A brief history of Mont-Dauphin
In July 1692 the Duke of Savoy’s army crossed the border over the Vars pass. They plundered Guillestre, took Embrun and Gap, threatened to join a major protestant uprising further south in the Cevennes. Disease and early winter forced them to retreat, but alarm bells sounded at the court of Louis XIV.
The king ordered his chief military engineer, Vauban, to urgently review fortifications along the Alpine border. Vauban picked a desert plateau called "the thousand winds" overlooking the Guil and Durance rivers to build from scratch a fortress to block an invasion from Savoy into Dauphiné and Provence. The "place forte", named Mont-Dauphin in honour of the crown prince, was completed in 1700.
But the 1713 Utrecht Treaty returned Piemont to Savoy and Ubaye to France. The border moved east, making Briançon the frontline town. Deprived of its strategic role, Mont-Dauphin became a rear base and never reached the garrison town size planned by Vauban.
Both Mont-Dauphin and Briançon were briefly besieged by Austrian troops returning home after defeating Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815.
Mont-Dauphin lost any military role after the first World War and was spared by war, except for a June 1940 episode when an Italian warplane bombed one of the arsenal’s two wings.
As the military left, shopkeepers, bartenders and craftsmen who worked for them also left Mont-Dauphin. Population dropped to 30 in the 1970-80s, to rise again when artists settled down to work for tourists. Mont-Dauphin now has about 170 permanent residents.
In 1975, the Defence ministry transferred Mont-Dauphin to the Culture ministry and the Centre des monuments nationaux. Mont-Dauphin, Briançon and 10 other major Vauban fortifications were listed in 2008 on UNESCO’s World Heritage www.sites-vauban.org