BESANCON, a city of eastern France, capital of the department of Doubs, 76 m. E. of Dijon by the Paris-Lyon railway. Pop. (1906) town, 41,760; commune, 56,168. It is situated on the left bank of the river Doubs, 820 ft. above sea-level at the foot of the western Jura, and is enclosed by hills in every direction. The Doubs almost surrounds the city proper forming a peninsula, the neck of which is occupied by a height crowned by the citadel; on the right bank lie populous industrial suburbs. The river is bordered by fine quays, and in places by the shady promenades which are a feature of Besançon. On the right bank there is a fine bathing establishment in the Mouillère quarter, supplied by the saline springs of Miserey. The cathedral of St Jean, the chief of the numerous churches of the town, was founded in the 4th century but has often undergone reconstruction and restoration; it resembles the Rhenish churches of Germany in the possession of apses at each of its extremities. Several styles are represented in its architecture which for the most part is the work of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries; the eastern apse and the tower date from the reign of Louis XV. In the interior there are a "Madonna and Child" of Fra Bartolommeo and a number of other paintings and works of art. The archiepiscopal palace adjoining the cathedral is a building of the 18th century. The church of Ste. Madeleine belongs to the 18th and 19th centuries. The Palais de Granvelle, in the heart of the town, was built from 1534 to 1540 by Nicolas Perrenot de Granvella, chancellor of Charles V., and is the most interesting of the secular buildings. It is built round a square interior court surrounded by arcades, and is occupied by learned societies. The hôtel de ville dates from the 16th century, to which period many of the old mansions of Besançon also belong. The law-court, rebuilt in recent times, preserves a Renaissance façade and a fine audience-hall of the 18th century. Some relics of old military architecture survive, among them a cylindrical tower of the 15th century near the Porte Notre-Dame, the southern gate of the city, and the Porte Rivotte, a gate of the 16th century, flanked by two round towers. The Roman remains at Besançon are of great archaeological value. Close to the cathedral there is a triumphal arch decorated with bas-reliefs known as the Porte Noire, which is generally considered to have been built in commemoration of the victories of Marcus Aurelius over the Germans in 167. It is in poor preservation and was partly rebuilt in 1820. Remains of a Roman theatre, of an amphitheatre, of an aqueduct which entered the town by the Porte Taillée, a gate cut in the rock below the citadel, and an arch of a former Roman bridge, forming part of the modern bridge, are also to be seen. Besançon has statues of Victor Hugo and of the Marquis de Jouffroy d'Abbans (b. 1751), inventor of steam-navigation.
Besançon is important as the seat of an archbishopric, a court of appeal and a court of assizes, as centre of an académie (educational division), as seat of a prefect and as headquarters of the VIIth army corps. It also has tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a chamber of commerce, a board of trade-arbitrators, an exchange and a branch of the Bank of France. Its educational establishments include the university with its faculties of science and letters and a preparatory school of medicine and pharmacy, an artillery school, the lycée Victor Hugo for boys, a lycée for girls, an ecclesiastical seminary, training colleges for teachers, and schools of watch-making, art, music and dairy-work. The library contains over 130,000 volumes, and the city has good collections of pictures, antiquities and natural history. The chief industry of Besançon is watch- and clock-making, introduced from the district of Neuchâtel at the end of the 18th century. It employs about 12,000 workpeople, and produces about three-fourths of the watches sold in France. Subsidiary industries, such as enamelling, are also important. The metallurgical works of the Société de la Franche-Comté are established in the city and there are saw-mills, printing-works, paper-factories, distilleries, and manufactories of boots and shoes, machinery, hosiery, leather, elastic fabric, confectionery and artificial silk. There is trade in agricultural produce, wine, metals, etc. The canal from the Rhône to the Rhine passes under the citadel by way of a tunnel, and the port of Besançon has considerable trade in coal, sand, etc.
As a fortress Besançon forms one of a group which includes Dijon, Langres and Belfort; these are designed to secure Franche Comté and to cover a field army operating on the left flank of a German army of invasion. The citadel occupies the neck of the peninsula upon which the town stands; along the river bank in a semicircle is the town enceinte, and the suburb of Battant on the right bank of the Doubs is also "regularly" fortified as a bridge-head. These works, and Forts Chaudanne and Brégille overlooking the Doubs at the bend, were constructed prior to 1870. The newer works enclose an area more suited to the needs of modern warfare: the chain of detached forts along the ridges of the left bank has a total length of 7 m., and the centre of this chain is supported by numerous forts and batteries lying between it and the citadel. On the other bank Fort Chaudanne is now the innermost of several forts facing towards the south-west, and the foremost of these works connects the fortifications of the left bank with another chain of detached forts on the right bank. The latter completely encloses a large area of ground in a semicircle of which Besançon itself is the centre, and the whole of the newer works taken together form an irregular ellipse of which the major axis, lying north-east by south-west, is formed by the Doubs.
Besançon is a place of great antiquity. Under the name of Vesontio it was, in the time of Julius Caesar, the chief town of the Sequani, and in 58 B.C. was occupied by that general. It was a rich and prosperous place under the Roman emperors, and Marcus Aurelius promoted it to the rank of a colonia as Colonia Victrix Sequanorum. During the succeeding centuries it was several times destroyed and rebuilt. The archbishopric dates from the close of the 2nd century, and the archbishops gradually acquired considerable temporal power. As the capital of the free county of Burgundy, or Franche-Comté, it was united with the German kingdom when Frederick I. married Beatrix, daughter of Renaud III., count of Upper Burgundy. In 1184 Frederick made it a free imperial city, and about the same time the archbishop obtained the dignity of a prince of the Empire. It afterwards became detached from the German kingdom, and during the 14th century came into the possession of the dukes of Burgundy, from whom it passed to the emperor Maximilian I., and his grandson Charles V. Cardinal Granvella, who was a native of the city, became archbishop in 1584, and founded a university which existed until the French Revolution. After the abdication of Charles V. it came into the possession of Spain, although it remained formally a portion of the Empire until its cession at the peace of Westphalia in 1648. During the 17th century it was attacked several times by the French, to whom it was definitely ceded by the peace of Nijmwegen in 1678. It was then fortified by the engineer Vauban. Until 1789 it was the seat of a parlement. In 1814 it was invested and bombarded by the Austrians, and was an important position during the Franco-German War of 1870-71.
See A. Castan, Besançon et ses environs (Besançon, 1887); A. Guénard, Besançon, description historique (Besançon, 1860).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)