Historic sites in France

If you’re looking to discover historic sites in France then there's a wealth of amazing attractions to explore. From stunning roman ruins and medieval fortresses to World War battlefields and beyond, there’s a staggering array of historic sites in France, deriving from a history filled with everything from bloody conquests to ostentatious royalty and ecclesiastical grandeur.

You can explore the France historic sites search map above or browse our list of historic sites in France below, then plan some great things to see on your trips. Once you’ve browsed the historical sites of France, use our itinerary planner tool to plan your France history tour, then print off a free pocket guidebook which you can use when visiting your favourite historical places in France. Our database of France's historic sites is growing all the time, but we may not cover them all. If you know of other historic sites in France, you can always add them to Trip Historic now by visiting our upload page.

Top Historic Destinations in France: Historic Sites in Paris | Historic Sites in Reims | Historic Sites in Marseille | Historic Sites in Lyon | Historic Sites in Arles | Historic Sites in Nimes |

Historical sites in France: Regional Index

France: Editor's Picks

Photo by zoonabar (cc)

1. Palace of Versailles

Few historic sites in France showcase the opulence and grandeur of King Louis XIV as the Palace of Versailles, once the residence of this famous monarch and former seat of the French Government.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Palace of Versailles was originally the hunting lodge of France’s King Louis XIII, but was transformed into a magnificent residence by his son and successor, Louis XIV.

The ostentatious monarch built the Grand Apartment of the King and Queen which included the magnificent Hall of Mirrors before moving both his court and the government of France to Versailles in 1682. And so it remained until the French Revolution in 1789.

In the 19th Century King Louis-Philippe turned it into the Museum of the History of France. The gardens of the Palace of Versailles, designed by André Le Nôtre at the instruction of Louis XIV, are equally spectacular and took forty years to complete.

There are numerous places to visit at the Palace of Versailles and a range of tour options. Audio headsets are available as are guided tours. When visiting the Palace of Versailles, you can also see Marie Antoinette’s estate and The Grande Trianon.

Photo by misotonnkotu (cc)

2. Mont Saint-Michel

An imposing rocky outcrop in Normandy, Mont Saint-Michel is the site of a stunning Romanesque Abbey, medieval church and historic battlements. It is one of the more picturesque historic sites in France.

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Mont Saint-Michel is an imposing historic village in Normandy, France which dominates the skyline from its position atop a small rocky island. Joined to the coast via a causeway, Mont Saint-Michel is best known for its Benedictine Abbey and Parish Church.

A settlement in Roman times, Mont Saint-Michel was later a stronghold of the Romano-Bretons until it was destroyed by the invading Franks. The area was to see a revival in the early eighth century when a church was built on the site. Legend has it that the church was built after the Archangel Michael appeared to Aubert, the Bishop of Avranches, instructing him to build the house of worship there.

However, Mont Saint-Michel rose to real prominence with the coming of the Normans when William I, Duke of Normandy, conquered the area and settled a community of Benedictine monks on the site. From the 11th to the 16th century the Romanesque Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel was constructed and expanded time and again, forming the imposing structure that is seen today. It was a prominent site for Pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages. During this time a village grew up around the Abbey with a maze of streets and buildings that can still be walked today.

Mont Saint-Michel was attacked by the English during the Hundred Years' War, but never captured, and the site was used as a prison during the French Revolution. In 1979 Mont Saint-Michel was declared a UNESCO world heritage historic site.

Today visitors flock to Mont Saint-Michel to view the remarkable Abbey and Church and to stroll through the ancient streets. Be warned however that the climb to Abbey is demanding. Many other sites remain including the medieval ramparts, the Mont Saint-Michel Museum of History, a Maritime Museum and the 14th century Tiphaine's house.

There is a tourist office next to the site entrance. Guided tours to Mont Saint-Michel are available as are audio guides for an additional cost.

Photo by Wolfgang Staudt (cc)

3. Nimes Arena

Nimes Arena is amongst the best preserved Roman historic sites in France, if not the world and is arguably better preserved than even the Colosseum in Rome.

DID YOU KNOW?

Nimes Arena (Arenes de Nimes), also known as Nimes Amphitheatre, is amongst the best preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world.

A Roman Marvel
Built during the reign of the Emperor Augustus in the first century AD, Nimes Arena is a marvel of Roman engineering. A vast oval with a stunning façade resplendent with archways and ornamentation, Nimes Arena could seat up to 24,000 people in its 34 terraces.

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All the people of Nimes - then called Nemausus - would sit according to their social status and watch the games played there. These would range from animal hunts involving lions, tigers and even elephants to the famous gladiatorial matches. Executions would also be held at Nimes Arena, in the form of those convicted to death being thrown to the animals.

A Visigoth Fortress
In the sixth century, under the Visigoths, Nimes Arena began to play a military role. Transformed from a sports arena to a castle fortress or "castrum arena" complete with a moat, Nimes Arena was a sort of emergency shelter of the people of the town in the event of attack.

From Castle to Village
Nimes Arena would go on to play an even more elaborate role in the twelfth century when it became the seat of the viscounty of Nimes and home to a chateau. In the eighteenth century, this went even further with the establishment of a whole 700-strong village within its walls. It was only in 1786 that Nimes Arena began to be restored to its original grandeur.

Nimes Arena Today
Now fully restored, Nimes Arena is a popular tourist attraction and allows people to really experience what it would have been like for Roman spectators. Including an interactive audio guide and some detailed exhibits, the site is now a fitting museum of its past. However, beyond just its historic significance, Nimes Arena is also still used for events today.

Photo by Historvius

4. Somme battlefields

The Somme battlefields are one of the most tragic historic sites in France. They are made up of a series of sites where the Battle of the Somme was fought during World War I.

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The Circuit of Remembrance is a route touring the Somme battlefields in France. The Battle of the Somme was an infamous First World War battle from July to November 1916, renowned for the controversial tactics employed by British forces and the exceptional number of casualties borne by the Allied forces.

A Flawed Plan
With the Allied and German forces in France deadlocked in trenches, British commanders planned to break the stalemate by destroying the German trenches and then having the British soldiers slowly walk across no-man’s land to capture them. This plan proved disastrous. Firstly, both the British troops and the French forces were already massively weakened by previous battles. This meant fewer French soldiers along the front line and that the remaining British soldiers were inexperienced volunteers, brought in to repopulate the depleted army.

Secondly, the plan was inextricably flawed. Not only did the extensive preparation by the British and the ongoing bombardment alert German forces to the upcoming attack, but the bombing raids and shelling barely dented the German fortifications. Therefore, when the soldiers started making their way across France’s muddy plains to the enemy lines, the Germans were prepared. Those who managed to make their way to the German trenches were then forced to try and return, unable to scale the barbed wire.

Circuit of Remembrance
A forty mile route, the Circuit of Remembrance or Somme battlefields tour starts from either the town of Albert or that of Peronne, winding through numerous battle sites, memorials and museums. This Somme battlefields tour explores the individual battles as well as going through individual towns occupied by different forces with signs along the way. Those who wish to embark on this route of Somme battlefields can download audio guides to the route for free from various sources, including from the website of the Historial de la Grande Guerre museum.

Many of the routes of the Somme battlefields are carried out by taxi and the taxi firms in the area have prepared itineraries for different routes. You can also walk the route (guided or not), do it by cart, by plane or by train, the latter route being the same as that used to carry supplies to the soldiers. The trip can take anything from half a day to a full day or more, depending on your level of interest.

Photo by Henry_Marion (cc)

5. Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral is a gothic cathedral originally built in the 12th century in Paris and one of the most iconic historic sites in France.

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Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris) is a gothic cathedral in Paris’s fourth arrondissement.

Original construction began in 1163, with the first stone supposedly laid in the presence of Pope Alexander III. At this time, it was the project of the bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully who built it as a religious focal point in the city dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the original “Lady of Paris” or “Notre Dame de Paris”.

Notre Dame Cathedral has since undergone numerous building and refurbishment campaigns, with several religious, political and royal leaders determined to leave their mark on this impressive building. It was also necessary to rebuild parts of it following the French Revolution, when much of Notre Dame and its religious artifacts were destroyed.

Notre Dame Cathedral is still an operating church, but visitors are also welcome to tour the building and appreciate both its beauty and sheer size. Some of the highlights at Notre Dame include its stained glass windows, gothic architecture and many sculptures.

Free tours are conducted throughout the year, Monday to Friday at 2 and 3pm (except the first Friday of the month and every Friday during Lent) as well as Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30pm.

The nearby tower outside the cathedral is also worth a visit. Dating back to the 13th century, it houses the 17th Century Emmanuel Bell as well as Viollet-le-Duc’s 19th century chimera and gargoyles. Those feeling particularly fit can climb its 387 steps for magnificent views.

Also recommended is the archeological crypt just to the west of Notre Dame Cathedral and located under the Parvis. This underground crypt was built to protect ancient ruins found in 1965 and can be accessed via a staircase opposite Notre Dame Cathedral, near the Police Headquarters.

Finally, Notre Dame’s Treasury houses some of the relics of the Passion of Christ including the famous Crown of Thorns.

Photo by Omarukai (cc)

6. The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower in Paris is on pretty much any list of top attractions in France. This vast iron monument was completed in 1889 and one of the world’s most iconic landmarks.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) is an imposing iron monument on Paris’ Champ de Mars by the river Seine.

The Eiffel Tower was built between 1887 and 1889 based on the design of engineer Gustave Eiffel, after whom the tower was named. In fact Eiffel’s design was chosen out of 107 other proposals as part of a competition to create an iron structure as the entrance way to Paris’ Universal Exhibition World Fair or ‘Exposition Universelle’. The intention was to mark the centennial of the French Revolution.

Work on the 15 metre foundations began on 26 January 1887 and the Eiffel Tower was inaugurated on 31 March 1889 when Eiffel himself climbed the Tower’s 1,710 steps and planted the French flag at its peak.

At that time, the Eiffel Tower’s 312 metres in height made it the tallest building in the world, only eclipsed in 1929 with the construction of New York’s Chrysler Building. Today the Eiffel Tower is 324 metres tall due to the later addition of antennas, making it the tallest building in Paris and the fifth tallest in the world.

The Eiffel Tower is a tourist hotspot and visitors can climb or use the lifts to reach the first or second floors, the latter of which is 115 metres high. The most expansive views can be found on the Eiffel Tower’s third level at 276 metres, which has its own separate lift from the second floor. A backstage tour is available, which details the workings of the Eiffel Tower and its history.

Photo by acor-cannes (cc)

7. Abbaye Saint-Victor

Marseille is home to many medieval historic sites in France including Abbaye Saint-Victor, an 11th century abbey with a fascinating crypt.

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Abbaye Saint-Victor is an eleventh century abbey in Marseille dedicated to the Roman soldier turned Christian martyr, Saint Victor. There were originally two such abbeys in Marseille, built in the mid-fifth century, but both were destroyed by the Saracens in the eighth or ninth century. Two centuries were to pass before just the single abbey was rebuilt.

In the eighteenth century, Abbaye Saint-Victor was used to store straw and as a prison. Many of the riches of Abbaye Saint-Victor were stolen at this time.

One of the most interesting aspects of the fortress-like Abbaye Saint-Victor is its crypt, which houses a series of early Christian tombs and sarcophagi.

