At the heart of the Semois valley stands certainly the largest and most impressive fortress in Belgium, dominating with its wide ramparts the small town of Bouillon. The latter owes its fame to its former duke, Godefroy de Bouillon, who distinguished himself during the First Crusade both by playing a heroic role in the capture of Jerusalem and by refusing the title of king that he was offered for the more humble lawyer of the Holy Sepulcher. As for his castle, which he sold to finance his departure for the Holy Land in 1096, it was reworked many times, notably by Vauban to present itself today as a remarkable vestige of military architecture.
A strategic position in the Middle Ages ...
Due to its strategic position on one of the main roads leading to Belgium, the site of Bouillon was fortified from Antiquity. On the long rocky ridge overlooking a wide loop of the Semois, a feudal mound rose very quickly in the VIIIe century quickly becoming a real stronghold in the XIe century. Indeed, in order to protect the small merchant village which had formed at the foot of the rock face, Godefroy de Bouillon had a second fortress built on the steep rock overlooking the bend of the river a few years before taking the cross. The castle then sold to the prince bishops of Liège - it remained in their possession until the arrival of the French Revolution in Belgian lands - was nevertheless the object of covetousness and clashes. The city of Bouillon was at the center of a small duchy generally placed under the protection and authority of the kingdom of France both in the Middle Ages and in the modern period. If the prince-bishops of Liège own it and claim the ducal title, they often have to deal with the King of France, who does not hesitate to support usurpers in the event of a dispute.
Constantly strengthened in modern times
However, French influence was not always present. In the XVIe century, the armies of Charles V seized and destroyed part of the castle, immediately rebuilt and reinforced. In 1677 during the Dutch War, the Bishop of Liège having taken sides against the King of France, Louis XIV, the latter had the castle occupied militarily. Vauban took advantage of this to modernize the fortifications, in particular by installing new entrance bastions separated by drawbridges, three in number. He also built an arsenal and a powder magazine as well as premises for the officers. At the beginning of the XIXe century, this time it was the Dutch who took possession of the fortress and undertook new works, in the process razing the medieval keep that had survived until then.
Visit of the castle
The visit of the castle is done by following a signposted route after having crossed the forts linked by bridges. Its current appearance comes largely from the various arrangements made in the XVIe century until the Dutch period, but lovers of medieval architecture will not be left out. If on one side you can admire the Vauban staircase built without cement or mortar, it is only to better access the so-called "primitive" room of the 12the century leading us into the room "Godefroy de Bouillon" dating from the 13the century and cut from the rock. Otherwise, we find all the "classics" that we imagine to be those of a castle: dungeons, torture room, underground passage and of course, at the top of the tower of Austria dating from 1551, beautiful panoramas, both from castle than the city or the verdant valley of the Semois. During the summer season, a falconry show in the main courtyard is the perfect end to the visit.