From the first century BC through the modern era, the town has held a significant tactical military (defense) advantage, with strategic importance to the region where the nearby Jura mountains controlled access to passage towards the east. Julius Cæser states in his treatise on the Gallic wars, that the town, the largest of the Sequani, was called Vesontio (58BC). This name evolved into the current name (through German).
Local legends (no longer accepted) attribute the evangelization of Besançon to Sts. Ferréol and Ferjeux, sent thither by St. Irenæus, Bishop of Lyons. The first bishop known to history is Celidonius (c. 445); other incumbents of the See were St. Rothadius, a monk at Luxeuil and organizer of the monastic life, as well as St. Donatus. Indeed, the monastery of Luxeuil, founded by St. Columbanus (d. 615), gave to the Diocese of Besançon a series of saints. During the Middle Ages several popes visited Besançon, among them Leo IX who consecrated the altar of the old Cathedral of St. Etienne in 1050, and Eugenius III, who, in 1148, consecrated the church of St. Jean, the new cathedral. Notre Dame des Jacobins at Besançon was a pilgrimage site. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02525b.htm
As part of the Holy Roman Empire since 1034, the city became the Archbishopric of Besançon. Bishop and Saint Hugh I (1031-1067) of Besançon (Hugh I of the Salins), prince of the Empire, founded markets and schools in Besançon that put the burg on the map. In 1157, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa held an Imperial Diet (Reichstag) in the city then called Bisanz. It obtained the status of an Imperial Free City (autonomous city-state under the Holy Roman Emperor) in 1184. The Archbishops were elevated to Princes of the Holy Roman Empire in 1288. The close connection to the Empire is reflected by the city's coat of arms. In the 15th century, Besançon came under the influence of Burgundy. With the marriage of Mary of Burgundy to Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, the city became in effect a Habsburg fief, moving it from an Austrian to a Spanish influence. In 1526 the city obtained the right to mint coins.
The Habsburgs first built modern-era main defense complex on the overlooking hill (a hill called Mont Saint-Étienne), la Citadelle, following a design by the French military architect Vauban. In 1674, French troops took the city and Vauban further upgraded these fortifications. This took some 30 years. At the Treaty of Nijmegen the city became a part of France. Built upon a mountaintop, bounded by sheer cliffs on one side, the river Doubs on the others, the city-centre is surrounded by the Doubs, giving it a premier defensive stance. Vauban constructed the largest of his structures in the region. The Citadelle has a dual dry moat, with an outer and an inner court. In the evenings, the Citadelle is illuminated, so standing above the city as its most famous landmark, a crowning achievement to Vauban's design skill.
Some more ancient highlights: Cathédrale Saint Jean (left), dating largely from the 12th century (it replaced the Cathedral dedicated to Saint Etienne), l'Église de la Ste. Madeleine and several other historic churches in the town-centre, a few Roman-era remains, notably the Porte Noire (an arch of triumph), vestiges of an amphithéâtre ou arènes and remains of an aqueduct. In addition, one of the modern bridges spanning the Doubs incorporates part of a Roman bridge. Don't forget the city-Square Castan (le square archéologique de Saint-Jean). The Museum of French Resistance and Deportation is in Vauban's Citadel above Besançon. La chapelle Saint-Étienne de la Citadelle de Besançon is nearby. Le funiculaire de Besançon once left from near a train station across the river to the top of a nearby hill, north and east of the city, a resort spot. It is under repair. Besançon has direct high-speed train (TGV) links with Paris, Charles de Gaulle International Airport and Lille, along with convenient rail service to Lyon and Strasbourg (la gare Viotte). Pictures HERE -- Olde Postcards. Besançon also is noted as the birthplace (1802) of the writer Victor Hugo (Les Misérables).
The Cathedral of Saint-Jean sits on the remains of older structures that go back at least to the 4th Century. Within the cathedral sits a most magnificent and world famous astronomical timepiece, itself rebuilt in the 19th Century. Many persons realize, that the Swiss clock industry, especially within the Geneva region, was begun by French refugees, mostly Protestants fleeing from the policy of Roman Catholic restoration after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. A second wave of talented refugees reached Switzerland during the turmoil of the French Revolution in 1789. Less well known, however, is that the French watchmaking industry in the French Jura region (Franche-Comté) was founded by Swiss refugees. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, Napoleon invaded Switzerland and installed a centralist regime, dissolving the old cantonal constitution. This was followed by a period of unrest and religious conflict, during which many watchmakers sought their safety in France, especially in the region of Besançon. The town remains a watchmaking center today; however, the redesign and rebuilding of the clock mechanism of the Cathedral in the 19th century happened in Beauvais. from http://www.tp178.com/mh/besancon/besancon.html
Stage 14 of the 2009 Tour de France ended here, ditto in 2011. The last third of the course was in the stunning Pays de Besançon. The last sprint took place at Baume les Dames. At the confluence of the Doubs and Cusancin, this village (nestled in greenery) is named for the Benedictine abbey (convent) founded in the seventh century where Sainte Odile patroness of Alcace, recovered her sight. The sleepy city retains its historic architecture provenance, including Notre Dame, the abbey church, the chapel of St. Sepulcher from the sixteenth century, ceramics from the hospital Sainte Croix, the organ pipes of Calinet, l 'Hotel des sires de Neuchâtel and more. see http://www.baumelesdames.org Mont Sainte-Odile, the holy mountain of Alsace, became an important place for pilgrimages. Here too are remains of an Iron Age hillfort, called "pagan wall" (Mur Païen). It is over 10 km long and in parts up to 3 m high. The wall was rebuilt during Roman times. The highlight of the race today was the effort to win the stage and the effort that almost resulted in the change of the yellow jacket to George Hincapi. Then it was on to the Alps (Pontarlier (fr) to Verbier (a village (ski resort)). The last mountain finish in Switzerland was on the 1984 Tour de France. http://www.letour.fr/us/homepage_horscourseTDF.html
Note: La Ville Rigney, aujourd'hui, est une commune française (ancienement de la Roche ou La Roche-sur-l'Ognon) située dans le département du Doubs et la région Franche-Comté à 50 km (30 miles) au sud-ouest de Belfort and 30km (20 miles) northeast of Besançon. The Shroud of Besançon (Saint-Suaire de Besançon) is renowned in the region. It is probably a copy of the one now known as the Shroud of Turin. Othon de la Roche (Otto), a prince of Morea (living in Greece), sent some type of shroud in 1208 to his father, the lord of LaRoche-sur-l'Ognon. Indeed, the Shroud of Turin was in Athens in 1205 (from Constantinople in 1204) at the same time Otto became the head of the Dutchy of Athens, and possibly it went on display Besançon or only its less-famous copy. In any event, history first records a shroud (most think it was a painted copy) on display at Besançon before 1349. Then it was out of public view for about 3 years, because the former Cathedral at Besançon was struck by lightning and burnt to the ground. When the fabric returned to public view, the shroud shown at Besançon was clearly a painted copy.
