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44°11'28"N 5°56'50"E
Published: January 2010
last updated: March 2011
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++++The visit

Sisteron et la Durance This medieval town perched on the 485 meter rock on the bank of Durance is a must see for everyone, who travels from the seaside to the Alps (or vice versa). First and foremost take time to climb to the impressive Citadel of Sisteron. The citadel, which once was described as the most inaccessible fortress of French kingdom, was first erected in XI century and constantly fortified, repaired and rebuilt until XVIII century. A large part of the citadel is open to the visitors, so you will be able to enjoy a walk through the inner court, visit XIV century Notre-Dame chapel, climb up to the dungeon, where you will see the prison cell in which in XVII century was kept captive Jan Casimir Wasa – the future king of Poland and the climb up to the bell-tower, from which you will see a breathtaking view on the valley of Durance and surrounding mountains.

Down in the town take a circuit through the old town (just follow the arrows “visite vieille ville”), where you’ll see some well-preserved houses of XV-XVIII centuries. The roman-style cathedral La Citadelle de Sisteron Notre-Dame des Pommiers dates back to XIIth century, just next to the cathedral you’ll see four towers of vigil. Sisteron was a major religious centre and still has vestiges of numerous chapels and catholic convents, closed at the times of French revolution. In one of the chapels (chapele des Visitadines) you will find the museum of earth and time (le Musée Terre et Temps) with a fabulous exhibit of rare objects explaining time and history.

By the bridge over Durance you will cross to the part of the town, which traditionally belonged to the Dominican order. St. Dominic Cathedral, constructed in the XIIIth century by the countess Beatrice of Savoy, was one of the most important religious centres of Provence. Ravaged in XVI century, restored in 1620 and again abandoned during French revolution, the cathedral now serves as a site of music festivals and a witness to the religious history of France.


Like this is the case with the many towns in the south of France, history of Sisteron goes back to the Roman times. In medieval era the town was the centre of diocese of Sisteron, hosting numerous religious orders, among them the famous Tampliers. It has become the stronghold of the counts of Forcalquier and later the counts of Provence. The town and its citadel were ravaged by religious wars of XVI century: several times the town passed from the hands of Protestants to Catholics. As a result of these events the citadel was rebuilt and reinforced by the famous architect Jehan Sarrazin (and given its modern-day look). The citadel has served as a military fortress and a prison in every period of the French history. A famous episode happened in 1815: Napoleon, who escaped from island Elba, passed by Sisteron with his soldiers on his way to Paris. The garrison of the citadel couldn’t stop former emperor, because there was no gunpowder in its canons! Napoleon took a meal in Sisteron and moved on. During World War II the citadel was used as a determent camp and later a Nazi prison. An important part of the town was bombed by the US air-forces.

++++Practical information

Like with most towns in the “deep Provence”, the best way to visit Sisteron is by car. Nothing is simpler, as Sisteron is situated just next to the autoroute A51 from Aix-en-Provence to the Alps.

The closest airport: Marseille Provence (1h15min). There is a regional bus line between Sisteron and Marseille and Nice airports. You can find information about routs, schedule and prices on the web-site: http://www.info-ler.fr/.

The closest TGV (high-speed train) station : Aix-en-Provence (through the web-site of SNCF : http://www.voyages-sncf.com/ you can buy a ticket that will include a shuttle bus from Aix-en-Provence TGV station to Sisteron).
Sisteron has its own regional train station.

It is best to visit Sisteron in the summer – then you will surely enjoy sunny weather and the whole variety of summer activities offered in and around town.

We suggest you to wear comfortable sports-shoes, as walking in Sisteron and especially in the citadel presume a lot of climbing.

Please, take special care of your children while making a tour of the citadel: the balustrades are rather low and there are a lot of stairs without banisters.

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