Photo by lorentey (cc)

8. Carcassonne

Carcassonne is a fortified town in France with a history dating back to before the Roman era. It is one of the UNESCO listed historic sites of France.

DID YOU KNOW?

Carcassonne, known as “La Cite” is a fortified town in southern France whose important strategic position between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic led to it being inhabited since before the Ancient Roman era.

Carcassonne is believed to have first been a hill fort known as an “oppidum” created in the sixth century BC and which formed a vital link between Europe as a whole and the Iberian Peninsula.

In the first century BC, Carcassonne and the area in which it was located were incorporated into the Roman Empire and, in the third and fourth centuries, the town began taking shape with the construction of a mighty wall. This, now largely ruined, wall is still visible in Carcassonne today.

In the Visigoth era, Carcassonne was a powerful stronghold, leading to a series of construction campaigns. However, it was from the twelfth century onwards that the structure of Carcassonne really took hold, initially with the building of the Count’s Castle or “Chateau Comtal”. The medieval fortifications seen today were built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Throughout its history, Carcassonne has been considered untouchable. Even before its walls were built it was the subject of two failed sieges in the thirteenth century and, during the Hundred Years’ War, an attack was never even attempted.

It was only in the nineteenth century that Carcassonne began to suffer deterioration was it was exploited for materials. The Carcassonne seen today was reconstructed by Violett-le-Duc.

There is much to see at Carcassonne, including its incredible double fortified 3 km walls and 52 towers. There are audio guided tours of the majestic citadel and visitors can explore the cathedral, both built by the then ruling Trencavels.

Since 1997, Carcassonne has been a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Photo by bani 31 (cc)

9. La Maison Carrée

The Maison Carrée in Nîmes is a staggeringly well preserved Roman temple, and one of the best-preserved examples of Roman historic sites in France or anywhere in the world.

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La Maison Carrée, or Square House, in Nîmes is a staggeringly well preserved Roman temple, and one of the best-preserved examples of a Roman building anywhere in the world – for fans of Ancient Rome, La Maison Carrée is simply a must-see site.

Originally built in 16BC by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa – the close friend and confidant of Emperor Augustus – the building was dedicated to Agrippa’s sons Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar. During this period, as Augustus consolidated his hold on power and confirmed his status as the first true Roman Emperor, he undertook many building programmes across the Empire and La Maison Carrée is a great example of this. During this period Agrippa was also responsible for the construction of the original Pantheon in Rome.

La Maison Carrée was lucky to survive the fall of the Empire. This is mostly due to the fact that the building became a church in the fourth century. Through the ages La Maison Carrée has been used as a consul's house, stables and the town’s archive. It has been partly renovated and restored over the years, but remains true to its Roman origins and is certainly not a recreation. Nowadays La Maison Carrée is one of several well-preserved Roman sites in Nîmes, which also boasts a Roman Amphitheatre and a grand tower built by Augustus, the Magne Tower.

Visitors to La Maison Carrée can view this stunning structure in all its glory as well as watching a multimedia presentation inside the building which brings Roman Nîmes back to life.

Photo by Historvius

10. The Catacombs of Paris

Among the creepier historic sites in France are the Paris Catacombs, a set of underground quarries housing around six million human skeletons dating back to the 18th century.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Catacombs of Paris (Les Catacombes de Paris) came into use as a burial place for Parisian bones in the eighteenth century following the overpopulation of Parisian cemeteries and the closure of the Cemetery of Innocents (Les Innocents).

The Catacombs are underground quarries encompassing a portion of Paris’ old mines near Place Denfert-Rochereau and, at the time, were outside the city gates. The official decision to use the quarries was made on 9 November 1785 and they were blessed on 7 April 1786, following which bones from the Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs cemetery were moved there. Further remains were amassed at the Catacombs of Paris over the years, including those who died in several riots during the French Revolution. Overall, approximately six million human skeletons lie within the Catacombs of Paris.

A fascinating, unusual and somewhat haunting tourist attraction, The Catacombs of Paris are well worth a visit for those who are not claustrophobic or easily spooked. A tour of the Catacombs takes approximately an hour and involves climbing 83 steps.

Photo by Historvius

11. Chateau d’If

Chateau d’If was a sixteenth century island fortress turned notorious prison. Like many historic sites in France and around the world, it is the setting for a novel, in this instance The Count of Monte Cristo.

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Île d’If (Island of Yew Trees) is a tiny, three hectare island in the Bay of Marseille and the Chateau d’If has been described as France’s answer to Alcatraz. It was built in 1524 on the orders of King Francis I who wanted to defend the mainland from potential water-based onslaughts although it never actually had to dispel an advance. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V prepared an attack on Marseille in July 1531 but abandoned his plan soon after.

The fortress soon became a virtually inescapable prison due to its location and the fast-moving currents that rendered even the strongest swimmers unable to make the 1,500m swim. Described as a dumping ground for political and religious prisoners (including 3,500 Huguenots) as well as murderers, rapists and thieves and conditions were renowned as some of the most harsh and brutal in all of France. The prison did retribution, not rehabilitation and prisoners, many of whom were chained to the walls died of neglect and subsequent insanity.

Famous inmates included Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans who was known as Philippe Égalité, early French Revolution leader and renowned ladies’ man Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau and Paris Commune leader Gaston Crémieux who was executed by firing squad there in 1871. One inmate who is often quoted – wrongly – as spending time at Chateau d’If was the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask, possibly an Italian nobleman, possibly, Philippe, the illegitimate brother of King Louis XIV or possibly a prisoner called Eustache Dauger but even today, his true identity stays a mystery.

Chateau d’If was a notorious prison in its own right but it became world famous with the publication of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo in 1844. It’s the tale of sailor Edmond Dantès who was wrongly accused of treason and spent 14 years at Chateau d’If before a daring yet ultimately successful escape.

The prison was demilitarised and closed on September 23rd 1890 and due to its infamy as a famous prison and also as the setting for one of literature’s great novels, the museum attracts thousands of visitors every year with tours culminating in the cell named after Dantès with a small fissure in the wall from where he was said to have escaped.

Photo by Tracey and Doug (cc)

12. Grotte de Font de Gaume

One of several prehistoric sites in France granted World Heritage status, Grotte de Font de Gaume is a prehistoric cave in Les Eyzies containing a series of paintings from this period.

DID YOU KNOW?

Grotte de Font de Gaume in Les Eyzies, France is a cave containing a series of prehistoric paintings dating back to the Stone Age.

From horses to reindeer and bison, the paintings at Grotte de Font de Gaume are truly fascinating and this is one of the few prehistoric cave sites still open to the public.

Note that some ‘paintings’ are eighteenth century rather than prehistoric, owing to previous visitors.

Grotte de Font de Gaume is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site protecting the Vezere Valley and its many prehistoric caves.

Photo by janebelindasmith (cc)

13. Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort

The Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort was one of a network of forts built on the French-German border after World War I. It is among the most fascinating military historic attractions in France.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort was one of a series of forts constructed by the French to defend their border with Germany following the First World War. Named after the then defence minister, Andre Maginot, the Maginot Line forts were a series of heavily defended subterranean fortifications.

The Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort (Ouvrage Schoenenbourg) was the largest of the Maginot Line forts. Made up of a series of areas spanning over 3 kilometres, the Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort was able to be entirely self sufficient, with everything from kitchens and water facilities to medical rooms and weaponry.

In reality however, during World War Two, the Germans attacked France not from the expected route through the Maginot Line, but via Belgium, meaning that the forts were unable to defend the nation.

Today, the Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort is open to visitors, who can explore this vast underground network. A visit lasts around 2 hours.

Photo by Historvius

14. Arc de Triomphe

This iconic 19th century Parisian landmark commemorates those who fought for the nation and is one of the top landmarks in France.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris is a 162 foot monumental arch in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle. It was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806, shortly following his victory at Austerlitz, with the aim of commemorating French soldiers, particularly those who fought in the Napoleonic Wars.

The Arc de Triomphe was completed in 1836 and is an imposing and ornate structure. Its many engravings include the dates of military victories, the names of important soldiers and depictions of war.

Visitors can climb to its peak for magnificent views or enter the small museum inside it, both of which are included in the entrance fee. A further attraction at the Arc de Triomphe is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier , which commemorates those who fought in the two World Wars with an eternal flame.

France: Site Index

Photo by @lain G (cc)

Abbaye aux Hommes

The Abbaye aux Hommes is an 11th century Romanesque abbey church in Caen, Normandy, known for being William the Conqueror’s gravesite.

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The Abbaye aux Hommes in Caen, also known as the Abbey of Saint-Étienne, is a beautiful 11th century Romanesque abbey church known for being William the Conqueror’s gravesite.

Consecrated in 1077, William built the Abbaye aux Hommes as atonement for his marriage to Matilda of Flanders, which the Pope had condemned due to their family connection. In 1087, upon his death, William was buried in the foundations. However his grave has been disturbed on multiple occasions, including during the Wars of Religion and later the French Revolution when his remains were scattered, resulting in only his thighbone remaining in the marked grave.

Through the centuries, the Abbaye aux Hommes has undergone many architectural renovations. The main abbey is made up of the original Romanesque nave and transept and the 13th century Gothic choir. A ribbed vault was added around 1120, making the abbey a forerunner of the Gothic architectural style, and the nine spires were a 13th century addition. Further additions occurred right up until the late 18th century. However, despite the many changes, much of the original Norman church remains and forms the core of what visitors see today.

The abbey buildings lead off from the south end of the church, including the refectory; they now house the town’s museum and municipal offices. Impressive features of the church and grounds include the grand staircases, designed without cement to seem as if they are floating, the ceremonial ‘Salle des Gardes’ room and the large collection of 17th and 18th century art and furniture gathered in the monastery.

One of the abbey’s most distinctive features is the white Caen stone it is carved from, this same stone was taken to Britain to build the Tower of London, Canterbury Cathedral and the abbeys of Durham, Norwich and Westminster. The abbey itself was used a model for many Norman churches built throughout England, making it a must-see for those interested in both French architecture and Britain’s Norman history.

The church is open to all visitors but taking a guided tour is recommended in order to fully appreciate all of the buildings incorporated into the church. These tours are available in French and English (although English-speaking tours will be filled quickly!) four times a day.

Contributed by Isabelle Moore

Photo by openroads.com (cc)

Agincourt Battlefield

Agincourt Battlefield is one of the most famous historic sites in France relating to the Hundred Years’ War, when it was the site of an important English victory over the French.

DID YOU KNOW?

Agincourt Battlefield near the town of Azincourt, France was the site of a fierce clash between English and French forces during the Hundred Years’ War.

On 25 October 1415, Saint Crispin’s Day, a small English army led by King Henry V faced a French force up to four times its size, determined expel the invaders. Yet, despite the numerical disadvantage, the English forces overcame the odds and won a famous victory, leaving Agincourt Battlefield littered with casualties.

One of the key factors involved in the English victory on Agincourt Battlefield was the quality of the English archers, whose decisive role would help to eliminate the threat from the heavily armoured French knights.

A more controversial aspect of the Battle of Agincourt was Henry V’s decision to slaughter the French prisoners. The main reason for this was that there were more prisoners than there were English soldiers to guard them, posing the threat that the prisoners would rise up against the English, however this has been a source of contention for centuries.

