Bourg-en-Bresse: a long history
The occupation of the site goes back to the Neolithic (around 6500 years BCE) but “Burgus” (the Latin name of Bourg-en-Bresse) entered the history books with the Celtic invasion; druids raised more than 300 standing stones on a hill at the junction of two water sources : the Reyssouze and the Cône rivers.
Later, the Romans fortified the area (the construction of a small fort) as they considered the area strategically important ; it allowed access to the “capital of the Three Gauls”: Lugdunum (Lyon).
In the 10th century the lords of Bâgé, sovereigns of Bresse, built a lordly dwelling which later became one of the homes of the Counts of Savoy, through the marriage of Sibylle of Bâgé to Count Amédée V in 1272. Apparently destroyed at the beginning of the 17th century, the site is now occupied by the old prison (1816).
Meanwhile, half a league away, a village of farmers and potters began to develop during the Celtic period occupying a place known today as Brou. Later, the Romans built a temple there. At the beginning of the 10th century, the bishop of Mâcon, Gérard, became a hermit there, thereby sanctifying the area which soon saw the construction of its first churches.
The distinction between civilian and religious life was very clear in ancient Bourg-en-Bresse. Brou is now a district of the city and is renowned for its monastery, built in the 16th century by Marguerite of Austria, widow of Philibert II of Savoy.
At a crossroads and on a border, Bourg-en-Bresse reinforced its fortifications (construction of a citadel in the 16th century) and its notoriety grew thanks to trade and the quality of its craftsmanship (leather and canvas). Coins were minted, justice was handed down and buildings multiplied: convents, church of Our Lady (Notre-Dame), and rich tradesmen’s’ houses.
In 1601, the treaty of Lyon between Henri IV and Charles-Emmanuel of Savoy meant that the Bresse region joined the kingdom of France.
This expansion continued throughout the 18th century and the Industrial revolution (19th century) : the city filled with rich men’s’ mansions, a beautiful hospital, the prefecture and a savings bank ; the railway arrived in 1856.
Bourg-en-Bresse, prefecture and industrial city (wire-mills, metallurgy and mechanical construction) now boasts 41 900 inhabitants (known as Burgiens) and is the driving force of a population centre of 15 communities.
Oh, by the way! To blend in with the natives, pronounce it Bourk-on-Bress!
To know more…
Some guided tours are regularly planned (in French); you’ll find them in the agenda.
Some guided tours can be planned in French, English, Germand and Italian for groups all year round.
To visit as you feel, a guidebook is available at the tourist office (0.5€). You can download it for free.