Archive for April 5th, 2018

April 5, 2018

The immortal Verdun, the story of a Nation.

Once in a while I come to a city that you heard in the news or history book, and said darn I will go by it next time. Well , several passing and never in, until one day. We decided to take the roads of Liberty and the Sacred Road, and then you turn and said, wow!! so much sacrifice for me and the rest of us to live better; these were Giants and deserve every recognition known to men. It is all there , all around you in the city and in the fields around it, this is immortal Verdun.

Verdun was called Verdun-sur-Meuse from  1801 to 1970, and it is in the département 55 of the Meuse in the region of Grand Est ; what was before the region of Lorraine.  The city is towards the center of the department of the Meuse and about 225 km from Paris, 184 km from Strasbourg, 58 km from Metz, 78 kms from Nancy  , as well as 40 km from the Belgium border, 50 km from Luxembourg,  80 km from Germany and 220 km from Switzerland.  Verdun was built on the banks fo the Meuse river  which crosses the town from south to north taking its source deep in the Haute Marne and falling into the North Sea passing by France, Belgique and the Netherlands. It is traverse by several canals including the canal Saint-Vanne ,and the  canal des Augustins, on the left bank of the Meuse, as well on the right bank by the canal Saint-Airy. The Meuse river is connected to the Canal de l’Est that links the Meuse to the Moselle at Saône and known there as the Canal de la Meuse. There is a port pleasure marina with 30 places in city center.

Very good roads here and easy to drive. You have the D603 which is the old N3 linking Paris via Châlons-en-Champagne , and Meaux, taken several times . There is the D964 the former N64 that links on the north at  Charleville-Mézières, and south at  Lure via Commercy ,and Neufchâteau. The quaint route. There is the historical D1916 former N35 that is known as the sacred way as was the logistic route for the battle of Verdun in 1916 during  WWI. The fast way is the autoroute A4 known as the east highway or autoroute de l’Est linking Paris to  Strasbourg via Reims and Metz. You come off at exit 30 Voie sacrée or at exit 31 Verdun. There is a train station  Gare de Verdun in city center and the LGV fast train line  at the gare de Meuse TGV at about 25 km from Verduen, there are navette bus taking you to the stations. For airports the best international are the CDG at Paris or the Luxembourg Findel in Luxembourg.

A bit of history I like , here is long and glorious!

There an existence of a town from antiquity here where the Celtic people found a center along the Meuse river. This became the Civitas Verodunensium one of the four roman provinces of the first Belgium. By 843AD the treaty of Verdun shares the Carolinian empire in three kingdoms is signed given rise to the Western France for Charles the Bold, Eastern France for Louis the German, and Middle France for Lothar of whichc the county of Verdun belonged. ; upon the death of Lothar in 855, the Middle France is as well divided in three by the Treaty of Prûm and Verdun now passes to be part of a territory that will take later the name of Lotharingie; by 925AD this area is attached to the kingdom of Germany by Henri Ier the Bird-catcher, and Verdun becomes part of the Holy  Roman Empire for five centuries to come. Finally in 1331, the bishop Henri d’Aprémont places the city under the perpetual guard of France; and while the war of 100 years is on in 1337, the king of France places the city under the joint guard of the counties of Bar and Luxembourg.  Finally, Verdun is under French control in 1552 while the voyage of Germany by the king of France Henri II allied himself to the protestant princes of Germany that fight the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and France becomes the Vicar of the empire and protector of the 3 bishops area taking Metz and Toul as well.  These 3 bishops or Verdun Metz ,and Toul comes officially to France in 1648 under the Treaty of Münster that itself was part of the Treaty of Westphalia. The city fortress on the east of France has seen many conflicts including the French revolution in  1792 , when the Prussian army was defeated in the battle of Valmy. Many local collaborators with the Prussians were executed under the guillotine in Paris under the Convention period 1792-1795; and the war of 1870 in the Franco-Prussian war that with the treaty of Francfort of 1871, that brings the annexation of the Alsace-Moselle, Verdun  found itself only 45 km from the German empire and will become the stronghold of the frontier north east.

