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Neuf-Brisach (Municipality, Haut-Rhin, France)

Last modified: 2022-07-07 by ivan sache
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Flag of Neuf-Brisach - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 20 October 2020

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Presentation of Neuf-Brisach

The municipality of Neuf-Brisach (1,947 inhabitants in 2018; 133 ha) is located 20 km south-east of Colmar and 5 km west of river Rhine, here the border with Germany.

Neuf-Brisach was established by Louis XIV in the aftermath of the War of the Spanish Succession; the Treaty of Ryswick, signed in 1697, made of the Rhine the border with the German Empire and France had to abandon the fortified town of Brisach - since then Breisach-am-Rhein. While the Alsatian border was protected in the north by the citadel of Strasbourg and Fort-Louis and in the south by the citadel of Belfort and the fortified town of Huningue, central Alsace was left without defense against a potential German invasion. In 1698, Louis XIV ordered engineer Vauban to build a fortress; with the help of the Marquess d'Huxelles, Vauban surveyed different potential sites, Colmar and Biesheim included, and eventually decided to establish a new fortified town facing the lost Brisach.

Louis XIV himself selected the most elaborated of the three proposals submitted by Vauban. Of octagonal design and composed of two concentric walls, the citadel was erected in two years by Jean-Baptiste de Régenorte, an engineer of Dutch origin, under the supervision of Jacques Tarade, Director of the Alsatian fortifications. Sandstone blocks were shipped from the Vosges mountains through a canal dedicated to that purpose. Neuf-Brisach is the sole example of the "third system" of fortification theorized by Vauban as an improvement of his innovative "second system" aimed at making citadels impregnable. The fortifications are mostly composed of an outer wall (combat wall), defended by heavy artillery in order to repel attacks, while the inner wall (safety wall) is equipped with shooting slots for close protection. The space between the two walls is filled with obstacles, so that soldiers who could have managed to break the outer wall would be caught under fire from the inner wall. Lower, the inner wall was hidden to the view of invaders by the outer wall. In the "third system", Vauban added bastions to the the curtains of the inner wall and increased the width of the protecting outer ditches.
As a citadel, Neuf-Brisach included a town organized within the walls in 48 plots arranged around a central square, whose building was delayed several times due to political changes and short-lived reconquest of Breisach-am-Rhein by France. The small municipal territory of Neuf-Brisach is still restricted to the citadel.

During the Franco-Prussian War, the citadel of Neuf-Brisach surrendered on 11 November after two months of bombing; while the fortifications were hardly damaged, the inner town was completely destroyed. The Germans initiated the modernization and increase of the fortifications in 1872, making of Neuf-Brisach a bridgehead against a potential French invasion from Belfort. Nine fortresses ("Festen"), equipped with 164 cannons, were erected in a semi-circular pattern around Neuf-Brisach.
Increased during the building of the Maginot Line, the fortifications of Neuf-Brisach were seized in June 1940 by the Germans. In February 1945, the suppression of the Colmar pocket required several air raids that destroyed the town once again.
[Lieux insolites]

Ivan Sache, 14 July 2021

Flag of Neuf-Brisach

The flag of Neuf-Brisach (photo, photo, photo, photo) is a white vertical, forked banner charged with the municipal coat of arms, "Azure a 16-rayed sun or in base a fleur-de-lis argent", and the name of the municipality below.
The arms of Neuf-Brisach were created in the 19th century as a tribute to Louis XIV, builder of the town. They are featured with the king's Latin motto, "Nec pluribus impar" (None Other His Equal), on the pinnacle of the Town Hall erected in 1869, but the sun was already used as the town's emblem in 1842. In the 18th century, the town used "Azure a fleur-de-lis or".
The Armorial Général (image) features the arms of "Brisak" as "Gules a six-top mountains argent issuing from the base a chief azure three fleurs-de-lis or". These arms, assigned to Neuf-Brisach on the Carte générale de la monarchie française (1733), were indeed those of Vieux-Brisach (now Breisach-am-Rhein), the town that was retroceded on 1 April 1700 by France to the German Empire as a late outcome of the Treaty of Ryswick.
[Armoiries des communes du Haut-Rhin]

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 14 July 2021