In 1680, the Sun King, Louis XIV ordered his fortifications engineer, Sèbastien Le Prestre de Vauban to design and construct a vast fortification on the Saar River to protect the eastern frontier of what was then part of France. The result was Saarlouis, a town that still prominently features the star shaped walls of the great fortress, only today those ramparts contain a museum, fine restaurants and night clubs.
For Lawna and I, Saarlouis is about a an hour's drive, and we ventured there on a drizzly Sunday afternoon to check out its unique layout. This part of Saarland in westernmost Germany was until recently a major steel producing area, and driving into the town one sees row houses which reminded me of pictures I have seen of English towns of the industrial revolution. There is still industry in the area--including a Ford auto plant, the only American car maker that has much prominence in Germany. Soon (the town isn't very big, about 38,000), we crossed the gently flowing Saar River, and the bridge carried us through the old gate, nestled between the massive outer walls of the fortress. The river has a peaceful, tree canopied walkway and a lovely park.
|Model of Vauban's design for the original fortifications|
Once inside the walls, the downtown section appears as an orderly grid, much as Vauban designed the fort. Most of the buildings, however, are not original. Because of its nearby industry, Saarlouis was heavily bombed by the Allies during WWII. Even the old Ludwigskirche is capped with a new metal roof. In fact, compared to many other German towns we have visited, Saarlouis is not that pretty. Most of the buildings are functionally modern. My fascination was with the remnants of the old fort, which was an enormous engineering undertaking that involved a complex, multilevel moating of the Saar. If one moat were to be breached, then an inner area could be flooded to create another water obstacle. The walls were not terribly high, but the deep pitch and heavy armaments place within them made them difficult to breach.
|Flower boxes in the Saar.|