Rocroi: A strategic stronghold
Rocroi, located in the north of the French Ardennes, has been largely preserved. Only the two city gates and a small part of the enclosure were demolished to create a better access road to the center. From the square with church, town hall and village pump, the town is easy to discover - with and without a guide.
Originally known as “Roulcroix” (derived from “Raoul’s crossroads”) the village was chosen as the site of a fort by King François I of France in 1545.
The fort was defended by earthworks in the form of a central pentagon, with a five-pointed star radiating from it, with the garrison’s living quarters and stores inside the pentagon. It successfully resisted sieges by the Spanish army in 1556 and 1559. Its defences were then reinforced with bricks and stone, but the Prince of Sedan managed to capture it in 1588 and sell it to the Duke of Guise, who sold it to King Louis XIII of France in 1614. Back in French hands, the defences were further improved, creating a citadel. The first major test of the new fortifications came in 1643, during the Thirty Years’ War, when the French defeated the Spanish, who were besieging Rocroi, at a battle fought near the town on 19 May. It was the first victory of the 22-year-old Duke of Enghien, later known as the Prince of Condé. Ten years later, the same Prince, now in command of the Spanish army, took Rocroi for Spain: it was returned to France by the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659.
King Louis XIV of France’s great military architect, the Marquis de Vauban, visited Rocroi in 1675 and designed improvements to its fortifications. In 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Rocroi was captured by a Prussian army of 10,000 who overwhelmed its garrison of 400. It was captured again by the Prussians during the Franco-Prussian War in 1871.
The town has the perfect shape of a five-pointed star
The arrival of high-explosive artillery shells made Rocroi’s defences obsolete and its garrison was withdrawn in 1888. Its fortifications were later designated as a historical monument. Today, one of the garrison buildings is home to the Battle of Rocroi Museum, with a model of the battle that uses over 10,000 metal model soldiers.
Church and Cheese
The parish church of St Nicholas was completed in 1844 and contains a painting, Christ in the tomb by Victor Mottez (1809-1897), presented by Emperor Napoleon III.
Rocroi cheese is a soft, washed-rind cheese made from skimmed cow’s milk in the French Ardennes département but it does not enjoy protected designation of origin status. It is usually formed into 12cm squares, around 2.5cm deep, weighing 180g-200g each.