Fort de Joux

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Fort de Joux {also Château de Joux) is a formidable stone fortress at the top of a dauntingly steep hill of rocks in the department of Doubs, France. It lies at the foot of the Jura mountains in about the center of the country's eastern border region. Pontarlier is 5km (3mi) to the north; the Swiss border is slightly further to the east; the river Doubs is nearby, the nearest larger city is Besançon.

Fort de Joux - French Mountain Prison

At 837 meters, Pontarlier is the second-highest town in France. At a height of 940 meters, Fort de Joux juts up even higher into the cold, open atmosphere. In winter, the wind whips stingingly around the fort, penetrating the uncountable cracks and crevices that stone buildings inevitably have, and chilling every surface. Winter snow and ice could only have added to the misery even for those prisoners who were accustomed to such bitter weather.

The dungeon in which Toussaint Louverture died
Toussaint memorial at Fort de Joux
Bust of Toussaint Louverture at Fort de Joux
Though the fort hadn't been intended as a prison, it was used for that beginning with the French Revolution. (It also saw use as a customs house.) It began as a wooden chateau built in 1034 by the powerful Joux family. In the 12th and 13th centuries it was upgraded to stone construction, and in 1454 it became a boundary fortress. Set in a strategic location guarding La Cluse, one of the main passes through the Jura, it also was located in a key trading center as attested to by four annual fairs in the area. Over the years the fort continued to be expanded in size and purpose. Among other attributes, it gained increased defenses, a dungeon, and barracks to accommodate the French troops who were garrisoned there.

Toussaint Louverture: one of the fort's noted prisoners

Fort de Joux was the furthest-flung French military outpost in France. Being solidly constructed in a precipitous location, it was a place from which Napoléon could feel assured that the slippery Toussaint Louverture would not escape. The fort was also cold, damp and a very long way from Toussaint's home.

Having been captured in Saint Domingue by deceit on June 7, 1802 on orders from Napoleon Bonaparte, Toussaint was transported by ship to France. On July 23 he was sentenced to solitary confinement in the fort. He arrived there on 23 August and was housed in a first-floor cell measuring 6,50 x 3,90 meters (21 by 12.8 feet) . His manservant, Mars Plaisir, stayed accessible to him in an adjoining cell until prison commanders, on the orders of Napoléon, had him removed and brought to Nantes in chains.

Death certificate of Toussaint Louverture.
Toussaint had never been to anyplace so cold or so far from home. After his birth into slavery in Saint Domingue he never left that island. Now, his days of constantly warm sea-level Caribbean life were over. He didn't last long in the inhospitable milieu, dying on April 7 1803. Certainly he suffered from exposure and cold, and was said to have suffered from loneliness. An autopsy attributed his death to 'malady of the lung.'

Today, Fort de Joux is a tourist site and a source of historical information. It maintains a visitors' schedule except during the winter off-season, and for renovations and other special closings.

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