Nick Smith – Ramparts reveal remarkable history 

The ramparts in Le Quesnoy are an engineering marvel and a striking feature of the mediaeval French town.

Constructed in the 16th Century to defend what was then the Spanish Netherlands, the ramparts were reinforced after the region was captured by France in 1654. King Louis XIV ordered his military engineer, Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban, to build forts to protect the new north-east borders.

As a result of this work by Vauban and subsequent reinforcements, Le Quesnoy ended up with a maze of ramparts, high walls, causeways, tunnels and moats. The fortified outer walls stand six and eight metres tall while the innermost wall is a whopping 13 metres high.

While the ramparts at Le Quesnoy were considered old-fashioned by the 19th century, the German forces made good use of their defensive capabilities during their occupation of the town in WWI. That was until, of course, New Zealand soldiers famously used ladders on 4 November 1918 to scale the walls and liberate the town.

Visitors today can take a popular walk that follows the ramparts around Le Quesnoy for about 4km and marvel at these fortifications. Not only have the ramparts stood the test of time but they are a solid reminder of the strong bond that has been forged between France and New Zealand.

These ramparts are also a reminder of the geotechnical engineering excellence of the French that continues to this day with their involvement in major New Zealand infrastructure projects.


Hon Dr Nick Smith has a PhD in civil engineering, is a former Government Minister, a Fellow of Engineering New Zealand and is currently the Mayor of Nelson.

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