Verdun, France has been on my list of places to visit for a couple of years.  Visiting this year made it more meaningful, though, as it’s the site of a World War I battle and this year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of that war.

While it was of course emotional to experience, we didn’t spend the entire weekend in a state of gloominess, as evidenced by how amused I was by this road sign.

It shows that we were just about to leave the town of Boucheporn, France.  Now I don’t know a lot of French but I know that bouche means mouth, so I’ll let your imagination run wild with that one.

We arrived into town in the late afternoon because we had spent several hours visiting the Völklingen Ironworks earlier that day.  We still had a good bit of daylight left, however, so we were able to get to a few sights before checking into the hotel.
The first place we stopped was the Tranchée des Baïonnettes or Trench of Bayonets.
The monument was donated by the United States.  The story goes that a dozen French soldiers were buried in their trench during a bombardment, and they were discovered because their bayonets were sticking out of the ground.  While it is true that the soldiers were buried in the trench, the part about the bayonets is in doubt.  Some historians believe that the bayonets were later affixed to the soldiers’ rifles as a memorial.
There is only one building at the Trench of Bayonets.  You cannot enter the building, but it has openings on the side that you can look through.
Several of these crosses with the words Soldat Francais Inconnue or French Unknown Soldier were inside the building, which as you can see just has a dirt floor.
We then made our way to the Village Détruit de Fleury or Destroyed Village of Fleury (full name Fleury-devant-Douaumont).
The village was destroyed during the Battle of Verdun in 1916.  That little church was built in 1979 near the site of the village’s former church.  The village and the land were so completely destroyed that it was decided never to rebuild.  Because the village had “died for France”, it retained its legal status as a town.  It even still has a mayor even though there are no inhabitants.  A total of 9 villages in the area were obliterated during the war. 
There are markers all around the destroyed village to indicate what stood on the spot before the destruction. The markers all have the descriptions in French, English and German.
As you can see, this is the spot where the former church stood.  Notice the little cross with the tiny banner on it next to the marker.  It says “We Remember – Columbus High – Waterloo, Iowa USA”.  I thought that was very touching.
There were also signs to mark where the former streets were in the village.
This was one of the sadder markers.
Fleury was a town of just over 400 people before the war.  An explanatory sign at the sight says that the villagers were ordered to evacuate just before the Germans attacked.  I’m assuming that nobody was there when the village was destroyed but can’t imagine how they felt knowing they could never go back or rebuild.
Continuing down the road, we stopped at a large monument dedicated to André Maginot.
You may be familiar with the Maginot Line, which of course is named after its developer, André Maginot.  Monsieur Maginot was wounded as a soldier in the Battle of Verdun and later became the French Minister of War.  In that role, he was successful in getting defensive fortifications built along the border of France and Germany after World War I.  Although the line did somewhat serve its purpose during World War II, it did not prevent France from being attacked again by Germany because the Germans simply entered the country through Belgium instead.
This next monument is called The Wounded Lion.
It sits on the site of a former chapel and marks the furthest point to which the Germans advanced going towards Verdun. The lion memorializes the 130th Division at Douaumont.
At this point the sun was starting to set so we headed to the hotel for the evening.
I woke up pretty early, looked out the window of the hotel room, and was greeted by this sight.
Without a doubt, of all the countries we’ve visited, we have seen more bad parking in France than anywhere else.  I mean just look at that.  Really?
Heading out for the day, our first stop was the casemates at Fort de Souville.
A casemate is a fortification with openings through which weapons can be fired.  Fort de Souville was built in 1876 and was used during the Battle of Verdun.  The photo above shows a bunker with double openings through which machine guns could be fired.  It’s called a Pamart bunker after the Colonel who designed it. 
Notice the craters in the ground near the bunker.
Almost 100 years later, the land still shows signs of the damage inflicted by the millions of artillery shells fired during the Battle of Verdun.  And millions is not an exaggeration – the Germans fired about a million shells during the first 10 hours of the battle alone.  That is just unbelievable.  Well over 50 million shells were fired during the 10-month battle.
This next monument is called The Wall of the Israelites.
It is dedicated to the Jewish French who gave their lives for France during World War I.
And this is the Memorial to Muslim Soldiers.
It is dedicated to the 70,000 Muslims who died fighting for France during the Battle of Verdun.
This next bunker is called abri Adalbert.
Abri is the French word for shelter or bunker.  It is just amazing to drive down the road and see things like this still sitting there almost a century after they were last used.
On the other side of the road from the abri are the remains of the London Communication Trench.  Communication trenches were built at an angle to the three other kinds of trenches: front-line trench, support trench line and reserve line.  The communication trenches allowed movement of men and supplies between the other three trenches without having to go above ground. 

