More background info:
see under Verdun
Douaumont was the name of a small, single-street village with a population of 100-200 to the north-west of the Fort
that also took this name, like the hill it is located on (and later, after the war, the ossuary and war cemetery
to the south-west took that name too). The village was completely destroyed in the Battle of Verdun, and after the war it was decided not to rebuild it, just like about half a dozen other communes that were likewise erased by the war. Today there is only a memorial chapel commemorating the village. Today the area of the village has been administratively merged with Vaux
to form the entity ‘Douaumont-Vaux’.
What there is to see: These are the main sites in these hills that are given their own separate chapters on this website:
In addition there are several monuments and war remnants dotted around. The first significant monument you get to is the “wounded lion” monument. This is dedicated to the French 130th Division and also marks the furthest that the German Army ever managed to get (in July 1916) towards Verdun during the long battle.
A short distance behind the Douaumont ossuary, carrying on along the D913 road, you come to the oldest of all the memorials here, called Tranchée des Baïonnettes, so ‘bayonet trench’. This name goes back to the legend that when clearing the battlefield after the war one party found a row of 39 bayonets protruding from the ground. It was then assumed that these belonged to the 39 soldiers found in the earth and that they had been buried alive by shelling, though it has since been concluded that they must have been buried here by comrades and the graves were marked by their guns being stuck in the ground. These were replaced with crosses and the whole site was given a colonnaded superstructure.
Roughly halfway between the turn-off of route D913D at the Douaumont necropolis
and Fort Douaumont
you pass on your right some trenches
, some old and half filled in with soil, but a short stretch has been reconstructed to full depth and with walls secured by wood panelling.
To the north-west of Fort Douaumont is the location of where the village of Douaumont used to be, which like several other villages around here was completely destroyed in the battle of 1916 and never rebuilt. Today there’s only a memorial chapel, a sculpture and a couple of information panels.
Just to the west of the large cemetery at Douaumont is what little is left of Ouvrage de Thiaumont. This was a secondary fort at a strategic location that was therefore bitterly fought over. Between June and October 1916 it changed hands several times over. The fort was completely destroyed by shelling. Today the moonscape left behind is partially overgrown but has only a few trees. This means you can see the scarred land and in between are a few broken metal remnants of fortifications, thus indicating the ferociousness of the battle here.
Just south of Thiaumont is the large Jewish memorial, or “Monument Israelite”, a large bright stone wall with Hebrew inscriptions and one in French that spells out the dedication to the French Jews, and allied Jews, who died for France between 1914 and 1918.
At the opposite, eastern end of the Douaumont war cemetery stands the Muslim Memorial dedicated to the ca. 70,000 Muslims who fought for France (e.g. from Morocco). The style of the monument incorporates elements of Islamic architecture. This was erected rather late, only in 2006.
A bit south of the lion monument a track into the forest off the D913 leads to the location of Fort Souville (Fort de Souville). This was a fort the Germans did not manage to take, despite their desperate efforts. The fort was later given up and has fallen into dereliction. Today, some casemates remnants can be seen. Deeper into the wood, beyond the formal path more can be found including the steel dome of a retractable 155mm gun. Nearby are some ruins that could be accessed but better shouldn’t as parts of them are quite unstable and crumbly.
on the wooded hills and ridges north-east of the city of Verdun
in the east of France
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: varies, but the main sights are clearly signposted and thus easy to reach; some charge an admission fee, other sites are freely accessible.
Details: To explore these hills you really need a car, or at least a motorbike. Cycling would be tough given the many gradients in this hilly terrain, but wouldn’t be entirely impossible.
There is only very limited public transport, apparently, namely by shuttle bus (see under Fort Vaux
) between the main Douaumont sites and the Tranchée des Baïonnettes, departing from the Mémorial de Verdun
hourly from 10.15 a.m., daily between June and September, only at weekends in April/May and October/November. But you’d first have to get to the Mémorial. And as this would force you into the hourly intervals, though, it is quite inconvenient; so you really rather need your own vehicle to explore these sites with maximum flexibility.
There are different access roads, but coming from the city of Verdun
the D112 is the most useful; it branches off the main route leading east out of town, the D630, at a junction just behind the entrance to the large cemetery on the eastern outskirts of Verdun. The first stretch of this road is called Rue de Fleury, then you cross the D603 and carry on right along Rue de Tavannes. Stay on this crossing the railway line and then the road will begin to wind its way up the hillside.
Eventually you come to a crossroads by the lion monument (see above
). From here the main sites are all signposted. Turning right here on to the D913 and driving ca. 500 yards takes you to the place where the track leading to the remnants of Fort Souville begins.
The remnants of Fort Tavannes are in the forest to the east of the spot where the D913A turns off the D913. The tunnel de Tavannes is in the forest to the south-west of this spot. Trenches and yet more ruins can be spotted from the roadside here and there, so keep your eyes open for those.
The memorial chapel of the lost village of Douaumont is reached by an unmarked road branching off the D913 just north of the Muslim memorial, opposite where the D193C rejoins the D913. The very narrow road leads through forest until you come to a junction, where you have to turn right and immediately right again to get to the car park by the chapel.
Time required: at the very minimum one long full day, only for the main sites given separate chapters here, better two days to spread it out a bit more and make the pace more leisurely. Especially if you want to hike and explore the other, less commodified sites and fort ruins as well, you will need a couple days more.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
For the really dedicated, there is more to discover in the forested hills near Verdun beyond those specific places picked out above, e.g. the remnants of Fort Tavannes
to the south of Fort Vaux
and Douaumont, or the nearby tunnel de Tavannes
Also of interest could be the Abri-Caverne des Quatre Cheminées south-west of the Ouvrage de Thiaumont or especially the larger complex of Ouvrage de Froideterre further south-west still. Note that the interior of the fortifications and casemates found there may be accessible but are not commodified for visitors, so going in, ignoring the warning signs, would be at your own risk!
For more WW1
sites located not on these hills but further away see under Verdun
– as well as the Somme
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The forest landscape around all those WW1 scars and memorials is quite appealing in itself, though it’s rather hard to shake off those war associations when hiking here.
The nearby city of Verdun
itself is also quite pretty.
For more see under France
- Verdun battlefield 01 - lion monument
- Verdun battlefield 02 - Tranchee des Baionettes
- Verdun battlefield 03 - the oldest memorial here
- Verdun battlefield 04 - no longer any bayonets
- Verdun battlefield 05 - but crosses and barbed wire
- Verdun battlefield 06 - Ouvrage de Thiaumont
- Verdun battlefield 07 - war relics
- Verdun battlefield 08 - old trench
- Verdun battlefield 09 - reconstructed trench
- Verdun battlefield 10 - bunker ruins
- Verdun battlefield 11 - now green battlefield moonscape and Shelter 320
- Verdun battlefield 12 - Jewish memorial
- Verdun battlefield 13 - Muslim memorial
- Verdun battlefield 14 - ruins by the roadside
- Verdun battlefield 15 - more relics deeper in the forest
- Verdun battlefield 16 - track at Fort Souville
- Verdun battlefield 17 - casematte at Souville
- Verdun battlefield 18 - like a Star Wars helmet almost