Fortifications in Briancon in the sights of Europa Nostra and EIB Institute

Experts from Europa Nostra and the European Investment Bank (EIB) Institute visited Vauban’s fortifications in Briançon, France, one of The 7 Most Endangered Monuments and Sites in Europe, and met with local, regional and national entities to discuss the restoration and redevelopment strategies of this heritage site on 23-24 September. Some works to secure the fortifications have been undertaken. However, their extensive and costly rehabilitation requires national and European technical and financial support.

Rescue Mission in Briançon, France
Sitting at the crossroads of five alpine valleys at the gates of Italy, Briançon is one of the most spectacular fortified cities in France. In the 17th century, Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, the renowned military engineer of King Louis XIV, was entrusted with the challenging task of designing these mountain fortifications. This masterpiece, considered to be one of the finest in the world and recognised by UNESCO in 2008 as part of the network of 12 fortified ensembles designed by Vauban in France, is today seriously threatened by the degradation of the rocky foundations, severe frost and a general lack of maintenance.

Charles Pictet, Council Member of Europa Nostra and member of the advisor panel of ‘The 7 Most Endangered’ programme, stated: “Vauban’s fortifications in Briançon were selected as one the 7 most threatened landmarks in Europe not only because of their unique contribution to the European cultural mosaic, but also because they are in urgent need of being rescued.”

The several working visits and meetings allowed the heritage and financial delegates from Europa Nostra and the EIB Institute to take full measure of the magnitude of the task. “It is difficult to understand the scope of these fortifications from a distance,” said Campbell Thomson, Technical Advisor from the EIB Institute.

Whereas the Communication Y, the urban walls and the forts of Salettes, Randouillet and Dauphin are owned by the municipality, the fort des Têtes is still owned by the Ministry of Defence, although it hasn’t been used for military purposes for several years.

Işik Aydemir, President of the Scientific Council of Europa Nostra commended “all entities for the remarkable quality of the safeguarding work that has already been carried out” and stressed “the significance of the site for its unique heritage value on a global scale”.

The municipality of Briançon has begun several initiatives to attract new activities and businesses. The potential is enormous. However, the major challenge of rehabilitating the structure of the fortifications themselves must be firstly addressed before the restoration of the buildings can begin. With the aim of outlining a redevelopment strategy for this site and raising funds for this large-scale operation, the municipality of Briançon and Vauban’s Network have appealed for technical and financial expertise from European organisations.

“The restoration is estimated to cost 100 million euro,” stated Gérard Fromm, Mayor of Briançon, who has been considering several redevelopment scenarios. “There are multiple possibilities for the re-use of this emblematic site, given the short distance to the airport of Turin and the potential for double season tourism.”

“We have now reached a critical stage: choices must be made quickly in order to avoid irreversible damage. The site must reach a level of general rehabilitation in order to allow for reuse projects,” added Michel Trubert, member of the Scientific Council of Vauban’s Network. “Since its inscription to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2008, concern for the state of conservation has been reported. It is time to act and find mutually-beneficial partnerships to build upon the efforts made by the public authorities,” said Marieke Steenbergen, Director of the Vauban Network Mission who nominated the site for ‘The 7 Most Endangered’ programme.

The results of the rescue mission to Briançon will be presented, together with the outcomes of the other six missions, at the European Heritage Policy Conference, organised by Europa Nostra, in Brussels on 5 December.

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