Who knew there was a Gibraltar of the north? We didn’t until we visited Luxembourg!

Luxembourg can be a confusing name if you are talking to a Belgian. They will likely refer to the Belgian province of Luxembourg. But there is actually a country with the same name below Belgium’s southern most province.

Luxembourg is tiny, and along with Belgium, is bordered by France and Germany. Its capital is Luxembourg City, which is one of the three official capitals of the European Union (Brussels and Strasbourg are the other two).

The country has been historically invaded by others, and after WWII they had had enough. They became a strong force advocating for cooperation among European countries, and today the European Court of Justice resides in the capital city.

We visited Luxembourg’s ancient fortress built in the 10th century that sits on a rocky outcrop in the middle of the city. Over time, the fortress has had many different rulers including the Italians, Spanish, French, Belgians, Austrians, Dutch and Prussians (hence Luxembourg’s testiness at the end of WWII).

The fortress was expanded over time, and the construction of an underground defense system known as the casements began in 1644.  Engineers from various countries that ruled Luxembourg built upon the original design.

Canon peering out from a tunnel in the casements

Canon peering out from a tunnel in the casements

At their height, the tunnels were 23 km in length and were carved out to a depth of 40 metres. They were home to thousands of defenders, their weapons and horses. Kitchens, bakeries, slaughters houses and weapons manufacturing were also located in the tunnels.

I have to say that if I was a soldier under attack, the casements would definitely be the place to be. If you can imagine a giant chunk of rock jutting up above a river valley with tunnels carved throughout and cannons facing out through holes in the rock – that would be the casements. Nobody would be able to get you!

As it was, during both WWI and WWII, the casements protected up to 35,000 civilians during bombardments.

We also walked around Luxembourg City to get a feel for the place. It’s another beautiful old city with a healthy standard of living and many people with a lot of wealth.

We watched the second match for Belgium in the Euro Cup as we ate lunch. Everyone seemed to be cheering for Belgium as Luxembourg doesn’t have a team. Belgium won 3-0 over Ireland, so there was lots of excitement in the city.

We then returned back to the Ardennes after filling our car with cheap diesel in the tax-free haven for tourists.

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