When one of the most famous countrymen to have ever existed in France was born in the very heart of your own city, you’ll undoubtedly want to economise on the fact in the form of statues, museums, and tourist brochures. Such is the case with the birthplace of Victor Hugo in Besançon…
After all, though Hugo was born here, this Franche-Comté region city is often overlooked and in favour of more popular nearby destinations. However, what is perhaps most surprising when you visit the Maison Natale de Victor Hugo is that you soon discover that though he was born here in Besançon, Hugo left at just six weeks old, never to return. Ever.
And so, it was here, in an otherwise uninteresting and unassuming townhouse, where the author of French literary works such as the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables was born during the 19th-century to a General of the French army and his wife. Nearby, the Lumière brothers, who went on to develop cinematography as we know it today, were born a little less than a century later.
Birthplace of Victor Hugo, as seen at the turn of the 20th-century, via Wikimedia
Victor Hugo and the Besançon Connection
Situated in the East of France, not far from the border with Switzerland and best-known for its UNESCO World Heritage Vauban fortifications, Besançon is often dubbed the ‘greenest city in France’ thanks to its many parks and green spaces. Filled with museums and full of history, this underrated French city even has one of the greatest astronomical clocks in Europe as well as plenty of Roman ruins worth discovering.
And of course, this region of France (Franche-Comté- literally, ‘Free Country’) is no stranger to famous Frenchmen. After all, just one town over, in the charming city of Dole, Louis Pasteur (inventor of the rabies vaccination, among other things) was born. Wander around Besançon today and you’ll soon discover plenty of monuments named for Pasteur, who attended the city’s university.
Victor Hugo was born on the 26th of February 1802 at 140 Grande-Rue. And though there’s an entire museum dedicated to Hugo today it’s known that in correspondence, Victor addressed a letter to the inhabitants of his birthplace (residents of Besançon are known as ‘Bisontins’) just once;
“Je suis une pierre de la route où marche l’humanité ”
How to visit the Maison Natale de Victor Hugo (Birthplace of Victor Hugo)
For just €2,50 (and less if you’re a student or have another special tariff), you can wander the townhouse where the great French writer was born. Split over three levels, the basement contains a cinema room (though the films about Hugo are in French) and the upper two floors contain various artefacts and placards about Hugo’s life.
To accompany on your visit, you’ll be provided with an audio guide that’s included in your admission fee. Available in French, German, English, and several other languages, picking one of these guides up is an absolute must if you wish to make the most of your visit.
Of particular note within the museum, which was opened to the public in 2013, is the display on the ground floor which pays homage to the many people of importance within Hugo’s life. Among those featured are other great thinkers, politicians, and other writers of the day.
Meanwhile, the first floor is thematically displayed, with ideas surrounding ideals that Victor Hugo himself was passionate about. For example, the influence of the state vs the individual, the rights of children, and other important issues are debated amongst objects which Victor Hugo himself once owned.
Other attractions of note close by to the Maison Natale de Victor Hugo include Besançon Cathedral and La Porte Noire Roman monument. If you’re looking for an adorable café where you can get a piping hot coffee and freshly made cake, then a trip inside the ever so quaint Marotte et Charlie is an absolute must!