Our next stop was Fort Douaumont.

The fort was built at the end of the 19thcentury.  When the French saw how easily the Germans had destroyed some Belgian forts in 1914, the first year of World War I, they decided the same would happen to Fort Douaumont and that basically it wasn’t worth manning anymore.  This was the reason a small group of German soldiers were able to quickly take over the fort just 3 days after the Battle of Verdun began.  The French were not able to recapture the fort until 8 months later, by which time there were hundreds of thousands of casualties.  Historians now believe that Fort Douaumont probably would have been a much better defense against German weapons than the Belgian forts were, and had the fort been properly manned and equipped the battle would have been much shorter and less deadly.  By the way, notice that you can see both the French and German flags flying in the background, along with the flag of the European Union. 
Driving down the roads in Verdun, you see things like this far too often.
It seems like every few hundred yards there is some kind of gravesite, memorial or battlefield remnant.  These markers are for two soldiers who both died on May 24th, 1916.
The next sight is the one we were most interested in visiting.
There are over 16,000 buried in the cemetery you see here. It is the largest World War I French military cemetery.  The building behind it is the Douaumont Ossuary, a memorial to those who died during the Battle of Verdun. It also serves as a cemetery because the bones of more than 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers are stored here.
The only place you can see the bones is from the outside of the building through windows like you see above.  In case you’re wondering whether it was creepy, I did not find it to be so.  It was just overwhelmingly sad.

If you go through the front entrance of the ossuary, across from the cemetery, it’s free to get in.  There’s not a whole lot to see but there is a small chapel.

This stained glass panel in the chapel is in memory of Jean Le Grix, who died on June 23rd, 1916. 
In addition to the chapel, there is a long hallway with plaques on the walls and ceiling that are inscribed with the names of French soldiers who were killed in battle.

If you go around to the back entrance of the ossuary and pay an admission fee, you get to see a very interesting film and you also get to climb to the top of the building. 

We did both, and that’s the view looking down to the area with the chapel.  We were almost at the top at that point.
If you remember the Memorial to Muslim Soldiers that you saw above, it’s the same building that you see in this next photo.
The headstones you see in this part of the cemetery across from the ossuary are for Muslim soldiers.  They are all oriented toward Mecca and they also all face the Muslim memorial building.
This next photo shows what the non-Muslim markers look like.
Every one of the over 16,000 markers in the cemetery have roses in front of them, which you should be able to see in the photo even though they weren’t blooming yet for the year.
After this we drove into the actual town of Verdun, although there are not nearly as many historical sights there as in the battlefield area.  Some areas of town were quite pretty, though.
That little body of water is Canal du Puty.  We liked that name because we call our three cats cutie patooties all the time, which gets combined and shortened to “pootie”, which somewhat rhymes with the name of the canal.
This is a bridge that crosses the Meuse river.
The gate is called the Chaussee Gate and it was built around 1380. 
We stopped and had some lunch in town along with some wine.
I love the little pitchers they give you with the house wine, which, by the way, is usually pretty tasty.  I like the little pitchers so much that I actually bought one that evening.

Here you see the Victory Monument.

We climbed the 73 steps to the top but it is not a must-do if you ever go to the monument.  You get a glimpse of the Meuse river from the top but otherwise I wouldn’t say the views were stunning.  Apparently the middle part of the stairway is a fountain in warmer months but it was not running while we were there.
After a short rest back at the hotel, we headed out again to see the entrance to Fort de Souville, part of which you read about earlier.
Sean went inside to explore a bit, but I remained safely outside.  I think I made the right decision, especially after I saw what I swear was a bat flying around furiously just outside the entrance.
Continuing on our drive, we passed this monument to the town of Vaux, formally known as Vaux-devant-Damloup.
Vaux was another village that was destroyed during the war, just like Fleury that you read about above.  Unlike Fleury, though, Vaux was rebuilt but even today has only about 70 residents.
Just as the sun was about to set on our last full day in Verdun, we stopped to visit another military cemetery.
There are just over 5,000 thousand World War I dead buried here.  During the Battle of Verdun, there were over 700,000 casualties and some estimates are closer to one million casualties. It remains one of the deadliest battles in history.
Often when we are in France, we go to one of the big grocery store chains and just get cheese, crackers and wine to take back to the hotel for dinner.  That’s exactly what we did on our last day in Verdun.
And see?  There’s the little wine pitcher that I picked up!

I’m glad that we finally made it to Verdun and that I was able to learn more about the battle and the area.

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About the author: Trish