Verdun Citadel & WW1 Battlefields Tour Guide

Verdun city – underground citadel, museums, fortresses and forts, battlefields, memorials, map of battles, how to get there, opening hours, all attractions. Western front of the First World War.

Travel Guide to Verdun WW1 battlefields

The most peaceful city in France. Now Verdun is the most peaceful city in France and the Capital of Peace. Former adversaries, soldiers of France, the USA and Germany now fight bravely here only on the screen of the holographic image in museums or during the grandiose spectacle with pyro effects and laser show.

Verdun, formerly officially known from 1801 to 1970 as Verdun-sur-Meuse, is a French commune located in the Meuse department in the Grand Est region (see the Grand Est map). Located in the historical and cultural region of Lorraine. The main urban center of the Meuse, the city is one of the two sub-prefectures of the department and the capital of the district of Verdun, the Pays de Verdun and the community of Grand Verdun. It is also the most populous place in the department, even though the number of residents has continued to decline since the 1970s.
The emergence of the Verdun agglomeration dates back to antiquity, when the Celts founded an oppidum overlooking the bend of the Meuse. Having become the capital of “Civitas Verodunensium”, it was one of the four cities of the Roman province of Belgium. In 843, the Treaty of Verdun was signed here, dividing the Carolingian Empire into three kingdoms. City of the Holy Roman Empire since the tenth century, Verdun was subject to France only in 1552 during the “Voyage d’Austrasie”. Together with other free cities of the Empire, Metz (Metz) and Toul (Toul), it forms the province of Trois-Eves (Trois-Évêchés), finally annexed to the Kingdom of France in 1648 by the Treaty of Münster. A fortress in eastern France, the city has been the scene of several battles such as the 1792 battle during the wars of the French Revolution and the 1870 battle during the Franco-Prussian War. But above all, it was the Battle of Verdun in 1916, during the First World War, that forever made the city world famous.

Verdun Citadel WW1 battlefields

Verdun WW1 battlefields

Slightly affected by the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, Verdun has now turned into a tourist city. There are many military monuments due to its history as a fortress, as well as many World War I memorial sites. The city also has a rich religious heritage, as it has been the seat of the Bishopric of Verdun since the 4th century.

The revolution was rather loyally received by the inhabitants of Verdun. A new municipality is elected, a national guard is formed, and several popular clubs are formed. But the episcopal city is also undergoing de-Christianization: religious orders are suppressed, their goods are sold at the highest price, priests are imprisoned or deported. In 1790, Bar-le-Duc (Bar-le-Duc) was to become the capital of the new department of Barrois (Barrois future department of the Meuse), but the project was not accepted, and the city retained its bishopric.
In 1792, after France declared war on the Holy Roman Empire, a Prussian army led by the Duke of Brunswick entered Lorraine and laid siege to Verdun. The fortifications of the city were in poor condition, there was not enough artillery and experienced soldiers. On August 30, he fell into the hands of the Prussians, and the commander of the garrison, Beaurepaire, was ordered to surrender. The next day, he was found dead in the hall of City Hall, having committed suicide to avoid dishonor. On September 2, Verdun surrendered. Finally, the Prussian army was defeated on 20 September at the Battle of Valmy and left the city on 14 October. Then harsh measures are taken against the collaborators. In accordance with the Convention (1792-1795), 35 inhabitants of Verdun were tried in Paris and then guillotined. Among them are the girls who, on September 4, 1792, offered the King of Prussia candied almonds and would later be called “Verdun Maidens” during the Restoration (1814-1830). On January 9, 1793, elected municipal officials, including Laurent Pons, secured the annulment of the decree of shame that had fallen upon the city for its capitulation.
After Bonaparte’s 1801 Concordat, calm returned. British prisoners of war of the Napoleonic wars from 1803 to 1814 live in the city, and they participate in the life of the city. But the diocese of Verdun disappears along with the diocese of Nancy.

