This Vauban-built fortress sits at the top of a narrow, rock ridge separating the Sisteron from the wide plains to the north. On the sloping south side facing the town, you enter through the gates and follow paths up through successive layes of flat areas separated by more gates and more steps, some of the gates which were once protected by draw bridges. From each of the flat little parks there are excellent views across the top of the town and down the Durance valley to the south.
At the very top of the Sisteron Citadel a donjon tower and the Notre-Dame Chapel sit on the very narrow rock ridge, in the center of a walled walkway that stretches along the east-west length of the ridge. The view from the top is fantastic. You can walk out along the very Medieval walkway to either end, admiring the the different views in all directions. At the east end (towards the river) is round viewing table identifying the distant sights in every direction.
The entry to the Citadel is through the north end of Sisteron, up Rue des Poteries and Rue du Rempart (8-10 min walk); or up Montée de la Citadelle (12-15 min walk). You can also drive up via Montée de la Citadelle and park near the entrance. There's also a little train (La Petit Train de la Citadelle) that goes to the Citadel entrance as well as touring the town (about 7€).
Once through the entrance there will be a fair number of steps to climb up to the different levels and eventually to the top.
There are several small, flat park areas at the different levels going up the south side of the Sisteron Citadel. Each of these little "park" areas, other than giving you chance to rest on your climb, offers its own view down across the town.
Some of the flat areas have an audio kiosk that gives an historical "as if you were there" description of the Medieval past. The audio is free, and in 6 languages — just press the button.
Citadel Museum. Up inside the citadel, on one of the lower levels, is a small historical museum, installed in two subterranean rooms down two successive flights of steps. Drawings and paintings explain the various historical stages of Sisteron and the citadel, with some emphasis on Napoleon (of course).
Open Air Theatre.
The open air Théàtre de verdure on the north flank of the citadel rock is used every July-August for a summer music festival, the Nuits de la Citadelle. The theatre was built in 1928, and hosts one of the oldest music festivals in France.
This steep, rocky prominence over the narrow gap of the Durance river is an obvious defensive position. A couple of thousand years ago a Roman oppidum sat here, and that was no doubt on the site of a pre-Roman oppidum. In the upper Middle Ages there was a fortified castle on the top of the rock, of which there are no remains.
Existing walls and remnants date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, but much modified and expanded in the following centuries. In the 14th century, ridge-top walls were built, and joined to walls enclosing the towne. The Wars of Religion were a time when the defenses were much damaged, and triggered expanded defenses.
Towards the end of the 17th century, Vauban designed an extensive defense for the town and the fortress, but little of his suggestions were implemented, because of budgets. In the middle of the 19th century, when France and Savoy were still at war, the Citadel defenses were greatly improved, using many of Vauban's original ideas.
Since those 19th-century improvements, the advent of artillery rendered fortresses obsolete, and the Sisteron Citadel has remained the same, with only a standard maintenance budget.
In our modern times, the entrance fees from visitors are used for steady, annual repair and renovation.
- Open: Apr 9h-18h, May 9h-18h30, June & Sept 9h-19h, July-Aug 9h-19h30, Oct 9h-17h30, Nov 10h-17h.
- Entry: 6.50€; kids 6-14, 2.80€