BRIANCON, a strongly fortified town in the department of Hautes-Alpes in S.E. France. It is built at a height of 4334 ft. on a plateau which dominates the junction of the Durance with the Guisane. The town itself is formed of very steep and narrow, though picturesque streets. As it lies at the foot of the descent from the Mont Genèvre Pass, giving access to Turin, a great number of fortifications have been constructed on the heights around Briançon, especially towards the east. The Fort Janus is no less than 4000 ft. above the town. The parish church, with its two towers, was built 1703-1726, and occupies a very conspicuous position. The Pont d'Asfeld, E. of the town, was built in 1734, and forms an arch of 131 ft. span, thrown at a height of 184 ft. across the Durance. The modern town extends in the plain at the S.W. foot of the plateau on which the old town is built and forms the suburb of Ste Catherine, with the railway station, and an important silk-weaving factory. Briançon is 51 m. by rail from Gap. The commune had a civil population in 1906 of 4883 (urban population 3130), while the permanent garrison was 2641 - in all 7524 inhabitants.
Briançon was the Brigantium of the Romans and formed part of the kingdom of King Cottius. About 1040 it came into the hands of the counts of Albon (later dauphins of the Viennois) and thenceforth shared the fate of the Dauphiné. The Briançonnais included not merely the upper valley of the Durance (with those of its affluents, the Gyronde and the Guil), but also the valley of the Dora Riparia (Césanne, Oulx, Bardonnèche and Exilles), and that of the Chisone (Fénestrelles, Pérouse, Pragelas) - these glens all lying on the eastern slope of the chain of the Alps. But by the treaty of Utrecht (1713) all these valleys were handed over to Savoy in exchange for that of Barcelonnette, on the west slope of the Alps. In 1815 Briançon successfully withstood a siege of three months at the hands of the Allies, a feat which is commemorated by an inscription on one of its gates, Le passé répond de l'avenir.
(W. A. B. C.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)