France’s Territoire Department
When looking through the list of French Departments, that is the administrative “counties” if you will, there is one that stands out – the Territoire de Belfort. Territory you say? Indeed. At only 609 square kilometers (235 square miles), Belfort was the smallest department until Paris and the adjacent departments were created in 1968. So, how did this special territory come about? Like much of the history in this part of France, to include Alsace, it stems from the turbulent political past with Germany. The border zones of Alsace and Lorraine have gone back and forth between Germanic and Frankish peoples for a millenia – it is not a modern issue. In fact, the castle and fortifications of Belfort date back to the 1226. Fast forward to the Thirty Years War, the French acquired these lands from Austria under the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Later that century, Vauban improved the fortifications to what they are today, and Belfort became a key link in the French line of defenses. During this time, it also formed the southern end of Alsace, part of the Haut Rhin Department. Yet France’s concessions following the Franco-Prussian War meant that Alsace-Lorraine was divided loosely among linguistic boundaries in the 1871 Treaty of Frankfurt. On the whole, Alsace was more Germanic speaking, so it went to Germany. The exception was Belfort, which was primarily French speaking. Therefore, out of the rubble came an independent Territory that longed for its lost departmental brother. Not until 1922 was Belfort given status as a Department despite France regaining Haut Rhin. And so it remains today, a fervently independent city and Department that is and always was French by nature.
Where to Watch
On a stage that should be pretty easy from the peloton’s standpoint, Belfort is close to the previous two stages to offer a glimpse of the start – not to mention it comes with a great view and history.