Agincourt Battlefield itself is mostly a grass covered area with no great marks of the long-ago fought battle. There is a small obelisk memorial at Agincourt Battlefield (pictured on the map) as well as several explanatory plaques.

For those wanting a history of Agincourt Battlefield and the battle itself, the Centre Historique Médiéval of Agincourt is a museum of French medieval history and does have exhibits about the Battle of Agincourt. It also offers audio guides for a tour of the battlefield or an English-speaking guide.

Photo by jinterwas (cc)

Aisne-Marne American Cemetery

This is a US World War I cemetery and the site of the Battle of Belleau Wood. It is one of many historic places in France commemorating this period in history.

DID YOU KNOW?

Aisne-Marne American Cemetery is a World War I cemetery on the site of the Battle of Belleau Wood, which took place from 1 June to 26 June 1918.

The Battle of Belleau Wood saw American marines stop the German army from crossing the Marne River, halting their progress and securing the area. In honour of the marines who fought in this battle, the woods were renamed “Woods of the Marine Brigade”.

There are 2,289 graves at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, mostly belonging to soldiers who fought in the area and 250 of which are unnamed. Several memorials to the Battle of Belleau Wood surround the cemetery, including a memorial chapel, battle markers and a memorial to 1,060 missing soldiers. There is also a visitor centre and there is a guide on site when Aisne-Marne American Cemetery is open.


TAGS: WW1 Battlefields in France

Photo by carolemadge1 (cc)

Alesia

Amongst the most important Roman historic sites in France is Alesia, the place where Julius Caesar defeated the Gauls in 52 BC.

DID YOU KNOW?

Alesia is an archaeological site on Mount Auxois in the Côte-d'Or and the place where Roman emperor Julius Caesar won his decisive victory over the Gauls in 52 BC. By this time, much of southern France was already within the Roman Empire, having been annexed in around the second century BC, but other regions were still holding out.

At Alesia, Caesar met and defeated one of his most formidable adversaries, the Gaulish Chieftain, Vercingetorix, leader of the Gauls’ uprising against the Romans. Yet, whilst Caesar was successful, he only won after a long siege, known as the Siege of Alesia.

The remains which have been uncovered in Alesia show that it became a prosperous Gallo-Roman city by the first century AD. Visitors to the Alesia archaeological site can see the ruins of several houses as well as public buildings and areas such as a theatre, a Roman administrative centre (basilica) and shops, all centred on a forum.

Also part of the Alesia site is the statue of Vercingetorix erected under the orders of Napoleon III in 1865, showing how this leader perceived this historic figure.

An impressive interpretative centre and archaeological museum have also recently opened here.

It is worth noting that there have been debates as to whether Alesia is the true site of this battle, with some historians claiming it occurred elsewhere.

Photo by Dominique Pipet (cc)

Ambrussum

A ruin of a Roman village where the Via Domitia crossed teh Vidourle River between present-day Nimes and Montpellier

DID YOU KNOW?

Northeast of the French village of Lunel, where the Via Domitia crossed the Vidourle River, lies the ruins of Roman Ambrussum.

This interesting archaeological sites holds three main attractions, the Iron Age defended settlement known as the Oppidum, a Roman era staging post complex and the remains of the nearby Roman bridge. The river was once spanned by this magnificent 11-arch stone bridge, the first century BC Pont Ambroix, of which only one arch now remains.

A new (2011) visitor's centre and museum exists for history buffs and one can walk the rutted old cobblestone roads to the Oppidum and see the reconstructed ramparts dating to before the Roman period.

Not an extensive or overly impressive site but certainly worth a look while in the area.

Photo by austinevan (cc)

Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls

Whilst not the best preserved of historical sites in France, the Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls was a 1st century Roman amphitheatre in Lyon.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls, translated as “Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules”, was an early first century amphitheatre in Lyon.

Lyon was once the Roman city of Lugdunum. Whilst the city was founded in approximately 44 BC, the Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls is thought to have been constructed in around 19 AD. The reference to the “Three Gauls” relates to Gaul’s main three provinces at the time, Belgica, Aquitania and Lugdunensis, and of which Lugdunum was the capital.

In the second century AD, it is thought that several Christians were martyred at the Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls in the course of the campaign of persecution against Christians at the time.

Only a fraction of the Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls remains, the rest seemingly swallowed up by modern roads and buildings which surround it. What does remain includes a section of its walls, its northern gate and some of its foundations.

Arch of Germanicus

The Arch of Germanicus was built in 19AD to honour Emperor Tiberius, his son Drusus and his adopted son Germanicus. It is one of the many historic sites in France dating to the Roman period.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Arch of Germanicus (Arc de Germanicus) is a Roman era arch in Saintes which was constructed in 19AD.

The arch was built to honour Roman Emperor Tiberius, his son Drusus and his adopted son Germanicus. Germanicus was the nephew of Tiberius and brother to Emperor Claudius. He was a successful Roman general and won a series of impressive victories against the Germanic tribes, hence his honourary name. The Arch of Germanicus celebrated these victories and honoured the commander, who had died the year before.

The Arch of Germanicus once stood at the head of a Roman bridge but was carefully moved and restored in the 19th century when the bridge was replaced. Today the Arch of Germanicus stands near the river and is open to view and visit.

Photo by burge5k (cc)

Arenes de Lutece

One of the lesser known but relatively important historic sites in France is Arenes de Lutece, an ancient Roman amphitheatre in Paris. Sadly, it is not as well preserved as other such sites.

DID YOU KNOW?

Arenes de Lutece or “Lutetia Arena” in Paris is one of the most important and rare remnants of the Gallo-Roman settlement of Lutetia. Lutetia or ‘Lutece’ was a settlement located on the site of what is now Paris. Originating in pre-Roman Gaul it then became a Roman city.

Originally built in the first to second century AD, Arenes de Lutece was a vast amphitheatre able to seat between 10,000 and 15,000 spectators. In 280 AD, Arenes de Lutece was sacked, leaving few remains.

Rediscovered during building works carried out in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Arenes de Lutece was subject to a great deal of renovation, sadly to the extent that much of what can be seen today – such as the tiered seating - is not original. Having said this, it is definitely worth seeing if you are interested in Roman Gaul. Some of the Roman stage settings are still visible and one does get a good sense of what the theatre would have looked like.

Today, Arenes de Lutece is more likely to be the site of skateboarding competitions and picnics rather than gladiator matches.

Photo by M_WalzEriksson (cc)

Arles Amphitheatre

Arles Amphitheatre is a UNESCO listed Roman built sports arena and among the best preserved historic sites in France from this period. In fact, it is still in use today.

DID YOU KNOW?

Arles Amphitheatre or “Amphithéâtre d'Arles” is a large sports arena built by the Romans around the first century BC or AD, during the reign of Augustus (27 BC–14 AD). At the time, Arles was flourishing as a Roman colony and benefiting from the construction of several monuments, of which Arles Amphitheatre was one of the grandest.

Built to accommodate over 20,000 spectators, with over a hundred Corinthian and Doric columns spread over two levels and at a length of 136 metres, Arles Amphitheatre remains one of the town’s most impressive sites. Its excellent state of preservation means that it is even still used today, not for chariot races, but for bullfighting. This excellent state of conservation is in spite the fact that it was used as a medieval fortification.

Arles Amphitheatre is now one of the town’s UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Photo by ellevalentine (cc)

Arles Archaeological Museum

The Arles Archaeological Museum houses an extensive collection of prehistoric and Ancient Roman artefacts, particularly from historical sites in France located in this region.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Arles Archaeological Museum, known as Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antique, displays an array of artefacts from archaeological sites in Arles and in the surrounding region.

From prehistoric funereal pieces to Roman statues and mosaics from the nearby sites such as the Arles Roman Theatre, the Arles Archaeological Museum is a good place to gain an overview of the town’s history. A visit can be done chronologically or by theme and guided tours are available every Sunday at 3pm (July-August daily).

Photo by Carlton Browne (cc)

Arles Roman Theatre

Arles Roman Theatre is one of many historic sites in France constructed during the reign of the Emperor Augustus.

DID YOU KNOW?

Arles Roman Theatre, known as the Théâtre antique d'Arles, is an Ancient Roman theatre in the Provence town of Arles which would have been used for a variety of theatrical shows.

Like Arles Amphitheatre, it was probably constructed in the late first century BC to early first century AD, during the reign of the Emperor Augustus (27 BC–14 AD). However, unlike its famous counterpart, which stands in an excellent state of preservation, Arles Roman Theatre has suffered significant deterioration.

Quarried for its materials in the Middle Ages and overtaken by other development, Arles Roman Theatre was only really rediscovered in the nineteenth century. By this time, only a fraction of its steps remained together with the orchestra and two solitary columns.

Many of the statues and other objects once contained in the Arles Roman Theatre are now displayed in museums, including the Arles Archaeological Museum. Its most notable piece, the Venus d' Arles, can now be found in the Louvre in Paris.

Now one of Arles’ UNESCO World Heritage sites, Arles Roman Theatre is the venue of an annual festival.

Photo by chelmsfordblue (cc)

Autun Cathedral

Autun Cathedral is a medieval church renowned for its decorations by famous French sculptor, Gislebertus.

DID YOU KNOW?

Autun Cathedral, known as Cathédrale Saint-Lazare, is a medieval church renowned for its decorations by famous French sculptor, Gislebertus.

Originally built between 1120 and 1130, Autun Cathedral was added to over the centuries, such as its stone spire, which dates to the 15th century. Amongst its most celebrated features is its Romanesque west tympanum of the Last Judgement.

Photo by buggolo (cc)

Avenue des Champs Elysees

The Avenue des Champs Elysees is a famous Parisian route dating back to the 17th century and one of the most popular tourist sites in France.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Avenue des Champs Elysees is a central street in Paris first established in the 1660’s and in which many of the France’s national events are marked, including parades to celebrate the victories of each of the two World Wars.

Today, Avenue des Champs Elysees is a focal point for both Parisians and tourists and is lined with some of the city’s most important sites such as the Arc de Triomphe. Of course, it is also  renowned for its myriad of shops.

Photo by maarjaara (cc)

Barbegal Aqueduct and Mill

The remains of a milling complex described as "the greatest known concentration of mechanical power in the ancient world" and remnants of the aqueduct that carried water to nearby Arles.

DID YOU KNOW?

The fascinating Barbegal Aqueduct and Mill archaeological site contains the ruins of an ancient water-powered milling complex and gives crucial insight into Roman use of water-powered engineering.

Not a technology often associated with the Romans, the Barbegal Mill demonstrates that far from being ignorant of such technology, the Romans actually pioneered this kind of harnessing of water power for industrial use.

Probably built in the early 2nd century AD, there are actually two ancient aqueducts that are found within the area of Barbegal, the Eygalières aqueduct and the Caparon aqueduct. Both served to supply the nearby city of Arles, Roman Arelate, while a sluice gate siphoned off water to the mill.

The Barbegal Mill itself was a huge complex built into the slope of the hillside and utilising 16 water wheels to power the massive flour mill. It is thought this industrial-scale operation provided the majority of the bread for the inhabitants of ancient Arles.

Today however, only a hint of this impressive complex survives. Sections of the Barbegal Aqueducts can still be seen as can the outer walls of the Barbegal Mill. The Museum of Arles contains a model of the complex demonstrating how it may have appeared in its heyday.

