As a fortified village ever since the Gallo-Roman times, the Dauphinoise capital expanded several times until the end of the 19th century. Today, many witnesses to the different expansion phases can still be found throughout the city.
Vestiges of the Gallo-Roman wall
Grenoble has preserved numerous vestiges of its first urban wall. Here are the places where we can still see remnants of this wall:
- Beginning of the rue Lafayette, on the end near the rue de la République : curtain and semi-cylindrical tower section.
Built at the end of the 3rd century under the reign of emperors Diocletian and Maximian (from 286 to 293), the Roman-Gallo wall mesured almot 1.5 km in length, had 39 semi-cylindrical towers, and 2 gateways. It protected an urban surface of 9 hectares, playing the role of both protective wall and status symbol.
Its construction signalled the new status of "civitas" that Diocletian had just given the city, thus marking it as an administrative capital.
The construction of the wall was very carefully carried out. The largest part, around 4 meters thick, was made of limestone rock, pebble, and tuileau rubble held together with very hard mortar.
A remarkable bonding made of small carefully extracted limestone blocks makes up the facing wall. This wall was covered with plaster. In the city, only the stone bonding remains today. The carved stones of the facing wall disappeared during the various expansion phases of the city, as they were carried off and reused by the city's inhabitants.
The rounds walkway of the cathedral chevet
As part of the cathedral's great reconstruction and enlargement campaign in the mid-13th century, the chevet was rebuilt as far away as possible, meaning partly on the Gallo-Roman wall.
This situation, which prevented the city guards from circulating along the entire rampart, made it necessary to build a rounds walkway at the top of the cathedra apse.
Built of brick in the 14th century, arrow loopholes pierce the walkway.
Keeping in time with the changes in artillery, and notably the invention of the musket, the arrow loopholes were themselves modified in the 16th century, when circular shaped gun holes were added.
The Island Tower and the vestiges of the Lesdiguières citadel
The tower is the only still-visible vestige of Grenoble's medieval fortifications. Their construction began in 1374 to the east of the old city to protect the Island suburb and the tower was completed in 1418.
This massive, rectangular-shaped construction, topped with a machicolation, remains above all a defensive structure with a very rudimentary design.
It didn't take long for the City Council to begin holding meetings here and the municipal archives soon came to be stored here, including the famous book of chains.
This was the book in which all of the city of Grenoble's charters, liberties, privileges, and rights were recorded. It was attached to the wall by an iron chain in order to prevent its theft. The Island Tower was thus in a way the first city hall.
As soon as the Duke of Lesdiguières arrived in Grenoble in 1591, he requisitioned the tower, transformed it into an arsenal, and built a military citadel around it. Nearby, two sections of the military wall still exist, featuring short arrow loopholes and an elegant overhanging turret on the corner of the wall at Jongkind quai and Lavalette square. It was at this time that the first flat-mullion windows, which are still visible today, were constructed.
Since 1994, the tower has been linked to the museum of Grenoble, of which the tower is an extension.
The Gateway to France
The new fortified wall, built by Duke of Lesdiguières from 1591 and 1620, included five gateways.
The Gateway to France, one of the entrances into the city, was completed in 1620, was the last to be built and was one of the most ornate.
The passage beneath the gateway, which used to be an entrance into the city, now houses the veterans' monument of the City of Grenoble.
Saint Laurent Gateway
The Saint Laurent gateway is the city's second preserved entrance from the 17th century. It was built in 1615 and allowed travelers to get to Savoy by following the right bank of the Isere in the Gresivaudan valley.
Integrated into the new fortifications built towards 1830 by general Haxo, the gateway saved from destruction in the second half of the 19th century by the construction of the Isere quais which absorbed traffic along the river. The Saint Laurent gateway remains a great example of 17th century defensive architecture. In this regard, the exterior façade, on the side of La Tronche, is the most interesting. We can still see the machicolation that protects the vaulted passage and the two brattices designed to protect the pedestrian doorways.
The Saint Laurent Gateway is also the only to have conserved its heavy wooded doorways, dating from the 19th century.
Until 1864, the city gateways were closed from 10p.m. to 7 a.m. The Saint Laurent gateway, however, opened at 5 a.m.
The structure was registered in 1931.
Vauban gun powder store, 10 rue du Commandant l’Herminier
Even if Vauban never got the chance to build the imposing fortifications that he had planned for Grenoble, he did manage to construct two gun powder stores, of which one still exists today.
Construction on the eastern powder store began in 1698 in the center of the former Morges bastion. This gun powder store was mainly a vast storage room protected by very thick walls.
While the lateral facades, with their massive buttresses, are original, the main façade was modified in the 19th century by General Haxo.
A high wall was built just in front of the facade, with its entrance diagonally placed in relation to the entrance of the powder store. This was to create a security area and to avoid a direct entrance way into the powder store.
The structure was registered in 1973.
Vestiges of the Haxo fortifications
When the army decided to build a new wall to replace the Lesdiguièrs fortifications, Hugues Berriat, mayor of Grenoble, obtained autorisation to expand the city at the same time, but only after very bitter discussions. The new fortifications, built under the surveillance of General Haxo from 1830 and 1840 allowed Grenoble to double in size by stretching further south.
Several vestiges of these 19th century fortifications are still visible in the eastern parts of the city:
Further south, and entire bastion is preserved and it goes all the way to the former Très-Cloître gateway. The northern part of this gatewas is also still visible on the side of the rue Malakoff. Built around 1840, the Très-Cloître gateway was modified at the end of the 19th century. The passage way was enlarged and metal grills replaced the old wooden doors.
Former Division Headquarters (currently the Mountain Troops Headquarters), Verdun square
In 1860, after Savoy was attached to France thanks to the efforts of Marshall Randon (Grenoble native who served as Napoleon III's war minister), Grenobel once again became the seat of a military division. The army thus had a prestigious headquarters built from 1864 to 1868, that would welcome the new 27th division.
François Delarue, a Parisian architect, designed a superb building which was a veritable copy of a 18th century townhouse.
The honor stairway leads to the second floor where the grand salon is decorated with beautiful Louis XV style.
A garden, decorated with a neo-Baroque fountain, is located behind the building.
Vestiges of the northwest fortifications, Route de Lyon and rue de la Résistance
These stone fortifications, constructed from 1879 to 1884 were the last to be built in Grenoble.
They completed the city's defensive system and stretched from the Bastille to the Drac river, on the northwest side of Grenoble.
Several sections of the curtain with a small guard post are preserved on the Route de Lyon side and further on, a part of the gateway tot he city on the Rue de la Résistance.