Interestingly, Jeanne de Vergy, a direct descendent of Otto, was the first to publicly display the Shroud of Turin in the 14th Century (1357) at about the same time the painted copy was reported in Besançon. She was the spouse of Geoffrey de Charny who had promised to place the original Shroud in the collegiate of Lirey (a small French village near the City of Troyes). He died at the battle of Poitiers in September 1356. She kept his promise within the year. The original Shroud became a great object of pilgrimage and jealousy. It remained with the family, who again hid it. In 1389, the Shroud went to another family member (Margaret) and later to the chateau Montfort (second husband). She had married the Count de la Roche (a cousin ??) after the tragic death of her first husband at Agincourt (1415). Margaret (March 22, 1453) gave the relic to a cousin of the House of Savoy, which has owned the object since then. Interestingly, the burn marks on the original Saint-Suaire come from a cathedral fire (December 4, 1532) at Chambéry (en Haut Savoie), where it was displayed for a while in a Chapel designed to house it in this French capital of Savoy. http://www.tanbooks.com/doct/shroud_turin.htm
It is thought, but not proved, that the LaRoche family had possession of the Saint-Suaire for 150 years (probably at Saint-Etienne in Besançon or at the homeplace LaRoche (Rigney), and someone had the painted copy crafted at some time during the family's possession. In any event, a shroud of some type was on display at the Chapel of the Holy Shroud in Saint-Etienne (Besançon), which building also possessed one of St. Stephen's arms (before the fire of 1349). In due course, the painted shroud was placed in the newly upgraded Cathedral of Saint John (1669). It had become an important object of veneration in the seventeenth century, a period of conflict (Thirty Years War, annexations and withdrawals of France from this region) and yet another round of the plague. Indeed, the surrender of the city in front of the French armed forces, in 1674, was conditioned only upon a requirement to keep this relic at the Cathédrale Saint-Jean de Besançon. The Shroud of Besançon was sent to Paris on 27 Floréal, an II (May 16, 1794) of the Revolution. It is then thrown into a fire, from which it did not escape.
One may find a representation of it on a window in the chapel of Pérolles in Fribourg, Switzerland, dating back to 1520. On the glass appears the canons of Besançon, an episcopal mitre, and the linen facing the crowd. The cloth bears the double image, quite similar to the Shroud of Turin. translated from http://fr.wikipedia.org and other French sites used as reference links. Reports in early April 2009, have Vatican documents now supporting a link between the Shroud known in 1204 and that seen in 1357. The known history of the Shroud of 1204 appears to go back hundreds of years to Edessa; so, therefore, scientific reports that the Shroud was only a medieval fake are themselves in question.
Starting in 2003, new evidence began to appear in secular, peer-reviewed, scientific journals that supported the Shroud of Turin's authenticity . . . in 2005, we learned that the carbon 14 dating was flawed. In fact we learned that the cloth could very well be 2000 years old.* * *
As science moved forward, new historical information was coming to light. Indeed, there is evidence that the cloth, now called the Shroud of Turin, really was a treasure of the early church; not the Pauline communities with which we are so familiar, but the Church in the East . . . Edessa. In 544 CE, a cloth, with an image believed to be Jesus, was found above one of Edessa's gates in the walls of the city, a cloth that Gregory Referendarius of Constantinople would later describe with a full length image and bloodstains. There is strong evidence that the Edessa cloth is in fact the Shroud of Turin. Numerous writings, drawings, icons, pollen spores and limestone dust attest to this. from http://www.shroudstory.com/
A recent study by French scientist Thierry Castex has revealed that on the shroud are traces of words in Aramaic spelled with Hebrew letters. A Vatican researcher, Barbara Frale, told Vatican Radio July 26 that her own studies suggest the letters on the shroud were written more than 1,800 years ago. She said it would not be unusual for something to be written on a burial cloth in order to indicate the identity of the deceased. Scholars have suggested that Hebrew characters probably are part of the phrase "The king of the Jews." http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0903394.htm The new public exhibition began on April 10th of 2010 and ended on May 23rd of that year.
A few nearby towns: Lyon, Belfort, Strasbourg, Geneva, Bern, Basel and Zürich, Mâcon, Auton et Beaune, Dijon, Colmar and Mulhouse