A first line of 10 forts are built around and close to Verdun, and in 1880-1914 another 43 forts are built in a perimeter of 45 km, of which included the fort de Douaumont and the fort de Vaux.  All bring a fortified area of Verdun link by 180 km of railroad lines with the center the underground city fortress of Verdun as the command center. However, the biggest battle was that of 1916 in Verdun during WWI  that made the city world famous and gloriously known, the battle of Verdun. In August 1915, the French general hq does not recognized any value to the forts and leave them unarmed as well as take away the guards; the German high command takes advantage of this as it was the last obstacle before Paris so decide to start an offensive in February 21 1916 by 7h with 2 million  projectiles falls on and around Verdun. However, the French army holds and digs in to last near 10 months, 163K dead , 216K wounded on the French and 143K dead and 196K wounded on the Germans by French standards.  By Fall of 1916 ,the French army takes advantage of the offensive in the Somme and counters attack taking the lost forts and set back the Germans; Verdun is saved; the battle of Verdun was one of the most important of WWI. Finally in August 20 1917 the French army takes the offensive calling on the second battle of Verdun. This allows to get back all the lost territory of 1916; by 1918, the American army in place take the offensive on the line direction  Saint-Mihiel and freed the north of Verdun, finally the Germans abandoned on August 31 1918.

The Notre Dame Cathedral of Verdun built in the 10C ,the oldest Cathedral in Lorraine and the biggest Roman style building on the East of France. From the 16C it has several renovations like adding lateral chapels and a cloister. Damage in WWI it was rebuilt from 1920-1935, and while at it found roman parts in the crypt from the 12C. You have the former Episcopal palace built from 1724 by Robert de Cotte, the architect of king Louis XV and considered one of the most prestigious episcopal palaces in the Lorraine. Since 1994 ,it host the World Peace center of liberties and human rights a place of exposition, meetings and reflections.

The former abbey of Saint Paul founded in 973AD by the Benedictines, and by 1135 passed to the order of the Premontrasians. It was destroyed in 1552 for military reasons and rebuilt between 1686-1698; after the French revolution, the abbey housed the justice palace, and regional government of Verdun. The tour Saint Vanne is the last part of the Abbey of Saint Vanne founded in 952AD by the Benedictines and the name is that of the 8th bishop of Verdun.  The abbey was built on the site of the first Christian oratory dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul founded in the 4C by Saint Saintain, first bishop of Verdun. It was rebuilt and enlarged in the 14C.; after the bombings of the 1870 War it only remains the north tower of the 12C and some parts of the old cloister of the 13C. There is the Church Saint Victor, gothic dating from the 14C dedicated to Saint Victor and Saint Maurice; since 1685 it guards a statue of the Virgin that Verdun honored under the name of Notre Dame des Clefs (keys);the legend been that she would had save the city from Huguenots protestants attacks in 1562. So, on the gate of Saint Victor the inhabitants gives their keys of the city and the statue would had inclined the head in a sign of acceptance. The Church of St John the Baptist built in 1884 in the neighborhood of Faubourg was cut in half in 1916 and rebuilt identically with two bell towers replacing the one before the war; the new stained glass honored the soldiers mixing religious and patriotic feelings. There is a Synagogue built in 1875 on a byzantine Moorish style by the Jewish community of Verdun; the building replaces the original one done in 1805 on the site of the former Convents of the Jacobins that was destroyed in the war of 1870. When it was tempered with by the Nazis in WWII, the synagogue was restored by the members of the US Army of jewish descend., and it has a jewish cemetery on the Avenue du Commandant Raynal. There is a Reformist Church of France built in 1889 on the site of a wheat depot, it suffered bombings during 1916 and restored again in 1920

