The Lorraine city of Verdun, in the centre of Meuse, has been shaped by major historical events linked to the First World War. As the location of a terrible battle that lasted 10 months in 1916 and killed over 300,000, the city honours this sorrowful past by paying a permanent tribute to the soldiers who died on the front.
A garrison town from the 17th century onwards, fortified by Vauban, Verdun became increasingly militarised in the 19th century, at the expense of industry. After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, it became the stronghold of the north-east border. After the terrible battle in 1916 in which two out of three French soldiers fought, the town was devastated, and would once more endure German occupation in the Second World War. Today, Verdun is the world capital of Peace, and has managed to combine tourism development and the duty of remembrance without striking any wrong notes.
As well as the many nearby war-related sites and remembrance locations for the Battle of Verdun centenary (Douaumont Ossuary and Fort, Fort Vaux, the Sacred Way, Souville Fort, Thiaumont Fortress, etc.), you can visit the city's underground citadel, built between 1890 and 1893, to help you understand the events of the First World War. This veritable logistical HQ is very impressive and is made up of tunnels where the soldiers lived and military equipment was stored. It has recreations of scenes from everyday life during the battle. This is also where the "unknown soldier" now lying beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris was chosen.
The Verdun Memorial reopened in 2016 after renovation work and has an exhibition about the battle on three floors.
Verdun offers many tours and circuits at its historic sites, as well as a sound and light show, "From Flames to Light", from June to the end of July.
While the memory of the world wars is omnipresent, Verdun also has some urban heritage that is worth a visit: the Cathedral of Our Lady, one of the oldest in Europe; St. Paul's Gate, a triumphal arch that used to be part of the ramparts; and the 16th-century Princerie mansion that houses Verdun Museum of Art and History.
The old episcopal palace is where you will find the World Centre for Peace, Liberty and Human Rights, a place for exhibitions, meetings and dialogue.