The memorial of Verdun
Why visit the memorial ?
The Battle Field of Verdun bears the scars of the First War World. Forever marked by the terrible battles of 14-18 (craters left by mines and shells, destroyed villages, fortifications), the site is a veritable material lesson in history. Why do people visit Verdun? Its name is attached to the battle of 1916, although in fact fighting went on in and around Verdun throughout the whole of the First World War. Why is there a focus on the Battle of Verdun, to the point of eclipsing the Battle of the Somme, which took place in the same year and is comparable in scale?
It is because the Battle seems a fitting summary of the 14-18 war: the memory of this immense superhuman and inhumane sacrifice makes Verdun one of the most important sites in the National and European collective memory. People come, first and foremost, to learn: the Memorial’s principal objective is to teach about the battles that went on around Verdun and those of 1916 in particular, in which two out of three Poilus (French First World War soldiers) participated. The ‘Battle of France’ affected most French families. The Memorial also strives to balance French and German points of view: suffering, death and despair have neither a nationality nor a religion…
Provoking reflection on the First World War, and thus on the more general history/memory question, the Verdun Memorial is above all, as the former soldiers who founded it wished, an educational tool that serves historical truth.
The Verdun Memorial is situated at the heart of the Battlefield, approximately seven kilometers from Verdun. The road signs indicate the route from Verdun city center – follow up the direction longwy and ‘Champs de bataille 14-18’ or ‘Ossuaire de Douaumont’.
For the century of the battle of Verdun, we have decided to do some renovations inside the museum : a third level, a new presentation, a place to welcome school group, a snack bar...
That's why, we have closed the museum last 1st september. It may be open on november 2015. You can contact us by phone '+33 3 29 84 35 34 or by our website.
Discover a new exhibition on may 2014 : What does it remains of the first World War ? - Centre Mondial de la Paix (2014-2018).
Mémorial de Verdun
1, avenue du Corps Européen
55101 VERDUN cedex
Tél : +33 126.96.36.199.34 - Fax : + 33 188.8.131.52.54
Courriel : contact
History and Missions
Situated in Fleury-devant-Douaumont, the Memorial is a symbol of the process of historical remembrance, which has taken over from patriotic remembrance. As Antoine Prost highlights in the second part of “Places of Memory”, published by Gallimard in 1986, it is necessary to provide explanations to those who come to the site knowing only that an important battle that took place there, but with no knowledge of its progression or chronology. The tourist has taken over from the pilgrim; for the tourist, history takes over from religious fervour.
For someone who wishes to understand what really happened at Verdun during the First World War and who wishes to find an itinerary that allows them to discover the battle field, the Memorial of Verdun serves as a wonderful introduction.
It is within the context of link building between France and Germany that the idea of creating a monument dedicated to the soldiers of the 1914-18 war first arose. On the 23rd October 1960, on the initiative of Maurice Genevoix, the President of the National Committee of the Remembrance of Verdun (CNSV), it was decided to create a Memorial on the former site of the train station of Fleury, a village that was destroyed. In 1963, Roger Frey, Interior Minister, authorised the French communes to participate in the financing of the Verdun Memorial, which allowed the CNSV (which was recognised as being ‘of public use’ in 1962) to receive funding.
Since its inauguration on 17th September 1967 by André Duvillard, Minister for Former Soldiers, the Verdun Memorial has increasingly become more of an educational museum than a commemorative monument. Serge Barcellini stressed this point thus: “more than just a museum vaunting the glory of the French soldier, [the Memorial] bears witness to the engagement of all the troops, French and German alike.” A collection of numerous authentic documents and objects from the time of the battle has been achieved thanks to the help of various State organisations: The Historical Service of the Territorial Army, the Cinematographic Department of the Army and also individuals, often former soldiers or the descendents of former soldiers. Collectors and sponsors have also given donations: the Berliet foundation gave a CBA truck; and thanks to Jean Salis (a former Air force member) and his son. The Verdun Memorial possesses a Nieuport plane and a Fokker model.