There is a nice city hall or Hôtel de Ville built in 1623 on the Louis XIII style with two bodies crowned by a bell and two wings. The Hôtel de la Princerie is a mansion built in 1525 as it was the place where the princes lived, the highest dignitaries of the diocese after the bishops. Since 1932, it houses the museum of the Princerie. The theater of Verdun was done in a wheat depot destroyed during the war of 1870 and opened in 1893 by Raymond Poincaré, then fine arts minister and later president of France.  The facades are with corinthians columns and balcons, and the interior is Italian style on five levels with neo baroque decoration, and a cupola or dome similar to the Opera Garnier in Paris. The wonderful underground city or citadelle souterraine of Verdun are underground galleries carved between 1886 and 1893 by miltiary engineers  under the fortress of Verdun, that was built between 1624 to 1635.  By 1914, the galleries had almost 4 km and at the end of the war it had 7 km housing about 2K men and serving as refuge and command post as well as logistic base. It included 6 powder stores, 7 ammunitions stores, bakery, windmill, telephone center and telegraphs, and raising machines sort of elevators for water for the city and the forts, kitchens, and huge storage spaces.  It was here that on November 10 1920, the unknown soldier was designated that now rest under the Arc de Triomphe of Paris.


You have the officers mess hall built on pylons between 1891 and 1893 in the classic style with a rooftop Mansart style. The building was offered to the military authorities in charge of the construction of new fortifications . The city had several military posts such as the Glorieux, Maginot, Niel, and Beaurepaire,today destroyed or redone for something else. The levy bridge or Pont-écluse Saint Armand is a defensive system created by Vauban and built by Perrault from 1680 to 1685, and was part of the three levy bridges with those of Saint-Airy and Saint Nicolas today gone that allows the flooding of the surrounding of Verdun on 14km with a depth of 2-2,5 meters of water. It took about 6 days to have a full flooding so making any attack impossible into the city. It was the only one in France to have a manoeuver command post with all its mechanism. You can see traces of the ramparts from the 14C that surround the city called the Grand Rempart. There is a gate or Porte Chausée (or tour Chaussée) built in 1380 and one of the three monumental gates of the ramparts. It has two twins round towers of 20 meters high crowned by battlements and machicoulis joint by a portico. The tower or tour de l’Islot is circular flank by a long road of rounded peaks in the ramparts  ,built in the 14C and cut into by deadly and long water rapids called Moson in the Canal du Puty.

There are several monuments to the fallen and the most visible in my opinion are the Monument to the victory and soldiers of Verdun or  à la Victoire et aux soldats de Verdun. Located in city center and opened in 1929 at the place of the former collegiale Church of the Madeleine in the 11C, and takes foothold on the old ramparts of the Roman castrum that were moved during the bombing of 1916. At the top of the tower of 30 meters there is a statue of a soldier resting on his sword and looking to the East. The tower was done with two Russians canon taken by the German and later by the French ; there are 73 steps on a stair leading you to a crypt where are the register of soldiers recipients of the medal of Verdun.  Each year on November 1st ,the flame of the tomb of the unknown soldier that burn under the Arc de Triomphe in paris is brought to the crypt here where it burn until November 11 the day of the Armistice in 1918, end of WWI and then returns to Paris.

Another one I like is the monument to the Children of Verdun dead for France or aux enfants de Verdun morts pour la France , located facing the gate or Porte Chaussée,this monument opened in November 1 1928. It has five soldiers representing the different arms of the army  Infantrymen, firemen, artillery,horsemen, and reservist. These make a wall of soldiers against which the German army jumped on showing the soldiers creed of Verdun They wll not pass or on ne passe pas. The name of  510 Verdun native dead in WWI are  written on the monument as well as other fallen in other conflicts that were added. Another one was a gift from the Netherlands to Verdun or to the Holland Friend or Monument de la Hollande amie. Offered to Verdun in 1920. It represent a wounded soldier held by a winged genius with the furious expression, the arms open towards the horizon and the fingers closed.

