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DESCRIPTIONVerdun (Latin: Verodunum, meaning "strong fort") was founded by the Gauls (as its Celtic name shows; "Dunum" is the Latinized version of a Celtic word meaning oppidum). It has been the seat of the bishop of Verdun since the 4th century AD, with interruptions. In the Treaty of Verdun in AD 843, the empire of Charlemagne was divided into three parts.
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The Northern Area
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Home | Verdun | The Central Area
The Central Area of the Battlefields
This page covers what might be termed the 'main battlefield sites' associated with Verdun; that is, thearea in the forests just to the north-east of Verdun itself. There are quite a number of sites inreasonably close proximity here. Many of these are well known, and should be part of any visitorsitinerary.
Right at the heart of the Verdun battlefield, and perhaps the main focus of it as well, is the massiveOssuary located not far from the site of Fort Douaumont and the ruined village of the same name.The building of this structure took some twelve years, and it was finally inaugurated in 1932.
The Ossuary is at the heart of the Verdun battlefields
Inside the base of the building are collected the bones recovered from this battlefield - an estimated130,000 skeletons; and walking around the building one can peer through the small windows to seethese grisly reminders of the bloodshed here. Through some of the windows can be seen neatly piledlong-bones; through others jumbles and scraps of bones as well as skulls.
On the slope below the Ossuary are the crosses of the French Cemetery here - a further 15,000French soldiers are buried here, in the regular rows of graves seen in French military cemeteries.General Ernest Anselin is buried in a grave alone, covered by lw foliage, by the wall at the front of thecemetery, near where the steps lead down to it. The sloping lawns of the cemetery are kept inimmaculate condition, and the gardeners cut the grass on some of the steeper slopes by pullinglawnmowers up and down them with ropes tied to the handles.
Decorating the exterior walls of the Ossuary are the shields of many towns and cities across Franceand further afield - there is one for Londres (London). Inside the Ossuary itself, the atmosphere issimilar to that of a cathedral - voices are hushed and the smallest sounds echo along the halls. Thereare two main arms of the building leading off left and right from the entrance, with candles at eachend. Their flickering flames glow amidst the dim orange light that permeates the interior. Along the hallare alcoves (with the names of areas of the battlefields inscribed above them), and mock tombsinscribed with the names of cities in France. Names are also inscribed on panels on the walls and theroof. There is a chapel straight ahead of the entrance way, and to the right of this stairs lead down toa shop and then out to the car-park at the rear.
The views from the cemetery demonstate the height of this area
Beyond the cemetery sloping away from the Ossuary is Abri Caverne 320, where several chimneysrise from the cratered ground, and there are again excellent views across the valley beyond.
Abri Caverne 320
Near the Ossuary are several other sites of interest. There is the Memorial to Muslim soldiers,overlooking the cemetery below the Ossuary. This was originally a small monolith, but in recent yearsthis relatively small monument has been relocated and placed inside a much grander structure, whichwas inaugurated on the 25th of June 2006 by Jacques Chirac.
The Memorial to Muslim soldiers
Until recently, this column (now housed in a larger structure) alone formed the memorial
On the opposite side of the Ossuary is the Memorial to Israelites in the form of a large wall with redscript upon it. A little further towards the Ossuary is another much smaller memorial in a similar style,commemorating that in June to October 1916 there was bitter combat at the Thiaumont Redoubt. TheFrench Infantry Regiments that were involved are listed, and the inscirption goes on to commemoratethe actions of the 24th of October 1916, when the 4th Regiment retook Thiaumont.
The Memorial to Israelite soldiers
Located a little way along a small road leading north from the Ossuary (the D913) is the famousTrench of Bayonets. A long low concrete structure has been built to cover the site.
The Trench des Bayonettes
An ornate green bronze gate, decorated with a sword entwined by vine leaves leads into the site. Thecrosses of the Unknown French soldiers lined up within the covered area are perhaps one of theiconic sights of Verdun.
The line of crosses, and a close up view of one of them
Aklso within the site is a memorial to the 137th Infantry Regiment, and the land near by is stillcratered.
Memorial to the 137th Infantry Regiment
Travelling south-east from the Ossuary, and passing the memorial museum at Fleury, the D913 in thisdirection leads to a number of sites of interest. First reached is the Lion of Souville monument. Theagonised look on the face of the wounded lion is clearly to be seen. Across the road is a memorialmarking the site of an ancient chapel.
The wounded lion of Souville memorial - the suffereing can be seen on the face of the lion (right)
Turning right at the cross-roads by the Lion Monument, the D112 leads to two more memorials. Theone on the right of the road (travelling south) is to commemorate that on this line the 30th Corpsunder General Chretian on the 21st to 25th of February 1916 held up the first attacks of the Germansand lost two thirds of its men.
The other memorial, more angular in form and shown in the right-hand picture below, commemoratesa later event - how on the 12th of July 1916 the Fort of Souville, the last obstacle in the Germans pathtowards Verdun, resisted furious and repeated attacks by the Germans for ten hours. LieutenantKleber Dupuy and soldiers from the 3rd Company of the 7th Infantry Regiment are mentioned heretoo, and so is the fact that Fort Souville, which is in ruins (and is dangerous) can be found 200 metresbehind the Maginot Monument.
Two more memorials stand near the larger one to Andre Maginot
The Maginot Memorial itself is a litle further along the D112. It is an imposing monument, which wasbeing worked on by stonemasons at the time of my visit. Andre Maginot fought in the Great War, butwas wounded in November 1914. He became Minister for War, and was instrumental in ensuring adefensive line of forts was built after the Great War ended, and this line was named after him: theMaginot Line.
Memorial to Andre Maginot
Sources & Acknowledgements
Major & Mrs. Holt: Battlefield Guide to the Western Front South
© World War One Battlefields: 2008