Besançon is the one of the main cities of the eastern French region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. Thanks to its rich historical and cultural heritage and its unique architecture, Besançon has been labeled a “Town of Art and History” since 1986. Its fortifications, designed by Vauban, have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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The most historic center of the town is characterised by the broad horse-shoe of the river Doubs, “la Boucle” (map), which encircles the old town. Vauban’s imposing Citadelle blocks off the neck (map). The historic center presents an ensemble of classic stone buildings, some dating back to the Middle Ages and others to the Spanish Renaissance.
Besançon’s old town, encircled by water, is where you can find all the most important buildings in the city. Thanks to its flourishing past, this district has the richest and most complete architectural heritage of the city, with a hundred remarkable buildings, dozens of statues as well as several bridges, squares and streets exceptional for their beauty.
The most important religious building dedicated to Catholic worship in Besançon is Saint John’s Cathedral (map), of Gothic architecture, dating from the 9th, 12th and 18th centuries. It has two apses and contains a masterpiece by Fra Bartolomeo, the painting of the Madonna in Glory with Saints painted in 1512.
Outside the old town, among the important Catholic buildings, is the Saint-Ferjeux basilica (map) of Romano-Byzantine style built on the cave of the patron saints of Besançon, Saint Ferjeux and Saint Ferréol. Notre-Dame des Buis, a 19th-century chapel, overlooks the city at an altitude of 491 metres.
Besançon has one of the finest city art galleries in France outside Paris. The Museum of Fine Arts and Archeology (Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie de Besançon, map), created in 1694, was the first museum created in France and predates The Louvre by almost a century. It has benefited from a remarkable series of bequests over time.
The Musée du Temps (Museum of Time, map), inaugurated in 2002, was formerly the City’s History Museum. Located in the Granvelle Palace, its concept is unique in Europe, grouping watch collections (watches, sundials, hourglasses, all means of measuring time) and the funds of the history museum (paintings, engravings). In addition, three museums are grouped inside the Vauban citadel.