These ones I have followed by car, they are the monument of the sacre way and the the road of liberty or the Monument de la Voie Sacrée and the Voie de la Liberté.  Dating from 1947, and located in front of the train station of Verdun you have two historic roads.The La Voie Sacrée  is a strategic road linking Verdun to Bar-le-Duc that brought the men and materials to the front of the battle of Verdun in 1916.  The La Voie de la Liberté  is a road taken by the American Army in 1944 from Normandy to Alsace to liberate France ; this has a monument by a wall on top a head of a marianne lady flanked by two bornes typical of the two roads.

The city and surrounding has several resting places worth a detour such as the Nécropole nationale de Bevaux Nécropole nationale du Faubourg-Pavé ,and the Nécropole nationale de Glorieux.  There is also a wonderful park the forêt domaniale de Verdun with an area of almost 10K hectares created after just the end of  WWI that extends on the battle fields to preserve the remains of the fight and the memory of the fighting men. More on the forest park in French here:

Some further sites for information no best plan your trip here is to follow:

Tourist office Verdun :

City of Verdun tourism:

Centenary of the battle of Verdun 2016:

Chemins de memoire or memory roads of Verdun :

Museum memorial of Verdun:

Bunkers, city underground of WWI in Verdun:

Ossuary of Douaumont/ Verdun :

Tourism dept 55 Meuse :

And there you have it. Verdun is special needs a special visit and I must return. Enjoy the immortal Verdun indeed glorious. Have a great week, happy travels, good health and many cheers!!

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April 5, 2018

Toulouse, the pink city and pretty pink!

Let me bring you back ,and me to the wonderful city of the south, the pink city. It is very familiar to me as not only visited as a tourist, and business conferencier, but also as an old University reunion and the home of cousins on wife’s side. Several times over and still very much in our minds for a re visit this year or even retirement choice!  Oh yes , I am talking about Toulouse!

Toulouse is the historical capital of the Languedoc and part of the old kingdom of the Visigoths for more than 100 years ; today it is in the département no 31 of the Haute Garonne in the region of Occitanie. Toulouse in many occasions is known as the Pink City for the color of the material in brick used for construction ; it also, known as the city of Violets when in the 19C it was developed that trade here, ; it is as well known more rarely as the Mondane city because of its many Counts of the city name Raymond. The name meaning of Toulouse is still uncertain, could be Iberian with Tolosa but then it appears in other areas too.

I must say that even if football/soccer is played here and good, Rugby is king. The fame and my rugby team Stade Toulousain has 19 National titles and 4 times European champion.. And we have on the wife side family still here donc we are supporters or maybe they won’t admit me to the family lol!! sorry need to tell you!!!Webpage here:


official store of the Stade Toulousain rugby !!! and my boys!

It is in the center north of the department Haute Garonne , cross by the great Garonne river and the crossing of many highways. The main are the A68 (Albi on the N88, Castres), N124(Auch) , A62 (Montauban, Agen, Bordeaux ), A64(Tarbes) ,A61( Carcassonne, Lyon, Marseille,Barcelona), and the A62 /A20/N20/A10 to Paris. The city of Toulouse received the Garonne river from the Peak of Aneto at 122 km, highest in the Pyrénées at 3404 meters, 144 km from the Mediterranean sea, and 233 km from the Atlantic Ocean.. It has an excellent bus service called Tisseo, with 140 lines. Metro with two lines A/B; interciy bus arc en ciel connecting about 341 towns, and tramway line 1 and 2, as well as a wonderful train station Gare Toulouse-Matabiau located in the district of Matabiau near walking distance done it to city center; there are other stations to serve the TER Occitanie trains. There is an excellent airport that of Toulouse-Blagnac very good airport as well, taken.

