Sunday, 14 June 2009

2006 The Long NOT Winding Road - History Lesson (Part 1)

Leaving Germany behind Ian is taking things easy as we enjoy the countryside, crops being harvested and large birds of prey by the side of the motorway and armed police at the French border. The usual everyday occurrences really.
At one time we got involved with a group of eight German registered Porches driving in convoy. I got the feeling that they did not like an old Italian motorcycle breaking up their group and if one overtook then they all had to. This started to get dangerous as the drivers were determined to stay in formation, even if it meant that Ian had to brake suddenly to avoid going into the back of the car that had just overtaken him! These were certainly the worse cases of driving we had seen on the continent in all of our travels.
Arriving at our destination, Verdun, at 14:00, we head straight for our usual hotel, Prunellia. After getting ourselves sorted it was time for a stroll into the town centre. The road towards our destination was typically French with window shutters giving the air of abandonment.

The sign for the local Post Office gave the feeling that maybe there could be life in the area.

The River Meuse runs through the centre of Verdun with the area quayside area known as Quai de Londres in recognition of the funding given by the people of London to help in the rebuilding process after WWI.

As the Meuse flows through, it creates several canals, giving the feeling that we could almost be back in Venice, All the was missing were the gondoliers.

In times past, Verdun was a walled town, much of which is no longer visible, although the Chaussee Tower, built about 1380 still survives. It is the town's main gateway overlooking the largest bridge. It is the lynch pin of Verdun's defensive wall. The gateway with wooden portcullis consists of a classical arcade with pediment which were added in 1690.
From 1754 the gate was used as the royal military prison with access via a drawbridge.

As part of Verdun's defence system, the Litigation Tower was equipped with bombards. These were the forerunner to the cannon. It was also defended with archers. Also in its past the Litigation Tower has been used as a law court, hence its name.
Originally built in about 1380 in the shape of a horseshoe, it was open at the back and could been seen from the far bank of the River Meuse. The meant that any attacking enemy could not entrench itself there. It was not until the 17th century that the tower was completed with the addition of a small door, the Postern of the Puty that opened out onto the Moson canal.

Verdun is synonymous with WWI and the epic battle that took place from February 16th to December 15th 1916, resulting in 250,000 dead and 500,000 wounded, during which time it is estimated that 40 million shells were fired. More information on the battle can be found here.

The Avenue de la Victoire starts at the quayside and goes right up the hill through town with a statue overlooking the area below, aided by two Russian field guns that had been captured by the Germans and then taken from them by the French army, although I'm sure they could be from WWII.

Walking through the town and up the hill, heading towards the cathedral, we stopped so Guzzisue could take this photo. It shouts "Italy" to me and I can imagine being in an Italian village or town descending towards the Mediterranean. Maybe it's the romantic Ted peeping through?

Like all of Verdun the cathedral and the adjoining Bishop's Palace were not spared from the bombardment delivered by the Germans during the siege. The results are plain to see on the following print.

There is still visible damage to the outside wall although this could also have been due to a battle from WWII.
The building is still in the process of being renovated from all damages incurred throughout the troubled times. The pillars inside the crypt give a small indication as to life and events inside the trenches. First we have a field gun ready to fire on the enemy.

The usual tactic was after bombarding the enemies trenches for a period of time, the foot soldiers would then cross through No Man's Land, to be greeted by gun shots.

There is also the comradeship

but some did understandably loose their nerve and this could happen.

Many millions paid with their lives.

Note once again the use of the skull and cross bones on the left hand side, a theme that has been handed down through the centuries as we have already seen in All Saints Church, Kostnice, with the skull sculptures.

More information on the cathedral is located here.

Walking away from the town centre we came across The Guardians Of Verdun.

Across the road from this monument is the local Tourist Information Centre, so in we ventured and booked ourselves onto a coach tour.


Affer said...

Ahah - into an area I know reasonably well now. Not the prettiest drive, up from Strasbourg, but the entry roads to Verdun always served to remind me of how ghastly it must have been to fight, to live or die there, in 1914-18. I felt ghosts everywhere.

Affer said...

Hope I'm not jumping the gun here, but did you visit nearby Montfaucon, and the associated, very beautiful American Cemetery at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon?

bikerted said...

Just Googled it Affer, so I think that gives you the answer. Does seem an interesting place to visit (sometime).

I know what you mean by ghosts everywhere. Even travelling through areas of our country where tragic events have occured, we have a sense of the history trying to reach into our bodies and try to pull out our soul.

Visiting places where major battles took place in WWI during a fine summer's day cannot convey the hardship of trench warfare of nearly 100 years ago. At least we have the BBC series, The Great War, that can do that for us.

Affer said...

As I walked the path to the top of Montfaucon, I stumbled on something: a piece of rusty iron - a fragment of shell casing.

I couldn't help but think: did it hurt someone - kill someone?