The Educational Service of the Centre for Documentation was created to respond to the many demands coming from researchers, teachers and students, but also from the general public. Colloquia, study days and commemorative and cultural events are organised on a regular basis. Today, the Memorial’s work is not only in the historical tourism sector: it aims to be a cultural and educational force, helping to give younger generations a sense of their communal heritage.
The museum is spread over two levels: the upper gallery includes three large window displays of uniforms, weapons, photographs, pictures and civilian and military objects; the lower gallery is based around themes such as the health service. The galleries are built around a large reconstruction of a battle field trench of the bloody battles of 1916. A French plane, a German plane and the basket of a captured balloon hang from the roof. On the central wall, the battle is described in its chronological progression with the help of animated maps, archive films and a commentary in six languages (French, German, English, Spanish, Italian, and Dutch).
The film In the soldier’s footsteps is projected, with multilingual subtitles. It portrays the terrible conditions of the soldier’s lives in the two camps on the battle field of Verdun. Through the images, their physical suffering (mud, thirst, gas attacks, deafening noise, wounds, fleas) is presented along with their emotional suffering (solitude and visions of death, not only of fallen soldiers and of the self, but also of the death threatening everyone); so many common enemies to the soldiers who, through the months became comrades in suffering.
The displays include: thematic silent films and diaporamas (animals, heath services…), French and German material grouped by theme (artillery, refueling…), soldiers’ equipment and its evolution (light artillery, uniforms, and various objects from the trenches…), models (forts, relief maps), photographs (ground, soldiers, destroyed villages…) and maps. The permanent exhibitions encourage a sense of discovery and engagement with themes that are not often addressed: the role of women in the war, the arrival of aviation war at Verdun, the colonial troops of the African Army.
The documentation centre of the Verdun Memorial was created in 1974. Since its creation, it has been enlarged by further donations and research. There are currently several thousand pieces of documentation of various natures in the reserves. It was originally situated in the projection room of the museum, but in February 2000 the Gérard Canini Centre of Documentation (The Director of the Education Service of the Memorial from 1972 to 1991) was inaugurated in the right wing of the museum.
The centre contributes to the duty of eternal remembrance by conserving the memories of those who fought in the Battle of Verdun, and through the Battle, conserving the memory of the First World War. The documents also provide a study base for French and German historians who wish to research particular aspects of the battle. It is also open to those wishing to research their relatives’ involvement in the 1914-1918 war and all those who are interested in the history of the First World War. Finally, the centre provides the source material necessary for the creation of educational tools by the Education Service of the Memorial.
The majority of the documentation concerns the First World War and the Battle of Verdun in particular, seen from many different perspectives: military history, witness accounts, stories, novels, military studies, university studies, military manuals… There are over 4000 monographs, including rare ones such as “The French Armies in the First World War”, periodicals, newspapers from that period, over 600 regimental accounts that include almost daily records of the battles the regiments participated in, private archives such as letters, travel books and iconographic resources such as photographs, postcards, posters and engravings. All these objects are classified by theme. There are also a large number of material objects such as helmets, uniforms and weapons.
Edited by the Regional Centre of Documentation of Poitou-Charente, “BCDI 3 Special” is a software tool designed for searching and updating databases which is adaptable to many different libraries and centres of documentation. This system respects the norms of document exchange. Only the monographs have been integrated: a catalogue, organised alphabetically by author is available in the consultation room. The inventories are currently in the process of being digitalised, and the collection will eventually be available online.
The centre is open to everyone: students, researchers or enthusiasts. The opening hours are Monday to Friday, 9:00 to 12:00 and 14:00 to 18:00. Closed: 17th to 31st December. The reading room has six work stations that are laptop friendly and a photocopy machine. The documents are not available for loan. Admission is generally by appointment (telephone, fax, letter or e-mail). The normal delay for replies is two weeks. A detailed notice of reproduction will be sent in advance for copying documents. Teachers can borrow an educational pack for a maximum period of three weeks, according to availability. The pack includes the educational worksheet, a map of the site, a colour guide “See and understand Verdun and its Battle Field”, the visitor’s guide to the Memorial and the film “In the footsteps of the soldiers of Verdun” which is also projected at the museum. Requests can be made by phone, fax, letter or e-mail. If the postage costs are paid by the Verdun Memorial, it is imperative that the teacher deposit the pack at the welcome desk of the museum along with their entrance ticket on the day of their visit.