Photo by kyllercg (cc)

Basilica of St Denis

The Basilica of St Denis was the site where French monarchs were buried until the French Revolution and a stunning example of the ecclesiastical historic sites in France.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Basilica of St Denis (Basilique Saint-Denis) in Paris, France is a cathedral basilica named after France’s patron saint. In fact, the place where Basilica of St Denis stands is believed to the site where Saint Denis, also known as Saint Dionysius, was buried after his death in around 275 AD, making the then abbey church a place of pilgrimage.

Whilst originally founded in the 7th century, the current Basilica of St Denis was built in a gothic style in the 12th century by the Regent of France, Abbot Suger.

From the 7th century onwards, and officially from the 10th century, the Basilica of St Denis acquired a new and important role as the burial place of the kings and queens of France. It retained this role for hundreds of years and all but three of France’s monarchs were buried there. However, during the French Revolution, many of the tombs were opened and the remains removed.

In 1966 the Basilica of St Denis became a cathedral.

Today, the Basilica of St Denis is open to the public, allowing views beyond its stunning façade into its vaulted interior. Inside, visitors can view its incredible necropolis.

Guided tours and audio guides are available in English, French, Spanish and Italian, lasting between an hour and a quarter and an hour and a half.

Photo by chantrybee (cc)

Basilica of St Sernin

The Basilica of St Sernin in Toulouse is a medieval church on a famous pilgrimage route and among the illustrious list of UNESCO-listed historic sites in France.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Basilica of St Sernin (Basilique St-Sernin) in Toulouse is an eleventh-twelfth century basilica said to be the largest one of Romanesque style in Europe. It is named after Saint Saturninus, the first bishop of Toulouse, who was martyred in the third century AD during the Roman persecution of Christians.

A vast, beautifully decorated building, the Basilica of St Sernin needed to be large enough to hold the masses of pilgrims drawn there during medieval times on their way to Santiago de Compostela. The Basilica of St Sernin was one of the stops along the route to this Spanish cathedral, an accolade which has earned is a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

Photo by Rob Alter (cc)

Basilique Notre-Dame de Fouviere

Basilique Notre-Dame de Fouviere is an iconic 19th century basilica in Lyon.

DID YOU KNOW?

Basilique Notre-Dame de Fouviere in Lyon is a flamboyant nineteenth century church designed to look like a Byzantine creation. Built from 1872 to 1896, Basilique Notre-Dame de Fouviere is now considered to be one of the city’s most iconic buildings.

Photo by iamkaspar (cc)

Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum

The Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum traces the events of this famous World War II battle and is a good place to discover the background of many of the historic sites in France relating to this historic episode.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum or ‘Musee Memorial de la Bataille de Normandie’ in Bayeux tells of the story of the World War II battle which loosened Germany’s grasp on Europe and paved the way for an allied victory.

Taking a chronological approach, the Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum begins in the period prior to the initial assault, through to the infamous Normandy Landings on D-Day up to 29 August 1944. Displaying military objects from the time, including weaponry and uniforms, the Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum offers an overview of the battle and an insight into the events, including a 25 minute film.

A visit to the Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum usually lasts around 1.5 hours.

Photo by em 140 (cc)

Big Red One Assault Museum

The Big Red One Assault Museum looks at the history of the US First Infantry Division in this conflict and is one of many World War II historic sites in France located in Normandy.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Big Red One Assault Museum in Normandy is dedicated to the efforts of the US First Infantry Division, nicknamed the Big Red One, particularly their part in the D-Day Landings on 6 June 1944.

The Big Red One division were part of the infamous landing at Omaha Beach where, despite the difficulties encountered, they together with the 29th division went on to secure the areas around Saint-Laurent, Vierville and Colleville.

The Big Red One Assault Museum chronicles this assault, including a film about its events. An hour-long guided tour is available upon request in English and French.

Photo by GFreihalter (cc)

Bordeaux Amphitheatre

These spectacular ruins are all that remain of what was once a grand amphitheatre; the centre of entertainment in a bustling Roman town.

DID YOU KNOW?

Nestled amongst charming French boulevards and cobbled streets is Bordeaux Amphitheatre, also known as Palais Gallien; all that remains of the once vibrant Roman city of Burdigala.

Put under state protection in 1911, Bordeaux’s citizens are now working to preserve this ancient amphitheatre, a snippet of a history long since vanished; it remains as an impressive reminder of the Roman presence which once dominated the area.

Burdigala is thought to have been the capital of the Roman province of Gallia Aquitaina; and was annexed as a Roman province under the emperor Augustus. The importance of the city is reflected in the grandeur of the amphitheatre and indeed the landmark once held around 15,000 spectators.

One of the first examples of an amphitheatre to use a both a stone and wooden structure, Bordeaux Amphitheatre was the sight of a host of ancient spectacles alongside often violent shows designed to engage and entertain both the locals, plebeians and patricians of the Empire alike. Little else is known about the ruins but it is thought that they got their name because in later times people thought the remains resembled a grand palace.

Some historians even speculate that Bordeaux Amphitheatre sits atop older ruins, but until further excavation can occur it remains an unanswered question.

Set in the heart of Bordeaux, destroyed by a fire during the Germanic invasions of the town, the impressive remains of the Palais Gallien are well worth the visit.

Contributed by Rebecca Lewis

Photo by bortescristian (cc)

Chateau de Chambord

Chateau de Chambord is a beautiful French Renaissance palace situated on the Loire river, which is now one of France’s most popular historic homes.

DID YOU KNOW?

Chateau de Chambord is a vast and beautiful palatial estate on the Loire river which is now one of France’s most popular historic homes.

Reported to have been designed, or at least influenced by Leonardo da Vinci, who spent the final three years of his life in France, Chambord is modelled on the classic Italian renaissance palace, and signalled the advent of the Renaissance in France. The site had been occupied for centuries by the Counts of Blois, who owned the land since the 10th Century, before becoming the property of the crown in 1491.

Building work was first begun by Francis I, who was known as the first Renaissance King, in 1519. Chambord was one of several chateaux which he built during his reign. It allowed the French King to explore his passion for architecture, whilst also providing a base to allow him to indulge in his other great passion of hunting.

Francis spent considerable time and effort building Chambord, although he reputedly only lodged there for 42 days out of his 32 year reign. A total of 1800 construction workers were engaged at Chambord for fifteen years, although Francis did not live to see the ultimate completion of the chateau. Francis was a major rival of the Holy Roman Emperor at the time, Charles V, and was in fact captured by him at Pavia in 1525. The French King exchanged his two sons for his freedom, but the expense of Chambord meant that he was unable to afford the ransom for his sons.

Louis XIV was another notable monarch who spent time at Chambord, and Louis was responsible for the extension of the chateau, bringing the number of rooms up to 440 in total. Having inherited the French throne at four years old, Louis reigned for 72 years, the longest reign in European history. His reign is a notable example of absolutist rule.

The Loire valley is a world heritage site, and Chambord is one of its highlights. Situated 16km east of Blois, a popular way of visiting the chateau and its expansive grounds is by bike. The Loire is noted for its numerous historical homes, and cycling is a particularly enjoyable way of exploring this picturesque area of France.

Chambord itself boasts a one thousand hectare estate and its grounds are open to visitors, who can walk or cycle through the gardens and woods, as well as the national wildlife reserve. Visitors should view the spectacular northern facade of the chateau, and marvel at the intricate rooftops, complete with spires, turrets, chimneys and skylights.

The defining feature of Chambord is the dual spiral staircase, which is also attributed to da Vinci. The two staircases spiral around each other for three floors without meeting. There is a museum of hunting and nature inside, and Chambord also contains a notable collection of tapestries.

Chateau de Laas

Château de Laàs is a 17th century stately home with a Napoleonic collection.

DID YOU KNOW?

Château de Laàs in Sauveterre-de-Bearn, France is a manor house built in the seventeenth century which houses an extensive art exhibit, mostly from the eighteenth century.

Château de Laàs has a collection of Napoleonic pieces. Guided tours of Château de Laàs are available.

Chateau de Malmaison

Chateau de Malmaison was once the home of Napoleon Bonaparte. It is among the tourist sites in France located near Paris.

DID YOU KNOW?

Chateau de Malmaison was the home of Napoleon Bonaparte and his first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais, who bought it in 1799. Since then, Chateau de Malmaison served as the seat of government from 1800 to 1802 and then became Joséphine’s property in 1809 after the couple divorced.

After serving as her home and then, amongst other things, as a military barracks, Chateau de Malmaison became the property of the state.

Today, Chateau de Malmaison is open to the public, allowing visitors to view Napoleon's former bedroom and that where his first wife died. Frescos and paintings are found throughout and there is a museum dedicated to Napoleon in the grounds.

Chateau de Pirou

One of the oldest Norman castles in existence, the Chateau de Pirou is picturesque, small and yet well-fortified.

DID YOU KNOW?

The picturesque Chateau de Pirou in Normandy is one of the oldest Norman castles in existence and is now a popular attraction.

The site has been occupied since the 9th century, although at that time it was a wooden construction and was updated to stone in the 12th century. It was built to defend the nearby harbour.

Surrounded by a moat, with granite towers and turrets, and defended by five gates, Chateau de Pirou is simply a wonderful building, constructed just as we might imagine a fortified castle would be built. It was built by the Lords of Pirou, one of whom found favour with William the Conqueror during the Battle of Hastings, and was rewarded with an estate in Somerset.

The Chateau is famous for a legend that is as old as the castle itself. Under siege from Viking invaders, the inhabitants were at a loss for how to resolve their situation. At one stage, the Vikings were surprised by the silence that had fallen over the Chateau. After waiting for a day, the invaders scaled the walls, and were confronted by an empty castle, save for an old man in bed. They promised to spare the old man's life in return for learning of how the castle's inhabitants had escaped. They were told that the family living at the castle had used spells from a book of magic, to transform themselves into geese and flown to safety. The Vikings had indeed recalled geese flying overhead the previous day. The castle was burned to the ground, and the geese were unable to recover the book to reverse the spell. Each year, the geese return to the castle in the hope of finding the book again.

During the Hundred Years War, Pirou came under siege numerous times, and ownership of the castle changed on many occasions. One inhabitant of note was the knight Jehan Falstolf, who was renowned for his bravery, and possibly served as the inspiration for Shakespeare's character Falstaff. Although Pirou was spared demolition during the French Revolution, its buildings were used as barns. The Chateau began to fall into disrepair until restoration work was undertaken in 1968, and Pirou is now privately owned.

On entering the Chateau, one must proceed through four gates, before walking around the castle and proceeding through the fifth and final gate. Entrance into Pirou is across an arched stone bridge, which replaced the drawbridge in the 17th century.

In the lower courtyard there is an 18th century bakery, a cider press building, Saint Laurent's chapel and the Salle des Plaids. The Chapel contains a wonderful 15th century altar, and statues of St John the Baptist and Saint Laurent. The guardhouse, complete with large fireplace, is also well worth a visit.

The Salle des Plaids was converted into a barn during the Revolution, but formerly had housed the justice room, which the Lords of Pirou occupied to collect taxes and solve disputes. It has now been restored, and contains one of the highlights of Pirou - the Pirou tapestry. At 58 metres in length, the tapestry is in the style of the Bayeux tapestry and tells of the Norman invasion of Sicily and the conquest of southern Italy. It is possible to walk up to the ramparts and walk along the castle walls, and this provides excellent views.

