The town of Avesnes-sur-Helpe grew up in the 11th century on the top of a steep-sided hill above the river Helpe.

The first fortifications were a strong donjon (large tower) and a circuit of stone walls surrounding the settlement.

These walls were expanded in the 13th century to take in a plateau to the west and the lower town, which had grown up next to the river. After a devastating siege by the French in 1477, the fortifications were reconstructed in the 1530s as artillery defences.

At this time the bastioned'system of artillery fortification was starting to spread outside Italy, where it had originated. The idea was that large angled bastions, with plenty of room for guns and good flanking capability, replaced the small round towers of the medieval era.

The Italian engineer Jacopo de Modena came to Avesnes to design the new fortifications, which were the first bastioned works in the Low Countries. Modena built a trace of six arrow-headed bastions'around the town, following the circuit of the medieval walls.

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Keywords: Avesnes-sur-Helpe, France, Fortifications, Vauban



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