Every year, the Verdun Memorial welcomes approximatly 60,000 European students. The Education Service has established close links with the Ministery for Education, and with the support of the General Inspection of History and Geography is working on multidiscilinary projects. Apart from discovering the informative museographic space, teachers and students can make use of the learning tools put at their disposal by the documentation service of the Memorial.
Organising a visit to Verdun
There are three main options:
1. A completely autonomous visit:
The teacher creates their own itinerary according to the sites that particularly interest them. They organise their own schedule and commentary. The educational service of the Verdun Memorial puts learning tools at their disposal to help with the preparation and exploration of the site.
2. Guided tour by the Tourist Office of Verdun:
A guide accompanies the group along a pre-planned route. For more information and prices, please contact the Verdun Tourisme (03.29.86.14.18 or visit http://www.verdun-tourisme.com/) or Tourist office (03.29.84.55.55 or visit www.tourisme-verdun.fr)
3. A guided tour with an independent guide.
What is there to see?
There are three different circuits:
1. The Basic Circuit: The Battle Field of the Right Bank
By coach, this circuit lasts between four and six hours depending on the exact sites visited (lunch breaks not included). It covers an area of approximately 4 km around the Verdun Memorial.
The Top Attractions
- The Verdun Memorial
- The site of the destroyed village of Fleury
- Douaumont Fort
- Douaumont Cemetary and National Necropolis
- Fort de Vaux
- The Trench of Bayonets
- The Froidterre Fort
- The Thiaumont Fort
- Section of the Souville Fort
- The Infantry shelters
- Sites of destroyed villages
- A few monuments…
To Extend Your Visit
- The World Centre of Peace
- The Underground Citadel
- The monuments of the city of Verdun
Why a Verdun Remembrance Foundation ?
By Guy Pedroncini, President of the National Committee for the Memory of Verdun.
The Battle of Verdun has become the symbol of the First World War. By not rebuilding their houses on the battle field, people have respected it as a sanctuary. Only cemeteries and the Memorial-Museum of Verdun, situated in Fleury-on-Douaumont, have been erected in this space that was martyrised by war.
In 1963, to incarnate and keep alive the memory of this bloody battle, which saw almost all the French regiments in action, Maurice Genevoix launched an appeal for donations. It extended to all the communes in France, in order to include the whole country in the creation of the Memorial. The museum, along with the numerous sites maintained on the battle fields, has become a veritable place of pilgrimage for the survivors of the war and their families.
From 1992-96 onwards, the passing away of the last former soldiers who fought at Verdun has significantly affected the number of visitors to the museum and the other battle field sites. Without waiting for the financial situation to deteriorate irrevocably, former soldiers of all generations of combat were invited to respond to a national appeal launched in 1996 to bolster the capital of the Verdun Remembrance Foundation, created at that time under the protection of the Fondation de France.
The capital collected or contractually promised is currently in the region of €7,800,000 (of which €7,400,000 was given by the military sphere, €190,000 by public structures, €90,000 by 650 communes and €120,000 by financial returns); there is still approximately 2 million euros to be collected in order to reach the amount required for the interest to be enough to finance the functioning and upkeep of the museum, its free access to the 70,000 school children and students who visit every year and the a European expansion to facilitate historical research, publications and documentations.
This project to assure the eternal memory of the battle that one President deemed “the longest, the bloodiest and most glorious of France” is most appropriate in communicating the idea of Peace, at a moment when Europe is becoming once again unified after the split that arose from the Treaty of Verdun in 1843.
We kindly thank the communes that have already provided their support, and hope for the engagement of those who have not yet taken part in this great project.