Contributed by Chris Reid

Photo by NorthJoe (cc)

Chateau-Thierry American Monument

The Chateau-Thierry American Monument is an American memorial and one of the best known commemorative World War I historic sites in France.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Chateau-Thierry American Monument, sometimes known as the Hill 204 Monument, commemorates those American soldiers who fought in the region during World War I, such as those who took part in the Second Battle of the Marne.

Overlooking the River Marne, the granite structure of the Chateau-Thierry American Monument is a commanding sight with its colonnades and heroic statues.

Visitors to the Chateau-Thierry American Monument can learn about the battles which took place in the area using the orientation map on the monument. (Main image by NorthJoe (cc))

Cimetière Chinois de Nolette

Cimetière Chinois de Nolette is among the lesser known World War I commemorative historic sites in France and stands in honour the Chinese workers who contributed to the war effort.

DID YOU KNOW?

Cimetière Chinois de Nolette or the Nolette Chinese Cemetery in France is the burial place of 849 Chinese workers who died during World War One. Brought by the British from the colonies to help build the military infrastructure, most of these workers died from an outbreak of cholera.

Cimetière Chinois de Nolette is a memorial to these workers, built in a traditional Chinese style.

Cimiez Roman Ruins

The Cimiez Roman Ruins are remnants of the ancient Roman city of Cemenelum.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Cimiez Roman Ruins are remnants of the ancient Roman city of Cemenelum and include some of the walls of a Roman baths complex and of a small arena. They mostly date back to the third century.

Photo by PhillipC (cc)

Constantine Baths - Arles

The Constantine Baths in Arles are a good example of the Roman historic attractions in France. Built in the 4th century, they remain well preserved.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Constantine Baths (Thermes de Constantin) are a well preserved set of ancient Roman public baths in the Provence town of Arles.

Dating back to the fourth century AD, the Constantine Baths would once have formed part of an imperial palace known as Palais Constantine. It is also thought that this was one of three sets of public baths in Roman Arles.

Today, visitors can see the well-preserved remains of the Constantine Baths, the excavated part being only its northern area. Whilst only a fraction of these baths are visible, what can be seen is fascinating and includes several of the bathing sections. The Constantine Baths are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Photo by Historvius

Crypte Archeologique - Paris

The Crypte Archeologique is a subterranean museum housing the remains of Gallo-Roman Paris. It is a fascinating place yet among the more hidden historic sites in France.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Crypte Archeologique (Archaeological Crypt) in Notre Dame Square (Parvis) in Paris is an incredible site for those interested in the history of Paris. During the Gallo-Roman Period, Paris was known as Lutetia, which developed from the first and second centuries BC.

The Crypte Archeologique contains the remains of Gallo-Roman Lutetia, including its third century BC walls, its streets and heating systems and even the ruins of a cathedral. Some of the remains are medieval, dating to the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and including a hospital.

A little known site, the Crypte Archeologique is often not as crowded as the streets above it.

Photo by ** Maurice ** (cc)

Douaumont Ossuary

One of the more imposing monuments in France is the Douaumont Ossuary, which commemorates fallen soldiers from the Battle of Verdun. It holds the bones of 130,000 French and German soldiers.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Douaumont Ossuary in Verdun, France, is a memorial site to the soldiers who died whilst fighting in the Battle of Verdun during the First World War. The Battle of Verdun was one of the fiercest during World War One, lasting from 21 February 1916 to December 1916 and resulting in estimated casualties of 400,000 soldiers for each of the French and German armies who fought in it.

The Douaumont Ossuary houses the bones of approximately 130,000 unknown soldiers from both sides, marking a fitting reminder to the savage consequences of this battle and the war as a whole. These remains can been seen through small windows inside the Douaumont Ossuary and the Ossuary’s cloisters are lined with plaques of the names of fallen soldiers and the locations of where each body was recovered. It also has a chapel where ceremonies take place.

Made up of an imposing stone structure with a 46 metre tower and beautifully maintained fields which house a cemetery with the graves of a further 15,000 French soldiers, the Douaumont Ossuary overlooks the battlefield of the Battle of Verdun. Visitors can climb to the top of its tower for panoramic views of these fields.

The first floor of the Douaumont Ossuary is dedicated to a museum of the First World War which includes weaponry, pieces from destroyed villages and the Minenwerfer, a well preserved 76 mm German mortar. Visitors to the Douaumont Ossuary can view a twenty minute film on the heroism of the Verdun soldiers in German, English and Dutch, which is shown every half hour.


TAGS: WW1 Battlefields in France

Dunkirk Cemetery and Memorial

The Dunkirk Cemetery and Memorial commemorate the commonwealth troops that fought there in both World Wars.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Dunkirk Cemetery and Memorial are located near the site where hundreds of thousands of allied troops were evacuated as part of Operation Dynamo – the historic campaign to rescue cut off troops from advancing German forces during World War II. Dunkirk had also played an important role as an allied base in World War I.

Dunkirk Cemetery houses 460 World War I graves and 793 from World War II, of which 223 are unidentified. At the entrance to Dunkirk Cemetery is the Dunkirk Memorial, commemorating 4,500 British Expeditionary Force troops who died or were captured there during World War II and who have no known grave.

Dunkirk War Museum

The Dunkirk War Museum tells the story of the famous World War II allied evacuation of Dunkirk and offers a good introduction to the historic sites in France relating to this famous event.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Dunkirk War Museum or “Memorial du Souvenir” tells the story of the famous World War II allied evacuation of Dunkirk. The Dunkirk evacuation took place between 26 May and 4 June 1940 and was an operation - codenamed Dynamo - to rescue hundreds of thousands of British, French, Canadian, and Belgian soldiers cut off by advancing German forces.

At the time, the Germans had control of Calais and there were insufficient Royal Navy vessels to carry all of the troops. Thus, in a campaign widely regarded as miraculous, heroic and bold, the evacuation of Dunkirk was carried out not just by military ships but by civilian ones.

Hundreds of small boats and ships including even fishing vessels and pleasure boats were mobilised for use in the mission. While this command was given by the admiralty, many of the boats were captained by civilians. Casualties ran into the thousands as did the number of soldier taken hostage yet, despite coming under heavy bombardment, these “little ships” together with the warships, managed to evacuate around 338,000 troops.

Located in the former headquarters of the French army, The Dunkirk War Museum explores the build up to and the events which took place as part of Operation Dynamo. There is a film about Dunkirk and it also houses numerous objects relating to this event including weaponry, artillery and other pieces found on the beaches.

Photo by Charles D P Miller (cc)

Etaples Military Cemetery

The Etaples Military Cemetery is a commonwealth cemetery built on the former site of a WW1 military hospital.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Etaples Military Cemetery stands on the former site of a vast military hospital complex used by the Allies during the First World War.

At its height, over 100,000 troops would have been camped here, either in training from the front or receiving treatment for wounds sustained. The hospitals themselves could cater for over 20,000 casualties at any one time. The site was chosen due to it’s distance from the front lines but good transport links, meaning troops could be brought here quickly without being in danger of enemy land attacks.

The cemetery was inaugurated on May 14th, 1922 by King George V and General Douglas Haig.

The site was briefly resurrected as a hospital complex during the early months of World War Two until the German conquest of France.

Today, the Etaples Military Cemetery contains the burials of over 10,000 Commonwealth troops and over 500 non-commonwealth combatants.


TAGS: WW1 Battlefields in France

Fecamp Abbey

Fecamp Abbey played a vital role in William the Conqueror's story.

DID YOU KNOW?

Fecamp Abbey (Abbaye de la Trinité de Fécamp) in Normandy is a Benedictine abbey with a rich history dating back to the 7th century, when an abbey for nuns was founded there.

In the 11th century, Fecamp Abbey played an important role in the story of William the Conqueror, who hailed from Fecamp. Indeed members of his family are interred within its walls. What's more, Fecamp Abbey was a vital element of Duke William's conquest of England.

Today, people visit the beautiful Gothic Fecamp Abbey both by way of pilgrimage and to marvel at its architecture and historic treasures.

Photo by Wolfgang Staudt (cc)

Fort Douaumont

Fort Douaumont was one of the strongest, most state of the art forts in France at the time of the First World War. Like many historic places in France, it was destroyed during World War I, in the Battle of Verdun.

DID YOU KNOW?

Fort Douaumont (Fort de Douamont) was originally constructed in around 1885 following the Franco-Prussian wars, with ongoing works carried out until just before the First World War.

As a fully fortified structure with sophisticated weaponry and a sunken position on high ground, Fort Douaumont was considered to be a vital defensive post. However, when the Battle of Verdun commenced in February 1916, the village of Douaumont was in chaos. People went to shelter in Fort Douaumont but, in the confusion, nobody was firing the fort’s guns. German soldiers managed to infiltrate Fort Douaumont and its destruction ensued.

Today, visitors can see Fort Douaumont as it was at the end of World War One. You can take a tour through its three levels and see the guns, turrets and weaponry which remain. Despite the destruction, much of Fort Douaumont is well preserved including the barrack rooms and command posts. There is also a graveyard.


TAGS: WW1 Battlefields in France

Photo by couscouschocolat (cc)

Fort Saint Jean

This 17th century fort in Marseille was later used as a prison during the French Revolution. It is among the defensive historic sites in France found in this area.

DID YOU KNOW?

Fort Saint Jean was one of two fortresses built by King Louis XIV in Marseille in the seventeenth century. Construction began in the 1660’s under the guise of wanting to protect Marseille from outside attack. In fact, the purpose of Fort Saint Jean was to subdue a rebellion by the citizens against royal rule, a role also fulfilled be Fort Saint Nicholas on the other end of the harbour.

Crusader Remnants
The site on which Fort Saint Jean was erected was previously home to a fourteenth century complex of buildings built by the Knights Hospitallers of Jerusalem during the crusades. It included a palace, chapel and a hospital. A later addition to the site was the René I Tower, built in the mid-fifteenth century and dedicated to the then king of Provence. Some of these buildings were incorporated into Fort Saint Jean.

French Revolution
Fort Saint Jean was garrisoned until the French Revolution when it became a prison housing, amongst others, the Duke of Orléans, Louis Philippe II and his two sons. Louis Philippe II had originally been a proponent of the revolution, even taking to being called “Philippe Égalité”, but was not spared in the Reign of Terror, eventually being executed by guillotine.

World War II
In World War II, Fort Saint Jean served as a munitions storage facility during the Nazi occupation of Marseille. This would spell the destruction of much of Fort Saint Jean as, in 1944, some of the ammunition stored within it exploded. It is home to the Museum of Civilizations in Europe and the Mediterranean, although at the time of writing, this may be undergoing renovation.

Photo by couscouschocolat (cc)

Fort Saint Nicholas

Fort Saint Nicholas was built in the 17th century to quell an uprising in Marseille.

DID YOU KNOW?

Fort Saint Nicholas in Marseille is a fortification built by King Louis XIV between 1660 and 1664, supposedly to defend the city’s port, but also to quell the uprising of the people of the city against their governor. In fact, its guns, like those of its contemporary, Fort Saint Jean, pointed at the city, not away from it.

In the eighteenth century, Fort Saint Nicholas was used as a military prison and garrisoned. In 1790, during the French Revolution, the people of Marseille sacked Fort Saint Nicholas, however the Assemblée Nationale put an end to this destruction a mere month later.

