Encircled by the Doubs river and set in exceptionally beautiful surroundings, Besancon is a city of art and history. It won the title of France's "greenest city". Once controlled by the Spanish, Besancon still displays extensive fortifications built by the well known architect Vauban. Capital of Franche-Comte, Besancon is the economic and cultural pole of the region. In the 19th Century, the city became the center of France's clock and watch-making. It is now a major European center of the precision industries sector (microtechnology, robotics,...). It has an important university, a Center of intensive language studies, drawing students from all over the world. Besancon has a rich cultural life and has always been a music loving city. From June to September, "Festiv'été" offers all kinds of festivals (music, theater, dance, exhibitions...). The city has first-class sports facilities. There is something for everyone, hiking, golf, cycling, horseback riding, canoeing.
Besançon (archaic German: Bisanz, Spanish: Besanzón), is the capital and principal city of the region of Franche-Comté in eastern France. It had a population of about 220,000 inhabitants in the metropolitan area in 1999. Located close to the border with Switzerland, it is the capital of the department of Doubs.
Once proclaimed first green city of France, it still enjoys a proven life quality. Thanks to its rich historical and cultural heritage and its unique architecture, Besançon has been labeled a 'City of Art and History' since 1986, and has been on the UNESCO world heritage list since 2008.
Besançon is located in the north-east quarter of France on the Doubs River. It is about 325 km (215 mi) east of the national capital of Paris, 100 km (60 mi) east of Dijon in Burgundy, 125 km (75 mi) northwest of Lausanne in Switzerland, and 100 km (60 mi) southwest of Belfort in Franche-Comté. It is located at the edge of the Jura Mountains.
The city initially developed in a natural meander (or oxbow loop) of the Doubs River with a diameter of almost 1 km (3,281 ft). The flat inner loop has an elevation of about 250 m (820 ft) and is bounded to the south by a hill called Mont Saint-Étienne, which has a maximum height of 371 m (1,217 ft). The city is surrounded by six other hills which range in elevation from 400 m (1,312 ft) to 500 m (1,640 ft): Brégille, Griffon, Planoise, Chaudanne, Montfaucon, and Montboucon. (There is a barge canal that cuts through rock under Mont Saint-Étienne, short-cutting the meander.)
Besançon is under the influence of both an oceanic climate (notable precipitations in quantity as much as in frequency) and a continental climate with hard winters (snow, frost) and warm and dry summers. The year-round average is 11.5 °C (52.7 °F). The warmest month is July (20 °C or 68 °F) and the coldest is January (2.1 °C or 35.8 °F). Besançon receives about 1059 mm (41.7 inches) of precipitation per year. The wettest month is May (108.4 mm or 4.3 in); the driest is August (76.9 mm or 3 in). The highest temperature ever, recorded on 28 July 1921, was 40.3 °C (104.5 °F), and the lowest was a -20.7 °C (-5.3 °F) reached on 1 January 1985.
The city has one of the most beautiful historic centers of any major town in France. A broad horse-shoe of the river Doubs, "la Boucle", encircles the old town, while Vauban's imposing Citadelle blocks off the neck. The historic center presents a remarkable ensemble of classic stone buildings, some dating back to the Middle Ages and others to the Spanish Renaissance. Among the most visited historic monuments are:
The Roman remains consist primarily of the Porte Noire, a 2nd century CE triumphal arch at the foot of the hill on which the citadel stands, and the Square Castan, a semi-circular amphitheater. The Porte Noire is a triumphal arch that may commemorate the victories of Marcus Aurelius over the Germans in 167 CE. It was partly rebuilt in 1820.
From 1534 to 1540, Cardinal Granvelle, chancellor to the Habsburg emperor Charles V, built the Palais Granvelle, in the heart of the town., It consists of arcades that surround an interior court, and is the most interesting of the secular buildings. The Palais contains a set of seven wool and silk blend tapestries from Bruges that were woven circa 1635 and that celebrate seven milestones in Charles V's life. These tapestries remained in Spain until 1888, when they were transferred to France. In 1950 they were transferred to the Palais.
UNESCO added the citadel, the city walls and Fort Griffon to its list of World Heritage Sites in 2008, as part of the "Fortifications of Vauban" group. Some older military architecture has also survived. There is a cylindrical, 15th century tower near the Porte Notre-Dame, the southern gate of the city. The Porte Rivotte, a 16th century gate, has two round towers. The citadel houses the Museum of the French Resistance and Deportation.
The Cathedral, which dates largely from the 12th century  though construction continued into the 14th century, contains the most remarkable of the city's masterpieces, a massive Virgin and saints altarpiece by the Italian Renaissance painter Fra Bartolomeo. It also houses a noteworthy 19th century astronomical clock. The Cathedral has two apses, with the eastern apse and the tower dating from the reign of Louis XV.
Attractive quays border the old city, and in places there are shady promenades. On the right bank there is a bathing establishment in the Mouillere quarter that draws its water from the saline springs of Miserey-Salines.
Besançon also has one of the finest city art galleries in France outside Paris. The Museum of Fine Arts and Archeology has a collection whose origins date to 1694, and which a remarkable series of bequests have augmented over time. In the 1960s the architect Luis Miquel, a pupil of Le Corbusier, totally rebuilt the building. The building's interior takes the form of a gently rising concrete walkway that takes visitors up from classical antiquity to the modern age. Among the museum's treasures are a fine collection of classical antiquities and ancient Egyptian artifacts, as well as a very rich collection of paintings including works by Bellini, Bronzino, Tintoretto, Titian, Rubens, Jordaens, Ruysdael, Cranach, Zurbarán, Goya, Philippe de Champaigne, Fragonard, Boucher, David, Ingres, Géricault, Courbet, Constable, Bonnard, Matisse, Picasso and many others.
The primary point of contact for information about Charlottesville's relationship with Besançon is Alliance Francaise de Charlottesville.
Please visit the Alliance Francaise website www.afcville.org
Nathalie Pincham, Director
Alliance Francaise de Charlottesville
801 West Main St
Charlottesville, VA 22903