XIX century. The city suffered little from the economic changes of the Industrial Revolution, probably due to its increasing militarization. If cotton spinning work appears, the tannery is difficult to maintain, and it is rural activities (breeding, farming) that take precedence over trade. The only tradition that still exists today is “dragée”. The appearance of the city, strangled by its fortifications, has changed a lot: large communication axes replace small alleys, and doors in the ramparts open the city from the outside. Many buildings appeared: a slaughterhouse in 1840, a covered market in 1853, a theater, bridges. The railway was laid into the city with the opening of the Verdun station in 1870. Work on the Eastern Canal began in 1874, and on May 1, 1880. it was open to navigation. The city restored its diocese in 1817, but it was not until 1823 that the bishop took his place.

During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Verdun was attacked on August 24, but staunchly resisted enemy artillery fire, despite the heavy damage inflicted. Finally, after the surrender of Metz on October 27, General Guérin de Waldersbach, commander of the area, on November 8, 1870, after an 81 day siege, was forced to capitulate. The occupation lasted until September 13, 1873.
According to the Frankfurt Treaty of 1871, which ratified the annexation of Alsace and Moselle, Verdun was 45 km from the German Empire and became a stronghold of the northeastern border. The first belt of 10 forts, called “panic”. Forts were built on the heights closest to Verdun. From 1880 to 1914, already the second belt of 43 forts and military installations was built along a perimeter of 45 km, to which Fort Douaumont and Fort Vaux belong. All this forms the fortified area of ​​Verdun, connected by 180 km of railway lines with an underground citadel in the center as a command post.
The garrison increased from 3,422 in 1876 to 27,000 in 1914. Verdun became ready for an enemy invasion.

World War I and Verdun battlefield

After the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the civilian population was evacuated and the city prepared for war. The German army invaded the north-east of France and half surrounded the fortress. The city can only be reached by two axes leading to Bar-le-Duc: the local railway Le Meusien (also called Le Varinot, named after its builder Charles Varinot) and the departmental road that the writer Maurice Barrès would call “Voie sacrée” .
In August 1915, the French headquarters, no longer aware of any strategic value of the forts, disarmed those around Verdun and removed the garrison. The German General Staff then took advantage of the vulnerability in the terrain, the last rampart and the hills in front of Paris, to spearhead the attack. On February 21, 1916, at about 7 am, two million shells fell on Verdun. But contrary to what the Germans and their commander-in-chief, General Erich von Falkenhayn, expected, the French army resisted and remained encamped in their positions. The battle lasted almost 10 months, resulting in 163,000 killed and 216,000 wounded on the French side and 143,000 killed and 196,000 wounded on the German side. In the autumn of 1916, the French army, taking advantage of the offensive on the Somme, counterattacked, recaptured the lost forts and drove the Germans back. Verdun was saved.

Verdun Citadel Tour Guide, WW1 battlefield trip from Paris

Verdun Citadel museum entrance

The Battle of Verdun in 1916 is one of the most important in the First World War. Thanks to a significant rotation of French units (two-thirds of combat units fought there), Verdun became a symbol of the war and is known both in France and abroad. Verdun has received many awards, French and international, making it the most decorated city in France. It is there that the body of a soldier is chosen for burial in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris.
On August 20, 1917, the French army, led by General Guillaumat, launched an offensive called the Second Battle of Verdun. This made it possible to fight off the Germans and return to their positions in 1916. In 1918, the American army made a breakthrough in the direction of Saint-Mihiel and cleared the northern sector.

After the Great war, the city is devastated: a quarter of the buildings are completely destroyed, half are seriously damaged, and the last quarter is looted. During the interwar period, the city was rebuilt with the help of elected officials from the Meuse (Raymond Poincare – Raymond Poincaré and André Maginot – André Maginot) and from other countries (UK, USA, etc.). In 1929, a brand new city appeared with widened streets, cleared river embankments and restored monuments such as the cathedral. Many war memorials were erected, and the Douaumont crypt (ossuaire de Douaumont) was built on the heights of the agglomeration. Verdun becomes a place of pilgrimage for participants in the Great War and their families.