Fort Saint Nicholas was then restored in the early nineteenth century – the newer parts are discernable because they are grey in colour as opposed to the pink of the original brickwork.

Photo by Ryan Scott (cc)

Fort Vaux

Fort Vaux was a 19th century fortress and one of the historical sites in France occupied by the Germans in the Battle of Verdun.

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Fort Vaux or 'Fort De Vaux', located just outside Verdun, was a nineteenth century defensive structure which was fiercely defended by French forces during the Battle of Verdun in World War One. It was the second such fort to be captured after the nearby Fort Douaumont.

The soldiers refused to abandon Fort Vaux, staying until they had run out of all supplies and even carrier pigeons. In a famous moment which represents French heroism, Major Raynal, who was in the fort, was using these pigeons to carry messages to his commanding officers and continued trying until he reached his final carrier pigeon, known as Cheramie.

These efforts proved futile and Fort Vaux fell to the Germans in 1916, only to be evacuated and returned to the French in November that same year. Visitors can tour the inside of Fort Vaux, which includes its impressive weaponry and, of course, the pigeon loft.

Photo by Fabrice Terrasson (cc)

Glanum

Glanum is an extensive archaeological site of a former Roman settlement near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. It is one of the ancient historic sites of France.

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Glanum was a thriving Ancient Roman settlement, the impressive remains of which can now be seen in an archaeological site near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

Whilst there is some evidence to show that this site has been occupied since the first millennium BC, most of the sites at Glanum date back to between 20 BC and the second century AD, when it was under Roman rule.

The oldest main structure at Glanum is a sanctuary and fortification probably built in the sixth century BC. Found at the southern edge of the site, this would have predated the Roman settlement and is thought to have been dedicated to a deity known as Glanis.

The archaeological site at Glanum has both residential and monumental sections. Public baths and dwellings can be seen in the north of site with several ancient columns dotted around the area. However, it is two of its ancient monuments which form the star attractions at Glanum, namely its archway and its mausoleum known together as “Les Antiques”.

The arch is a well-preserved triumphal arch thought by some to have been constructed during the reign of the Emperor Augustus (27 BC–14 AD). It depicts the Roman victory over Gaul. Meanwhile the Mausoleum of Glanus, known as Mausolée des Jules and thought to date back to as early as 30 BC, is a remarkable 18 metre-high private family memorial resplendent with friezes and columns.

Photo by santanartist (cc)

Gold Beach Museum

The Gold Beach Museum tells the story of one of the D-Day Landings.

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The Gold Beach Museum, known as Musee America - Gold Beach, chronicles the landings of the 69th Brigade of the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division in Normandy on 6 June 1944 – D-Day - as part of Operation Gold Beach.

Led by Major General Douglas Alexander Graham and supported by the 79th (Armoured) Division, these troops succeeded in storming one of the central beaches of the Normandy Landings.

The Gold Beach Museum tells the story of this victorious attack as well as the intelligence operation behind it. Guided tours of the Gold Beach Museum are available, but must be booked in advance for an added fee.

Photo by Jeff Marquis (cc)

Grand Roman Theatre of Lyon

One of several Roman historic sites in France located here, The Grand Roman Theatre of Lyon dates back to the late 1st century BC.

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The Grand Roman Theatre of Lyon, known as “Théâtre Romain” was constructed in approximately 15BC and was able to seat up to around 10,000 people.

Having been well restored in the early twentieth century, the Grand Roman Theatre of Lyon is one of the oldest structures of its kind and a reminder of Lugdunum, the Gallo-Roman city which would become Lyon. The site was generally abandoned by the third century AD.

Behind the theatre are further ruins, possibly the remains of the Temple of Cybele. The Grand Roman Theatre of Lyon is now used for performances. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lyon.

Photo by melissa.delzio (cc)

Grotte des Combarelles

Grotte des Combarelles is a cave in southwest France with prehistoric paintings.

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Grotte des Combarelles in southwest France is a cave which houses a series of prehistoric paintings of various animals and people as well as symbols.

Grotte des Combarelles forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the painted caves of the Vezere Valley.

Photo by yannick_vernet (cc)

Historial de la Grande Guerre

For things to see in France relating to the social effects of World War I, Historial de la Grande Guerre is a museum near the site of the Battle of the Somme which looks at the conflict from a different perspective.

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Historial de la Grande Guerre (the Museum of the Great War) in Peronne, France is dedicated to exploring the social and cultural effects of the First World War. Based near the site of the Battle of the Somme, Historial de la Grande Guerre offers an in-depth insight into World War I from the perspective of the soldiers who fought in it and the civilians whom it affected.

Each room in the Historial de la Grande Guerre is divided into two parts. In the centre of each room are the uniforms of each type of soldier contained in sunken display cases together with weaponry and other relevant pieces. Each room is then bordered by further displays, themselves divided into three segments to represent the French, English and German forces. Yet, despite the fact that it displays military pieces, Historial de la Grande Guerre does not aim to be a military museum or to commemorate those who died fighting. Instead, its aims are to look at the social effects of the war both on civilians and soldiers.

Historial de la Grande Guerre translates all of its exhibitions into English, French and German and contains tens of monitors showing silent films about the war.

Horreum

The Horreum in Narbonne are a series of 1st century underground tunnels. It is one of the lesser known historic sites in France.

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The Horreum in Narbonne, France dated back to the first century BC and are a network of subterranean tunnel and passageways which were thought to have been used as storage rooms during the Roman era.

These unique underground tunnels would once have formed part of the city of Narbo Martius, which was the capital of the Narbonne region during Roman times.

It is believed these tunnels were used as the storage area for the local market and today the site boasts a sound and light show which is designed to replicate the atmosphere of such an ancient marketplace.

Photo by maarjaara (cc)

Jardin des Vestiges

Among the ancient historic places in France is the Jardin des Vestiges. This archaeological site in Marseilles houses the ruins of the Greek and Roman port.

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The Jardin des Vestiges is an archaeological site in Marseille housing the remains of this city’s ancient Greek then Roman port.

Discovered during building works carried out in the 1960’s, the ruins of Jardin des Vestiges have been excavated and include large sections of walls, gates and the remnants of warehouses and the general infrastructure of the old port.

Periods of time intermingle from the ancient to the medieval, with the earliest find dating back to 600 BC. There are trilingual panels at the site (in English, French and Italian), which make understanding the different ruins a more accessible experience.

Many of the finds excavated at Jardin des Vestiges, such as the remains of a third century AD ship, can now be seen at the adjacent Marseille History Museum. A visit to one usually includes the other, particularly as the entry fee is for both.

Photo by stephanemartin (cc)

Jumieges Abbey

A picturesque Norman abbey which was partly destroyed during the French Revolution, Jumièges ranks among the most beautiful ruins in France.

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Ranking among the most beautiful ruins in France, Jumièges Abbey now stands as a stark yet picturesque shell, all that remains of its once glorious past.

In fact, Jumieges Abbey was one of the oldest monasteries in Western Europe, tracing its history back as far as the mid-7th century, when it was founded by Saint Philibert. This first incarnation of Jumièges was destroyed by the Vikings but it would be rebuilt by the dukes of Normandy. The monastery was consecrated anew in 1067 by William the Conqueror.

For several centuries Jumieges thrived – despite damage during the Hundred Years War – but eventually the abbey met its end during the French Revolution, when the monks were forced to leave and the abbey closed.

Following the Revolution, Jumièges Abbey was sold off, stripped of valuables and much of the masonry pillaged for other structures.

Today, the attractive ruins of Jumièges have become a popular attraction, and visitors can explore the remains of the abbey as well as its scenic grounds.

Photo by spamdangler (cc)

La Conciergerie

La Conciergerie in Paris is a former palace turned prison which now serves as a museum and government building. Like some other historic sites in France, it has a somewhat sinister past relating to the French Revolution.

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La Conciergerie in Paris, France is located on an important site which once formed the seat of the city’s Roman leaders during their occupation of Gaul. La Conciergerie itself originally formed part of thirteenth century Palais de Justice, the royal palace built by King Philip IV. It served this role until the 1350’s, when the French royals moved to the Louvre.

As it ceased being used as a royal residence, La Conciergerie became the site where judicial functions were carried out, a purpose which parts of the palace still fulfil today.

From 1391, La Conciergerie’s judicial function took on a different character as it was transformed into a prison. Thus it remained for centuries, playing its sinister role during the French Revolution as the home of the ominous Revolutionary Tribunal which sent thousands of prisoners to the guillotine.

In the course of the Revolution, La Conciergerie held over a thousand prisoners at any given time. Some of the most famous inmates at La Conciergerie included Francois Ravaillac, the assassin of King Henri IV, imprisoned there in 1610, revolutionaries Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre, and, most prominently, Queen Marie Antoinette. Each was then executed.

Visitors to La Conciergerie can enjoy both its impressive medieval architecture, such as its large Hall of the Men at Arms and its history, both royal and as an instrument of punishment. Its original torture chambers can still be viewed.

Photo by ell brown (cc)

Lapidaire Museum

This is a museum of ancient Roman artefacts in Narbonne.

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Lapidaire Museum (Musee Lapidaire) is an archaeological museum in Narbonne, southern France which contains around 1,300 Ancient Roman exhibits.

From ancient wall fragments to tomb remains and Roman gravestones, Musee Lapidaire’s impressive displays showcase Narbonne’s Gallo-Roman history.

Lapidaire Museum is housed in the gothic church of Eglise Notre-Dame.

Photo by Geert Orye (cc)

Le Memorial at Caen

Le Memorial at Caen is a history museum dedicated to World War II and other conflicts. It offers tours to nearby military historic sites in France.

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Le Memorial at Caen is a museum of history based in northern France, not too far from the locations of the beaches where the Normandy Landings took place. Le Memorial at Caen explores the events which led up to the Normandy Landings of World War II, the Landings themselves, also known as D-Day, and the aftermath.

Le Memorial at Caen also offers day trips and longer guided tours around the sites of the Normandy Landings, which start at Caen Railway Station. Beyond its Second World War exhibits, Le Memorial at Caen also looks at the Cold War and beyond, exploring the concept of peace in the context of different conflicts.

Photo by openroads.com (cc)

Le P’tit Train de la Haute Somme

This is a reconstruction of the supply line used by allied forces during World War I and is just one of many tourist sites in France relating to this conflict.

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Le P’tit Train de la Haute Somme (the Somme train line) is a reconstruction of the original train line used to transport supplies to and from the battlefield during the Battle of the Somme in World War I.

Le P’tit Train de la Haute Somme still operates today as a tourist attractions, using traditional steam or diesel trains. Le P’tit Train de la Haute Somme also has a museum, some of which concerns the World War I aspects of the railways and others of which are related to the use of the railways for industrial purposes.

Photo by M_WalzEriksson (cc)

Les Alyscamps - Arles

Les Alyscamps was a Roman necropolis which now houses a collection of crowded medieval sarcophagi.

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Les Alyscamps in the town of Arles in Provence is a site imbued with historical and religious importance. Originally an Ancient Roman necropolis where prominent figures were laid to rest, most of the thousands of strewn sarcophagi which crowd together in Les Alyscamps actually date back to medieval times.

