The immortal Verdun, the story of a Nation!!!

And here I am with a narrative post for a change updating an earlier post I did on this brave and historical town of my belle France. I have heard of it of course, but always past by on the expressway roads until once or twice we stopped by and saw it. It was very nice, moving and appreciated. Let me tell you a bit more on the immoral Verdun, the story of a Nation!!!

Well as said,  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 new 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.  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 Verdun, there are navette bus taking you to the stations. For airports the best International are the Roissy 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 843 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 which 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 925 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.

Some of the things to see here are

The Notre Dame Cathedral 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 973 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 952 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.

The forest around Verdun, mand of heroes, in French:

The Verdun tourist office on things to see:

The city of Verdun on things to see:

The Ministry of the French Armed Forces on the centenary of the Battle of Verdun in French:

The memorial of Verdun of the battlefields in English:

The underground citadelle in Verdun in French:

The Ossuary of Douaumont/ Verdun in English:

The Meuse dept 55 on the Meuse battlefields:

And there you have it. Verdun is special needs a special visit and I must return. Enjoy the immortal Verdun indeed glorious. You need to bring your younger ones to explained never again.

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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