The Second World War

Verdun is no longer near the border and the latter is now protected by the Maginot line. During World War II, the city was evacuated in June 1940 and all bridges were destroyed. The Germans invade the city on June 15, 1940. It then finds itself in a restricted area and is the seat of the Kreiskommandantur and the Gestapo. There is also a POW camp here: Frontstalag 240. The resistance is active, but its members are aware of the executions and deportations.

Liberation of France. The Germans leave Verdun on 31 August 1944, pursued by the US 3rd Army.

Post-war period, “Cold War”. The city became one of the headquarters of the US and NATO forces and remained so until 1966.
After the war, Verdun experienced a demographic surge that led to the expansion of the city, especially to the east, to alleviate the housing crisis. Until 1967, there were 2,000 American soldiers working at the Advance Service logistics base. The city remains a place of pilgrimage, despite the constant decrease in the number of veterans. In the 1980s, the city did not escape economic difficulties in the industrial sector. Tourism appears to be a promising activity given the rich heritage and history of the episcopal city.
In the summer of 1994, the World Center for Peace, Freedoms and Human Rights, which began operating in 1990, moved to the former episcopal palace.

Verdun Citadel and main attractions in the city

  • Verdun Citadel – fortress and the museum of the First World War
  • Monument “Children of Verdun”
  • Roadway Tower: Gate and fortification
  • St. Paul’s Gate – “triumphal arch” of Verdun
  • Princerie Museum – 14th-century sculpture and art
  • Center for Peace – Bishop’s Palace of the XV-XVIII centuries and the multimedia exhibition “The First World War”
  • Cathedral of Our Lady (Notre Dame)
  • Port Châtel – another entrance gate to Verdun
  • “Crossroads of the Marshals” – a memorial complex of the heroes of the First World War
  • Victory Monument – memorial complex of the battle for Verdun
  • Dragee Braquier – an old confectionery factory, shop and mini-museum

Verdun, virtual city tour:

Outskirts of Verdun: battlefields of the First World War
“Red Zone” – the nearest suburbs of the city. Main attractions: forts, memorials, museums.

  • Douaumont – memorial and military cemetery of the First World War
  • Fort de Vaux – artillery casemates and fortified area
  • Fort Douaumont – Museum of the First World War
  • Memorial: “Trenches of bayonets of the 137th Infantry Regiment of the French Army”
  • Monument to Muslim Soldiers of the French Army
  • all memorials and memorable places in the vicinity of Verdun, map


World War I battlefields and memorials in the Verdun region

  • Fortified area and fort “Ouvrage de la Falouse” – Museum of the First World War
  • The Argonne region is the left bank. Battle sites and war memorials
  • Battlefields and memorials of the Saillant-Saint-Mihiel area

Verdun memorial complex “Crypt Douaumont” (Ossuaire de Douaumont) and the national military cemetery (Ossuary).
On the site of the bloody battles of the First World War, where tens of thousands of soldiers died, the majestic Pantheon of Glory was built. Inside there is a chapel, commemorative plaques and a memory gallery. Near the crypt there is a large military burial place, who died in the battle for Verdun.
Commemorative events dedicated to the First World War are constantly held at the memorial complex. Tourists and pilgrims from all over the world come here to honor the memory of soldiers.

Verdun. Practical information. There is a tourism office where you can buy guides, maps, souvenirs on the way. You choose the hotels where to stay in Verdun, on our guides we place some options that our customers liked. You also choose restaurants and cafes, usually already on the spot, depending on the schedule for passing the main points of the route.

Battle for Verdun” – theatrical performance, WW1 re-enactment show.
At a certain period, usually at the end of summer, you can visit the military history show.

Interesting Facts. Russians. For participation in the fortification of Verdun, a Russian military engineer, Colonel Loganov Nikolai (1876 – May 11, 1938, New York, USA) was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honor. He graduated from the Nikolaev Engineering School and the Military Engineering Academy. During the First World War, he participated in the construction of the Warsaw and Brest-Litovsk fortresses. Posted to France. Member of the Civil War in Russia. In exile since 1923 he lived in America, in the USA.

Verdun battlefield tours