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Verdun, France

Updated on September 24, 2010
Old fortification, Verdun, France. Photo by Liam Heffernan
Old fortification, Verdun, France. Photo by Liam Heffernan

Verdun is a city in France, site of one of the greatest battles of World War I. It is situated in the northeast, in the fertile valley of the Meuse and in the department of that name. Its strategic position between the upland forests of the Argonne and Woevre, commanding one of the principal routes between the Rhineland to the east and Champagne and Paris to the west, was recognized in early antiquity; indeed, its name derives from the Celtic Verodunum, meaning "great fortress." Already an urban center in the days of Roman Gaul.

Verdun became an episcopal see in the 4th century. During the partitions of the Frankish empire after the death of Charlemagne, Verdun was included within the unstable central kingdom by the treaty made there in 843. By the late 10th century, German control was undisputed. Though the county of Verdun became a fief held by the bishop, the town itself developed as a fairly independent city of the Holy Roman Empire and grew prosperous during the Middle Ages by virtue of its active trade.

Its strategic significance led to its next major shift in political control, when Henry II, as "imperial vicar," took it under French administration in 1552. It passed formally to France by the Peace of Westphalia (1648). The Marquis de Vauban, Louis XIV's great military engineer, modernized its fortifications, taking particular advantage of the steep slopes of the Meuse. When France lost Alsace-Lorraine to the German Empire in 1871, Verdun, with Vauban's works brought up to date, became the key to the French eastern defenses. It sustained the assaults of the Germans during World War I but fell to them during World War II; it suffered major damage in both wars and has been largely rebuilt. Architectural features include an llth century cathedral, a 14th century city gate, and a baroque city hall. Principal modern industries are candymaking, food processing, and leathercraft, and there is some hardware manufacturing.

Verdun, France:
55100 Verdun, France

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Ossuarium of Douaumont. Photo by Harry de Bruijn
Ossuarium of Douaumont. Photo by Harry de Bruijn


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