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Besançon, capital of the Franche-Comté region in northern France, has certainly kept its charm over time. At the gates of Germany and Switzerland, its geography and unique history have successively turned Besançon from a military stronghold into a garrison town, then from a political hub to a religious capital.

Nestled in a bend of the Doubs River, Besançon boasts 2,408 hectares of green space and was proclaimed France's first ville verte, or green city.  Quality of life is key here : beautiful gardens, parks, and shaded waterfront promenades give locals the green light to go outside and play.

Also listed as a City of Art and History, Besançon's rich architectural heritage helps tell the story of its past. Its fortifications, part of the network of Vauban's major sites, have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage since 2008.


Besancon, placed at the heart of the ancient 'Sequania' which subsequently became the French-Comté, developed on the left bank of the river Doubs, against the rock faces of the Jura Mountains. The area of Besançon is of an ancient settlement, and it dates back to prehistoric times, as shown by the excavations of Clairvaux and in the caves of Courchapon.

Known by the Romans under the name Vesontio it was the base for Julius Caesar in his military operations in Gaul (58 BC). The Romans strengthened the trade relationships of Besancon with a number of major roads which joined the city with the most important centres of Gaul, so that the area of Besancon became the 'Provincia Maxima Sequanorum' ('the largest province of the Sequani'), a true metropolis.

In the early Middle Ages (355-363 A.D.) it suffered from numerous invasions by Germanic peoples, and especially the Visigoths and Burgundians. Towards the end of the ninth century, Besancon was part of the Kingdom of Burgundy, and bishop’s authority dominated the city until its conversion into a Municipality at the end of the thirteenth century. The period of Municipalities was a succession of conflicts by the city against the imperial authority.

With Louis XI (1423-1483) Besancon entered into the kingdom of France but it was later transferred to the Habsburgs. The city, under Charles V (1500-1558), met a moment of splendour under Antoine Perrenote de Granvelle (1517-1586), who embellished it with various monuments and palaces.

Besancon was taken back by France under Louis XIV (1638-1715), but soon passed to Spain under the Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle). Meanwhile, Louis XIV had given to Vauban (1633-1707) the task of constructing a fortress at Besancon - a task which resumed after the town again returned to French hands. following the return of Besancon to the French Besancon became the capital of the County and the seat of the metropolitan Bishops of the East.

Places of Interest

The Citadel of Besançon is a landmark 17th-century fortress & museum. 17th-century fort with imposing ramparts & towers, plus French resistance museum & panoramic views.
Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'archéologie de Besançon
The Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'archéologie in the French city of Besançon is the oldest public museum in France. It was set up in 1694.
Renowned as the Renaissance monument in Franche-Comté, the Palais Granvelle was restored between 1988 and 2002 to make the Musée du Temps, Besançon's history museum, science and watchmaking.
The Cathedral of Saint John of Bensançon, commonly known as Besançon Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic church located in the town of Besançon.
The astronomical clock of Besançon is housed in Besançon Cathedral. Besançon's present astronomical clock, made in 1860 by Auguste-Lucien Vérité .
The Square Castan is a set of archaeological remains from the antique Gallo-Roman city of Vesontio, which is now the French city of Besançon.
The Basilica of St. Ferjeux is situated in Besançon, in the quartier of Saint-Ferjeux. It is dedicated to the patron saints of Besançon, Ferreolus and Ferrutio.
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This travel guide is available free of charge due to the travel agents commission taken on boat hire services on the river. Feel free to browse the site at your leisure - all we ask is that if you are taking a boating holiday in Burgundy, France, you book it through the Burgundy Boating Holidays web site.