From the fourth to the twelfth century, Les Alyscamps was a prestigious Christian burial ground, with several bishops having been buried there as well as Saint Genesius. The eleventh century saw the construction of St. Honorat Priory by Les Alyscamps, as a result of which it became a part of the famous Santiago de Compostela route. This was a Christian pilgrimage to the church of Santiago de Compostela in Spain which travelled through France.

Today, visitors can walk through the site to see its many tombs and gravestones, most of which are in a fairly poor state, but which together form a hauntingly pretty sight. To see the better preserved of these tombs, go to Arles Archaeological Museum. Les Alyscamps is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage listing of Arles.

Photo by vigour (cc)

Les Invalides

Les Invalides was originally built by Louis XIV as a hospital for ailing soldiers and is famed among historic sites in France as the place where Napoleon was laid to rest.

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Les Invalides was originally built by the order of Louis XIV as a hospital and home for ailing soldiers. This order was given on 24 November 1670, the building designed by architect Liberal Bruant and Les Invalides was completed in 1676. In fact Les Invalides still operates as an institution for war veterans, under the name Institution Nationale des Invalides.

Following its initial construction, several further additions were made to Les Invalids, including a chapel in 1679 and the striking Dome Church or 'Église du Dôme', which incorporates the royal chapel built by Louis XIV and completed in 1706.

One of the most significant dates in the history of Les Invalides was when the body of the Emperor Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte) was brought there on December 15th 1840. His tomb, which was completed in 1861, remains there today and is housed in the Dome Church.

Les Invalides is made up of several buildings and now stands as the largest complex of monuments in Paris, including its comprehensive military museum, Musée de l'Armée.

Les Invalides operates numerous types of tours, including those specifically dealing with historical, cultural or artistic issues. There is even a tour dedicated entirely to Napoleon. The multimedia presentation on the life of Charles de Gaulle is also worth seeing.

Photo by sisaphus (cc)

Lochnagar Crater

This vast crater was left by an explosion which signalled the start of the Battle of the Somme. It is one of a circuit of things to do in France relating to this famous battle.

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The Lochnagar Crater (Lochnagar Mine Crater) located in the village of La Boisselle in France’s Picardie region, is the site where one of the first explosions of the Battle of the Somme took place on 1 July 1916.

Set off by British forces at 7:28am, the mine which created the Lochnagar Crater was one of the biggest ever detonated at that time and Lochnagar Crater itself is an astounding 100 metres (328 feet) in diameter and 30 metres (98 feet) deep.

Today, visitors can see Lochnagar Crater, either as a one off site or as part of the Circuit of Remembrance, a route which explores the Battle of the Somme, one of the biggest battles in World War One.

Photo by Gilles Messian (cc)

Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery

The Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery was a World War II German defensive battery. It is one of many military historic sites in France, particularly in Normandy.

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The Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery, also known as ‘Batterie Allemande’, was a German defensive battery in Normandy which played a big part in the German defence efforts during the Normandy Landings on D-Day, 6 June 1944.

Made up of four 150mm guns, the Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery is located between the vital allied landing beaches of Gold and Omaha. It was captured by the British 231st Division.

Today, the Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery is open to the public.

Lorraine American Cemetery

The Lorraine American Cemetery is home to the largest number of US WWII graves in Europe.

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The Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial is home to the largest number of US Second World War graves in Europe. Located in the St Avold region in France, the nine plots of Lorraine American Cemetery are spread over 113.5 acres and house a total of 10,489 graves. There are also 444 names of the missing inscribed on either side of its memorial.

Louvemont

Many historic places in France were left utterly abandoned after World War I and Louvemont is a good example of this. Once a French village, it has been unoccupied since the Battle of Verdun.

DID YOU KNOW?

Louvemont near Bras-Sur-Meuse in France, was once a small French village. However, when the Battle of Verdun broke out in 1916, Louvemont became one of the “villages that died for France”. It was so badly damaged by war that Louvemont was never again occupied, becoming a ghost of its past.

Very little remains here, however that which does or has been built since commemorates Louvemont and its former residents. Like other former villages of its kind in this region, Louvemont contains several memorials and plaques describing the people who used to live there and the shops and families who inhabited it. There is now also a modest chapel at Louvemont which was consecrated in the 1930s together with a handful of graves.

This is a small site without any formal guidance. It might be seen as part of a general tour of Verdun.

Photo by genevieveromier (cc)

Lyon Cathedral

Lyon Cathedral was constructed between the 12th and 15th centuries and is renowned among ecclesiastical historic sites in France for its astronomical clock.

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Lyon Cathedral, also known as St Jean Cathedral or “Cathédrale St-Jean”, is Lyon’s main Roman Catholic church and the seat of the city’s archbishop. Since the eleventh century, the Archbishop of Gaul has also been known as the Primate of All the Gauls, a status granted by the Pope at that time and endowing this office with authority over all of France’s archbishops.

Construction of Lyon Cathedral began in the early twelfth century and was only completed in the late fifteenth century, sometime around the 1470’s. A mostly Gothic, but partially Romanesque structure, one of the most striking features of Lyon Cathedral is its fourteenth century astronomical clock, which indicates feast days.

Next to Lyon Cathedral is a reminder that it is one in a long line of churches built in Lyon since Roman times. In fact, it was built on the ruins of three other churches, the remains of which now stand behind it.

Photo by jimg944 (cc)

Lyon Gallo-Roman Museum

This museum displays exhibits relating to the city’s time under the Roman Empire. It is among the popular historic attractions in France located in Lyon.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Lyon Gallo-Roman Museum, known as “Musee Gallo-Romain” chronicles five centuries of the city’s history under Rome.

From its founding as Lugdunum in 44 BC under Julius Caesar to how it flourished, becoming a thriving capital of the Empire, the Gallo-Roman Museum houses an extensive collection of archaeological finds from ancient Lyon.

Displaying artefacts ranging from statues and sculptures to mosaics and inscriptions, the Lyon Gallo-Roman Museum is also a great place to go either before or after visiting Lyon’s many archaeological sites.

Lyon Roman Baths

Definitely among the hidden historic sites of France, the Lyon Roman Baths were built in the 2nd or 3rd century.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Lyon Roman Baths are thought to have been built in the second or third centuries AD.

The ancient bath complex would served ancient Lugdunum, as the city was known during the Roman period, when it was an important regional capital of the Roman Empire.

Only found in the 1970’s and then partially restored, they are hidden behind a set of modern  buildings.

Marseille History Museum

The Marseille History Museum chronicles the city’s history since Ancient Greek times. It offers a good overview of the story of many of the historic sites in France in Marseille.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Marseille History Museum (Musee d’Histoire de Marseille) chronicles the city’s past since its founding by the Greeks in 600 BC up to the eighteenth century.

Adjacent to the archaeological site of Jardin de Vestiges, the Marseille History Museum houses a series of finds, including from ancient Greek and Roman times as well as a nod to the history of the city’s ancient port with the very well-preserved remains of a third century ship.

The exhibits continue into early Christianity, medieval times and beyond, offering a good overview of Marseille’s development.

Marseille Roman Docks Museum

This museum has a collection of artefacts from Marseille’s thriving ancient port.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Roman Docks Museum (Musée des Docks Romains) in Marseilles is an archaeological museum located on the site of a former Ancient Roman dock warehouse.

One of the main exhibits is the set of ceramic jugs or “dolia” which were probably made in the Roman warehouse. Visitors can also see the remains of some other buildings and homes from this period.

Amongst its collection, the Roman Docks Museum shows the ruins of this warehouse and archaeological finds from within the site as well as from underwater excavations. All of these exhibits together portray the Marseille’s ancient port as a thriving centre of commerce.

The exhibits at the Roman Docks Museum are not only Roman, but also Greek in origin, reflecting the fact that Marseille was first a Greek settlement before being taken by the Romans in the first century BC.

Memorial des Camps de la Mort

This site commemorates the suffering of those persecuted by the Nazis in Marseille during World War II.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Memorial des Camps de la Mort in Marseille is a Holocaust memorial and museum which commemorates the Nazi occupation of the city during World War II between November 1942 and August 1944.

During this time, the Jews of Marseille were transported out of the city and into concentration and extermination camps.

The Memorial des Camps de la Mort chronicles this tragic period of history, with moving testimony from concentration camp prisoners and witness accounts detailing the bombing and occupation of Marseille, the persecution of the Jews and the resistance movement. Photographs and information panels are also on display.

Photo by bobfamiliar (cc)

Monument aux Girondins

Monument aux Girondins is a fountain in Bordeaux commemorating the Girondists of the French Revolution. It is one of the historical sites in France which is viewable at all times.

DID YOU KNOW?

Monument aux Girondins (The Girondins Monument) is a dramatic fountain statue in Bordeaux which commemorates the Girondists.

The Girondists were originally part of France’s Legislative Assembly, becoming one of the groups which supported the French Revolution as it began. In fact, they were one of the legislature’s most militant sections.

However, in October 1793, the Girondists were executed under the orders of one of the leaders of the Revolution, Maximilien Robespierre after they began opposing the movement.

Monument aux Girondins was built in the early twentieth century as a memorial to the Girondists, now considered to be political martyrs. Depicting the Statue of Liberty standing atop a large pillar and flanked by two pools containing spectacular statues, Monument aux Girondins is a striking memorial to the Reign of Terror.

Musée d’Aquitaine

Located in Bordeaux, this is a museum of the archaeology and history of the region.

DID YOU KNOW?

Musée d’Aquitaine (The Aquitaine Museum) is a museum of archaeology and history in Bordeaux, France.

Chronicling the history of Bordeaux and Aquitaine since prehistoric times, Musée d’Aquitaine has collections ranging from Gallo-Roman and ethnographic to the Middle Ages.

Musée d’Aquitaine has over 700,000 pieces spread over 5,000 square metres.

Musée d’art et d’archéologie du Périgord

Located in a region with many of the prehistoric tourist sites in France, this museum contains pieces dating back as far as 70,000 years ago.

DID YOU KNOW?

Musée d’art et d’archéologie du Périgord (Périgueux Museum of Art and Archaeology) displays a wide range of art and artefacts dating back as far as 70,000 years ago and spanning, amongst others, the Roman and medieval eras.

Much of the Musée d’art et d’archéologie du Périgord is concerned with burial rituals and, as the name suggests, the museum also has an extensive display of artwork from around Europe.

Photo by Gilles Messian (cc)

Musee Airborne

Musee Airborne is a museum dedicated to the Normandy Landings of 1944. It is among many World War II historic sites in France found in Normandy.

DID YOU KNOW?

Musee Airborne in St-Mère-Eglise in Northern France is dedicated to the role played by the American 82nd and 101st airborne divisions during the Normandy Landings of World War Two or "D-Day".

Taking place in June 1944, the Normandy Landings were a collaborative effort between British, American and Canadian troops, who launched a massive attack by air, land and sea to capture German occupied Europe in an operation known as Overlord.

St-Mère-Eglise was the site where American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions landed between 5 and 6 June 1944 and is today the home of Musee Airborne.

Comprised of three main buildings, one of which is shaped like a parachute, Musee Airborne, also known as St-Mère-Eglise Airborne Museum, houses original aircraft from the Normandy landings, including a Waco Glider and the Douglas C-47 plane Argonia together with weaponry, photographs, documentation and a film about the landings.

Musee Airborne also explores the personal stories of the soldiers who took part in these operations.

