacques died in 1570 without leaving any direct descendants, he was the last count of Deux-Ponts-Bitche. In 1634, Richelieu, to punish the new owner, Charles IV of Lorraine, decided to dispossess him of what still remained to him. Marshal d'Humières was responsible for taking the castle of Bitche, which surrendered after a ten-day siege.  The French settled in the country and the misfortunes of the castle continued.  When Louis XIV seized Bitche in 1680, the castle of the Counts of Deux-Ponts-Bitche, restored on several occasions, was in ruins.  During the winter of 1673-1674, Turenne took up his winter quarters in the Palatinate and came to visit Bitche.  Impressed by the strategic importance of the site, he convinced Louis XIV to fortify this point and in 1679, the king entrusted Vauban with this work.  The construction took place from 1683 to 1697 and cost France 2,500,000 gold pounds, an enormous sum for the time.
The citadel was dismantled in 1698 following the clauses of the Treaty of Ryswick, which ceded the town of Bitche to Leopold I, Duke of Lorraine.  The new fortifications had to be razed and a regiment from Flanders took charge of this task from the autumn of 1697 to the summer of 1698.  In 1701 the War of the Spanish Succession broke out and, once again, a French garrison came to occupy Bitche.  The soldiers  immediately began to rebuild the fortifications built by Vauban that had been razed to the ground shortly before.In 1735 and 1736, agreements were signed specifying that the Duke of Lorraine François Stéphane had to renounce the duchies of Bar and
Lorraine in favor of Stanislas Leszczynski, the King of Poland, then in exile, whose daughter married the King of France Louis XV.  The deposed king therefore came to settle in Lunéville and took the title of Duke of Lorraine.  In 1738, Louis XV authorized the reconstruction of the stronghold of Bitche, and had it integrated into the defensive system of the French borders, under the direction of Marshal de Bournay. When he died in 1740, he was replaced by a providential man for the city of Bitche, the count of Bombelles.  He set to work in 1741 and, when in 1744, mercenaries fighting on behalf of Austria approached Bitche, they were repulsed.  The fortification work lasted until 1765, as indicated by the plaque that Louis XV had placed at the entrance.  Vauban's original design was respected and reinforced by other works.  
The work was carried out by Cormontaigne, who renovated the barracks, the buildings for the engineers and the governor, the stores for artillery and powder, the guardhouses and the defense of the glacis.   Construction of the advanced structure took place from 1755 to 1760, and in 1765 the development of the esplanade at the foot of the glacis was carried out.Commander Louis-Casimir Teyssier, who commanded the Place de Bitche, supported a siege against the Prussian assailant from 8 August 1870 to 26 March 1871.  The city was bombed from 23 August to 21 September 1870.  A blockade was imposed from 25 September 1870 to 25 March
1871.  Commander Teyssier handed over the citadel to the Germans on 26 March 1871, by order of the government.  The commander and the French troops were permitted to leave the citadel with the honours of the war.Partially destroyed during the siege in 1870-1871, the citadel was modernized by the Germans from 1871 to 1900, then again damaged in 1944-1945 by American artillery.  The most successful events for the defenders of the citadel were the attack of 1793 and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.  

The citadel as well as the underground passages have been classified as historical monuments since 1979.  On 23 May 2006, three bells were cast on the occasion of the official inauguration of the renovation of the citadel, in the presence of political representatives.  Christiane Leroy, wife of the president of the general council, the godmother and Gérard Mordillat, the director of the Besieged Fortress, the godfather, along with the workers of the Strasbourg company Vœgele, poured the mixture of copper and tin.  On 25 May 2006, the founders broke the molds of clay and horse dung to reveal the three bells.  The heaviest, weighing sixty-three kilos and stamped with the coat of arms of the city and of Commander Teyssier, will be rung as needed for special occasions, while the other two, weighing forty and twenty kilos, are used to strike the hour.  The carillon, meanwhile, was activated in 2007, following the restoration of the citadel chapel. The Citadel of Bitche is part of the network of major sites in Moselle.  A relief map of the town of Bitche, dating from 1794 and classified as a historical monument since 1983, is exhibited in the museum. Through its underground complex, an audiovisual museum trail immerses visitors in the discovery of the history of the fortress.  The Garden for Peace, located between the citadel and the city, is part of the network. (French Ministry of Culture database)

(Zairon Photo)

Citadelle de Bitche.

(Zairon Photo)

Citadelle de Bitche.

(Zairon Photo)

Citadelle de Bitche.

(Zairon Photo)

Citadelle de Bitche.

(Gerd Eichmann Photo)

Citadelle de Bitche.

(Calips Photo)

Cannon, Citadelle de Bitche.

(Gerd Eichmann Photo)

Citadelle de Bitche.

(Gerd Eichmann Photo)

Citadelle de Bitche.

(Hochstrasser Photo)

Châteaux de Diedendorf is a Renaissance style châteaux situated in the commune of Diedendorf in the départment of Bas-Rhine, Grand Est, France.  It was completed in 1580.

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