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The city walls

The city walls of Le Palais


Travel to the center of the fortified city

Le Palais’ city walls :

Once, Belle-Île, facing the southern brittany coasts and the mouth of the Loire assumed a military strategic position. The island’s agriculture produce and water resources made a privileged place for the marine. The construction of the citadel in the 16th and 17th century indicates its popularity. The construction of the citadel was directed by Vauban, engineer  of Louis XIV’s fortifications in the end of the 17th century.The urban city wall, designed by Vauban was built by military prisoners in the 18th century. These prisoners will later be replaced by Communard prisoners as well as political insurgents. During the same period, 14 forts with crenelated terraces were built along the coast of the island.Originally, Vauban wanted to build a fortified city wall on the high grounds of Le Palais to support the citadel. He even drew its contours but facing the lack of grants, he couldn’t start its construction.

When the British invaded Belle-île in 1761, they installed their cannons on the spot where the city wall was to be constructed. The construction of the citadel was then judged indispensable to keep the island completely safe.


The construction started in 1802 with the start of the first Empire and the rise of Napoléon Bonaparte. The companies of sappers who were working on its construction were soon replaced with a company of prisoners, a cheaper labour force. The fall of the Empire in 1815 made it impossible to follow through with the construction, they were stopped from 1820 to 1861. Numerous projects were studied to finish the construction  of the city wall. Finally, the construction started again under the Second Empire and were finished in 1877, soon after the fall of Napoleon 3.  


The city wall of Le Palais was finished when the modern artillery started developing and at a time when it was preferred for the army not to be static and the construction of fortified places was becoming useless : it was therefore never used. Unique and well-preserved testimony of the military architecture (in a neoclassic style) of the 18th century, it is now considered a historical monument. 96  D’architecture néo-classique, l’enceinte urbaine de Palais fut achevée alors que se développait déjà l’artillerie moderne et que la mobilité des armées était préférée à la construction de places fortes : elle ne fut donc jamais éprouvée. Témoignage unique et intact de l’architecture militaire du XIXe siècle, elle bénéficie à ce titre d’une inscription à l’inventaire supplémentaire des monuments historiques.



Medieval fortresses needed to be able to resist the attackers who used rock projectiles during their siege. Solid and thick enough walls were sufficient to defend a stronghold since these projectiles would break on the walls.

The invention of the cannon in the middle of the 16th century changed everything. Strongholds now needed to resist the onslaught of artillerymen using iron projectiles which do not shatter upon impact, but instead are able to easily breach a stone wall.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, during the classical period, the strongholds built by the royal power were built on a principle based on the use of earth levees paired with stones, since the earth cushioned the impact of cannonballs.


A unique and intact testimony to the military architecture of the 19th century.

Ph. PROST (Historian of Fortifications) said "One of the finest examples of an urban wall designed and built under the First Empire that we have in France" .

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