Care to tour a fortress ruin that’s not only a UNESCO site but also boasts a network of tunnels you can explore? On a visit to Luxembourg City, you will want to visit the Old Fortress ruins. How did this fortress come into existence?
The small country of Luxembourg, steered by the capital of Luxembourg City, sits at a strategic central location in Western Europe. Bordered today by Germany, Belgium, and France, Luxembourg suffered invasions and takeovers through many centuries. Way back in 963, Count Siegfried spied the high rocky promontory on the edge of the city and ordered fortifications built on top of it. The fortress eventually boasted a ring wall and other defensive additions.
The fortress was assaulted again and again. Luxembourg City’s rulers included the Holy Roman Emperors, the House of Burgundy, the Habsburgs, the French and Spanish kings, and finally the Prussians. The busy builders of these empires produced three fortified rings with 24 forts and other strong defensive works. Due to a neutrality treaty in 1867, the fortress was demolished – but the task was obviously too difficult because today you can climb the remaining walls and marvel at the ruined parts of the fortresses popping up along the roads and greenery of Luxembourg City.
When you stand on the ramparts of the fortress, the view will amaze you. Right below you see the medieval layout of the city, with the modern and sleek Luxembourg City just beyond. The River Alzette flows peacefully along.
The tunnel system under the fortress, known as the Bock Casemates, are the product of Spanish and French ingenuity. They date to 1644, with more tunnels added in the 1700s by the Austrians. They reach as deep as 40 meters. While several branches of the casemates are closed, the main passage still exists and is open to the public. The tunnel system had 25 cannon slots for defense. The casemates could serve as a barracks for hundreds of soldiers and their horses. They also housed kitchens, bakeries, and workshops. During WWII the tunnels were used as a bomb shelter.
You can wander through all the open passages, about 17 kilometers worth of winding, dirt-floored passages. You buy a ticket for 6 Euro and enter through a turn style. You have no map (though I have read of others who had a brochure; maybe we missed it). And while electricity has been added, along with stair rails, you may want to use your phone flashlight to see where you are going in the darker areas. Every now and then, you can see light at the end of the tunnel. Emerge and take in a different view, then explore more of the passages.