The background of the Saint Elme fortress

More than 10 centuries of a tumultuous story...

More than 10 centuries of a tumultuous story...

Before the construction of the Saint Elme fortress, there was only one watch tour built in the IX century.This tour was called « Torre de la Guardia ». It would allow the populations to protect themselves from the Normans or Barbarian invasions by the sea. Some historians even say that the tour origins would date from the Arabian occupation of Collioure (740). It is integrated in a broader defensive system where one could find the Madeloc tour, the Massane tour et collioure’s tour.

During the crusade against the Albigenses, the King of Aragon Peter II the Catholic took part for the latter. At the end of a disastrous war, the Aragonese who ruled over the whole of Languedoc had to surrender their rights over this part of the territory to the King of France, Philippe Auguste. In 1258 (treaty of Corbeil 1258), the king Saint Louis abandoned its rights on Catalonia.

On June 27, 1344, the King of Aragon Peter IV the Ceremonious takes Collioure, who then depended on the King of Majorca. He undertook the construction of fortifications at the foot of the tower. More than a century later, during the first French occupation (1462 to 1493), under Louis XI, ramparts were rebuilt and completed to shelter a larger garrison. 

A fortress to defend the Empire

A fortress to defend the Empire

It was Emperor Charles V in 1538 who decided to build a defensive structure around the original tower to defend Collioure and Port-Vendres, allowing the defense of Perpignan. Its architect Benedetto de Ravenna built a six-branched fortress capable of withstanding all the artillery of the time with walls of more than 8 meters of thickness! The fort was completed in 1552.

Once the region was fortified, the emperor devoted himself to his objective, the reconquest of his Burgundian heritage. Indeed, his grandmother was none other than Marie of Burgundy, daughter of the Duke Charles the Bold. This is why the wars that followed took place in the east, in the north of France, in Franche-Comte and especially in Italy…

French people assaulting the Roussillon

French people assaulting the Roussillon

On March 16, 1642, the French troops commanded by Louis XIII and Richelieu invested Collioure in order to deprive the Spanish troops of Perpignan of all aid. On April 13, the defenders of Saint Elme Fortress surrended with honors and Spanish troops came out "drums beating, signs in the wind and with pride".

The occupation of Roussillon was final after the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659). Under Louis XIV, Vauban improved the defensive system of the region and Collioure in particular. At the Saint Elme Fortress, ditches were dug and defenses laid out (1680). For the French, even defeated, the Spaniards remain a threat. During the Revolution, the region was the place of violent confrontations. In 1793, the Spanish troops regained the Saint Elme Fortress and repealed the French troops. Six months later, General Dugommier crushed the Fortress and its Spanish garrison under more than 11,000 cannonballs! ... The fortress was badly damaged.



The oldest and best known plan dates from 1691.

Under Vauban, the plans for transforming the fortress were realized, but it was less the case later.

Since then, every year, plans for the transformation of the Fortress were established by the Engineers.

The last plans date from the 1870s.
Since 1927, a fortress in perpetual revival

Since 1927, a fortress in perpetual revival

After the Revolution, the fortress became a military store until its demilitarization in 1903. In 1927, the fortress was bought by a patron, who worked there with great architects (Léon Azéma, Alfred Joffre, ...) Its shine of yesteryear. This monument is private, registered in the inventory of Historical Monuments and still inhabited.

Picasso, a day, crossing in Collioure imagined to acquire the Fort, but this one was not for sale!

From 1942 to 1944, the Saint Elme Fortress was occupied by the German navy, which made it an observation post to anticipate an Allied landing. During the retreat of the German troops, Port-Vendres was destroyed and the Fortress was robbed. It is partially rebuilt. Since 2000, important projects have been engaged in the fortress as in ditches and gardens. In 2008, Saint Elme Fortress has been open to the public.

The design of the fortress

  • The Saint Elme Fortress is one of those rare fortifications that have been used for more than two centuries without undergoing major transformations. It is true that the greatest architects have examined its foundations.

    First of all, the Catalan Francisco Ramiro Lopez who built the first foundations as well as the castle of Salses, then the Italian Benedetto of Ravenna who built this star-shaped fortress with inclined walls of more than 8 meters thick. Finally, Vauban created the ditches and installed brick crowns on the building that was less dangerous to the soldiers than the stone bursts.

    Muraille 01
    Muraille 02
    Muraille 03
    Muraille 4
    Muraille 5
    Muraille 6
  • The ditches of the Saint Elme Fortress were designed by Vauban who wanted to improve the Fort's outer defenses. He designed large spaces to allow the infantry to handle sheltered from gun shots. Several steps allow access to the counterscarp in front of which a glacis nowadays has been installed. This work is crowned with red bricks.

    Fosse 01
    Fosse 02
    Fosse 03
    Fosse 4
    Fosse 5
    Fosse 6
  • Elsewhere, gardens were created in the 1930s. Destroyed at the end of World War II, they are now gradually rehabilitated. It contains plants mainly from Mexico, conquered by Hernán Cortés between 1519 and 1521 and by General Charles V..

    Jardin 01
    Jardin 02
    Jardin 03
    Jardin 4
    Jardin 5
    Jardin 6

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