toulouse gare matabiau

For the road warrior in me, the city is good to drive of course. The city center is done like a heart with two arms the right bank and the left bank . The city center or cite is set up around the Place Esquirol with narrow streets around the Capitole, justice palace, Cathedral Saint Etienne, and the Church de la Dalbade; it is the chic neighborhood. Around this you have the bourg or city west of the Capitole and the Church of the Daurade around the center of it is the Basilica of Saint Sernin , the médiéval area with University life and administration buildings. On the rive gauche or left bank you have the neighborhood of faubourg de Saint Cyprien  , a popular area with a hospital tradition such as the Hôtel Dieu . The Pont Neuf and the Place du Capitole are the heart of this center with airy streets to smooth the traffic such as rue de Metz and rue Alsace-Lorraine. Between the boulevards and the Canal du Midi beyond the nice parks alleys and traffic circles you have another beltway  such as the  blvd Saint Michel, blvd Saint Aubin, and Blvd Chalets Minimes around the train station of Matabiau and also on the south on blvd Saint Agne.

A bit of history I like and long ,sorry…

From the mid 3C BC this area was inhabited by a confederation of peoples of the Gauls like the Volques Tectosages in which there was a sub group that of the Tolosates around the current city of Toulouse; by the 2C BC a center was created called the Old Toulouse a few km south of the current Toulouse. While allies of the Romans the volques tectosages revolt against them and were defeated by the Romans in the year 107 BC and Toulouse becomes Roman. By 250 AD Toulouse comes under the prayers of Saturnin that became Saint Sernin (as in the Basilica). The first Basilica of Saint Sernin is built in 403AD and by 413AD the Visigoths invade the city and make Toulouse the capital of their empire. As they have a different culture and religion the Gallo Romans and Visigoths are together but do not mix until 508AD king Clovis of the Francs  takes the city after defeating the Visigoths in the battle of Vouillé.

The city takes its independance to form by 629AD a kingdom of Toulouse and later in the 7C and 8C the capital of a great Duchy of which frontiers reached from the Pyrénées to the Loire and to Rodez and the ocean. In 721 it was siege by the moors/arabs army but were defeated in the battle of Toulouse on June 9 721, ending their progression to the north. The Counts of Toulouse had a domaine for the most part of the region of the Midi of France. In 1152 a common council of the Cité , and the Faubourgs (city center and suburbs) put in place by the Count of Toulouse, this is the Capitoulat of 12 capitols that insured the justice later the ordenances, receiving taxes, raise a militia and keep the order and justice in the city. In 1190 , they acquired a common house by the ramparts near the northern gate that will become the Capitole, today a symbol of the city.

At the same period, the Cathars comes into play and grows creating in 1209 the crusades of the Albigeois, even with a victory with its many problems caused the ruin of the County of Toulouse and brings the County with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on April 12 , 1229.  In 1365, the Pope Urban V, gives to the Dominicans of Toulouse the relics of the philosopher and theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas maybe to do not give to the city the birthplace of the order, those of Saint Dominique itself. The relics of St Thomas de Aquinas are held in the church of the Jacobins today. During the Renaissance end of the 15C ,Toulouse see a period of great growth due to the Pastel fabric industry and great mansions are built such as the Hôtel de Bernuy ,and Hôtel d’Assezat. Two symbols of the city the Pont Neuf and the Canal du Midi are built in 1632 and 1634 respectively while the Capitole is rebuilt in the 17C.

On April 10 1814 at the battle of Toulouse opposing the Spanish British army of Marshal Wellington and the French of marshal Soult needing the retreat of the French making the pink city the last French-English battle in French soil. The town rallied to the king Louis XVIII and the Restauration after the exile of Napoléon Ier. The Republicans and Royalists are the majority here making it difficult to the followers of Louis Philippe or Napoléon III to fight against their alliance by convenience. . In 1848, the Republic is proclaim from a balcony in the Capitole by Henri Joly. With the arrival of WWI Toulouse is fit with an arsenal of gun powder and welcome a Latécoére at the moment builder of railroad wagons who obtained from the State the right to built airplaines marking the debut of the aeronautical industry in Toulouse. In 1927,  Aeropostale was created by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Jean Mermoz. It also, came Airbus and still there.

During WWII the city is save from combats but is a center of resistance , the nazis leave the city in August 19 1944 after the invasion of Provence. Many Spanish Republicans come to the city and make their resistance center away from Spain with many meetings and fund raising, it then host the exiles after the Victory of Gen Franco in 1939 , about 100K of them and their families. In the early 1960’s many expatriates Algerians come to live in the city. Today, the neighborhood of Saint Michel is the most Caribbean community in Toulouse.

The heritage on buildings is enormous here some religious like the Saint Sernin Basilica and the Convent of the Jacobins ; other modern like the site of Airbus, and some of knowledge of the new like the Contemporary and Modern Arts museum as well as the Capitole that itself houses the city hall, a room of nobles and famous with work by Artists of Toulouse from the 19C ,an Opera, a symphonic orchestra on the square of place du Capitole..Behind it are the tower or Donjon du Capitole in a park surrounded by the tourist office at the entrance to city center below the alley of Jean Jaurés (that comes from the Matabiau train station) , there is the Place Wilson surrounded by brick buildings with a lively ambiance of terrace bars ,cafes and cinemas. You go along the Garonne river to the quays and wharfs renovated in the 18C such as quai Henri-Martin and quai de Tounis built in brick to hold on the flooding and allowing to walk the banks of the river to discovered the old bridges such as the Pont Neuf, the oldest in Toulouse with 220 meters long and the Pont Saint Pierre a metallic bridge done in 1987. A bit down the Garonne river you will see the Bazacle, where the first inhabitants of Toulouse were installed and today it is a dam to keep the water level of the Garonne in balance during the Summers. Along the banks, you find the Hospital de la Grave and its Chapel of Saint Joseph de la Grave with the dome covered in copper as well as the water tower of Toulouse that houses a photographic exhibition. The place de la Trinité , and the rue des Filatiers are wonderful places to discovered with its wonderful mansions in brick ; at the rue des Filatiers there is the house or maison Calas,(jean Casas found guilty and executed for killing his son who had converted to Catholicism, himself a Protestant), and at the end of the street the Church de la Dalbade. You as well see the wonderful train station of Gare Matabiau and the Canal du Midi, the Saint Michel prison, and the Niel Palace built on the old fortications of Toulouse to house the marshal of France Adolphe Niel,and the amphitheatre of Purpan Ancely, one of the only remaining intact building of the Roman period in Toulouse.

The city has an incalcuble numbers of mansions on the pink brick architecture as well as famous cafes on the same motif. Other than the previously mentioned religious buildings there is also the Cathedral St Etienne or St Stephen; Church Notre Dame du Taur, Convent of St Augustinians also the museum of Augustins; Orthodox religious rites at the Church of Saint Nicolas at avenue de Grande Bretagne or the Synagogues with the oldest that of Palaprat. Othe than along the Canal du Midi, you have the Jardin Royal, and the jardin Japonais Jardin des Plantes,and the Grand Rond, are very nice green spaces in the city. Other museums in addition to those mentioned above are the Musée Saint Raymond located practically across from the Saint Sernin Basilica was created in 1892 to showcase the art and archaeology of antiquity. Very educational indeed. The before mentioned Musée des Augustins created in 1795 is the fine arts(Beaux-Arts) . museum. The interesting Hôtel d’Assézat houses the fondation Bemberg with a collection of books, portraits and sculptures. And of course many cinemas, theatres and galleries to make this a grand city of the south, the pink city.

Here are some webpages to help you plan your trip to this beautiful city of the south deep south of France.

City of Toulouse and its heritage :

Tourism Toulouse:

Tourism dept Haute Garonne 31 on Toulouse :

Tourism region of Occitanie on Toulouse :

And there you have it, the blog post and the above will give you a darn good idea of what to do and how in this wonderful city, so dear to me, love it. One of my favorites in France,and  that my dear readers is saying a lot.

Enjoy your week, happy travels, good health and many cheers to all!!!

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