Musee d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaisme

This museum explores the history of France’s Jewish community.

DID YOU KNOW?

Musee d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaisme (Museum of Jewish Art and History) in Paris explores the history of the Jewish community in France’s capital and throughout Europe since medieval times.

From historic objects to artwork, the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaisme has an extensive collection of pieces charting Jewish history.

One of its main exhibits centres on the Dreyfus affair, a political scandal in which Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus was wrongly convicted of espionage and treason in 1894.

Photo by Historvius

Musee de Cluny

Musee de Cluny is the national medieval museum in Paris and also houses one of the ancient Roman historic sites in France, a set of ancient baths.

DID YOU KNOW?

Musee de Cluny in Paris is steeped in both medieval and Ancient Roman history. Officially known as Musée National du Moyen Âge – the National Museum of the Middle Ages - Musee de Cluny has an impressive collection, including Roman statues, gothic sculptures, a treasury filled with the works of medieval goldsmiths and an exhibit of funereal objects.

Also housing a collection of tapestries, one of the star exhibits at Musee de Cluny is the La Dame à la Licorne series, translated as “The Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries, which date back to the fifteenth century.

Musee de Cluny contains a number of other interesting exhibits, including a set of Jewish gravestones dating back to Roman times.

However, it is not just what is inside Musee de Cluny which is of interest to historians – the very buildings in which it is contained are of great historical importance. Notably, Musee de Cluny is made up of two main buildings, the fifteenth century Cluny Abbey Hotel (Hôtel de Cluny) and an important series of Gallo-Roman baths.

These baths, known as Thermes de Cluny, date back to the first to third centuries AD and represent some of the best preserved remnants of the Gallo-Roman city of Lutetia. With much of their walls intact, Thermes de Cluny is an exciting find for Ancient Rome enthusiasts.

Some of the rooms of Musee de Cluny were once part of the baths (the official site has a map showing which these are – otherwise it is hard to tell). Outside the museum, one can see the original walls of the cold room or “caldarium” and warm water room (tepidarium), although, at the time of writing, visitors cannot walk around this part of the site.

Musee de la Reddition

Musee de la Reddition is the site where Germany surrendered in World War II, making it one of the most important - yet relatively unknown - historic sites in France relating to this famous conflict.

DID YOU KNOW?

Musee de la Reddition (Museum of the Surrender) in Reims is the location where the German Third Reich officially surrendered to Allied forces in World War II.

At the time, the building of Musee de la Reddition, once a school, acted as the European headquarters of US General Dwight D Eisenhower (later President Eisenhower). The surrender, which occurred in the early hours of 7 May 1945, took place in the war room of Eisenhower’s headquarters, which were often known by the abbreviation of SHAEF.

Today, visitors to Musee de la Reddition can see the actual table where terms of surrender were agreed, with its contents seemingly frozen in time. Even the maps which crowded the room’s walls are still in place.

Beyond its star attraction, Musee de la Reddition also boasts further exhibits, mostly World War II uniforms, photographs and some weapons, but the main reason to visit is to see the site where the Allies officially won the war.

Photo by Historvius

Musee du Louvre

One of the best places to visit in France for stunning exhbitis of art and history is Musee du Louvre. This 12th century fort turned palace and today stands as one of the world’s foremost art museums.

DID YOU KNOW?

Musee du Louvre, also known as, the Grand Louvre or just The Louvre, is one of the world’s foremost art museums, exhibiting over 35,000 works from around the globe and throughout history.

The Louvre’s eight departments cover an extensive array of historical periods and artistic genres, each represented through the museum’s permanent and temporary exhibits. Amongst these exhibits, The Louvre holds Near Eastern and Egyptian antiquities, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities, Islamic art, sculptures and paintings as well as decorative arts, prints and drawings.

Some of the most famous pieces held by The Louvre include the Jewels of Rameses II and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Set over 60,000 square meters, Musee du Louvre can be fairly daunting, but guided tours and audio tours are available in English and French lasting ninety minutes. Tours can be historically themed.

The building in which Musee du Louvre is housed has a fascinating history of its own, having started life as a fortress built by Philippe Auguste to protect Paris from the Anglo-Normans. It later became a royal palace of Louis XIV. The Louvre opened as a museum in 1793. The history and archaeology of The Louvre is explored on the lower ground floor of the museum in room 3.

Photo by (cc)

Musee National de Prehistoire

Musee National de Prehistoire is one of the most comprehensive historical attractions in France relating to the nation’s prehistoric past.

DID YOU KNOW?

Musee National de Prehistoire or the National Prehistoric Museum in Les Eyzies, France, displays an impressive collection of 18,000 prehistoric artefacts, mostly excavated from the Vézère Valley.

Through displays, original pieces and timelines, Musee National de Prehistoire offers an overview of the prehistoric past of this region of France and is a good introduction to the period prior to visiting archaeological sites in the area.

Foreign tourists should note that the exhibitions are mostly in French. Anybody wishing to have a tour in English should call in advance.

Museum of Orange

located amidst a range of impressive historic sites in France, the Museum of Orange displays mostly Roman, but also prehistoric, artefacts found in the region.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Museum of Orange (Musee D’Orange) is an archaeological museum across the road from the UNESCO-listed Roman Theatre of Orange.

The Museum of Orange displays a series of artefacts found in the area, dating from prehistoric to Roman times.

Amongst its most celebrated items, the Museum of Orange houses a series of objects which originally formed part of the Roman theatre, including friezes which once would have adorned its spectacular stage wall.

Upstairs, the Museum of Orange has a more modern collection of paintings, furniture and other objects which formed part of a private collection.

Photo by Historvius

Museum of the Great War

The Museum of the Great War guides visitors through the years of the First World War using a vast archive of objects, that are displayed across multimedia exhibitions.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Museum of the Great War guides visitors through the years of the First World War using a vast archive of objects, that are displayed across multimedia exhibitions.

Housed within an impressive contemporary structure, the museum is located in the city of Meaux, France. Since opening in 2011, it has become known for its vast collection of unique items, weaponry, uniforms, documents, graphic artworks and photographs that are woven together to create a narrative that is both moving and highly educational.

The historical city of Meaux is dotted with landmarks from WWI, partially due to its vital role in the Battle of Marne in 1914, at which time soldiers bravely protected the city gates from attack. It is here you will find a monument dedicated to those who lost their lives helping to prevent the fall of the city.

Alongside its changing exhibitions, the museum splits itself into a number of predominant categories, from the role of women in times of conflict to the lives of those in captivity, which allow for a comprehensive view of the years spanning the war. The museum emphasises some of the key issues that countries were facing at the time, such as the need for a superior military strategy and the importance of new technologies, as well as the need to maintain
morale on the home front.

Within the Museum of the Great War, there is a carefully crafted reconstruction of a French and German battlefield, including a trench and No Man's Land. The visuals and audio used throughout the exhibitions create a powerful ambience, which helps to convey the terrible suffering of war from the perspective of all who lived and fought during this period.

By combining informative used items from the time with intimate photographs and short
films, the Museum of the Great War is unique in its representation of the world's first notably widespread conflict.

Photo by Vicburton (cc)

Narbonne Archaeological Museum

This museum displays a range of ancient Roman artefacts.

DID YOU KNOW?

Narbonne Archaeological Museum (Musée Archéologique de Narbonne) in southern France is a museum of this town’s Ancient Roman past, displaying everything from sarcophagi to frescos and furniture.

The finds come from the ancient Roman city of Narbo-Martius, the capital of the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis.

The museum contains a collection of Roman statues and inscription tablets from the area as well as sarcophagi decorated in the pagan tradition. Also on display are informative panels describing the history of this ancient Roman city.

Newfoundland Memorial

The Newfoundland Memorial is the best surviving trench system from World War I and commemorates the efforts of the 1st Battalion of the Canadian Newfoundland Regiment. It is among many historic places in France dedicated to commemorating casualties from the World Wars.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Newfoundland Memorial, located in the town of Beaumont-Hamel in France’s Picardie region is a commemoration of the Canadian forces’ efforts during the First World War, particularly the Battle of the Somme.

The Battle of the Somme was made up of a series of battles in this region of France and, on 1 July 1916, the 1st Battalion of the Newfoundland Regiment, who formed part of the 29th British Division, took part in one of these battles at Beaumont-Hamel. This bloody battle took a terrible toll on the Canadian forces, who lost around two-thirds of their soldiers within the space of an hour.

Once the site of fierce fighting and destruction, the location of the Newfoundland Memorial is now peaceful parkland, indented with the remains of wartime trenches. In fact, the trenches at the site of the Newfoundland Memorial are some of the best preserved of their kind and offer visitors an invaluable insight into the conditions of the Great War.

The Newfoundland Memorial consists of a number of battle sites, each of which are signposted, several cemeteries, memorials to the Newfoundland Division and to the Highland Division. Information panels guide the way through each of the battle sites and remains. Finally, at the interpretation centre, visitors can learn more about the origins of the Canadian soldiers and about the Somme. Guided tours are available in French and English.

Nice-Cimiez Archaeological Museum

The Nice-Cimiez Archaeological Museum houses artefacts from the ancient Roman city of Cemenelum.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Nice-Cimiez Archaeological Museum houses artefacts from the ancient Roman city of Cemenelum, some ruins of which can be seen in a nearby park.

Photo by mat's eye (cc)

Normandy American Cemetery

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is a World War II graveyard with a visitor centre. It is one of the well known Second World War historic sites of France located in this region.

DID YOU KNOW?

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is the burial site of 9,387 US military personnel who fought and died in World War Two. Most of the graves at the Normandy American Cemetery belong to participants in the Normandy Landings on 6 June 1944, also known as D-Day.

The Normandy Landings were a coordinated effort by the Allied forces to recapture European land taken by the Germans. Codenamed Operation Overlord, the Normandy Landings were a pivotal point in World War II, representing a significant victory for the Allies. However, this victory came at a high cost of life, a fact commemorated at Normandy American Cemetery.

Normandy American Cemetery has a visitor centre, several memorials including Tablets of the Missing and orientation tables showing the battles which took place in the area. The visitor centre is itself a useful historical guide, offering an insight into the Normandy Landings and the soldiers who took part in the attack. Guides are on hand to answer questions.

Notre-Dame de la Garde - Marseille

Notre-Dame de la Garde is a 19th century basilica in Marseille.

DID YOU KNOW?

Notre-Dame de la Garde is a nineteenth century basilica in Marseille.

Built in 1853 in a Neo-Byzantine style, Notre-Dame de la Garde replaced the original thirteenth century church in this location, which had been fortified in the sixteenth century only to be destroyed in the French Revolution.

Notre-Dame de la Garde overlooks the city and the harbour, its high position making it a favoured lookout point. Inside, visitors can enjoy its multicoloured decorations, crypt and pretty mosaics.

Odeon of Lyon

The Odeon of Lyon is a well-restored Ancient Roman theatre and one of the UNESCO World Heritage historic sites in France.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Odeon of Lyon is the smaller of two Ancient Roman theatres built in what was then the Roman city of Lugdunum.

It is unclear as to when exactly the Odeon of Lyon was constructed, some dating it back to the mid-first or second century AD. Nevertheless, the beautifully restored 3,000-seater Odeon of Lyon, which once played host to grand musical and theatrical performances, is well worth seeing alongside its larger counterpart, the Grand Roman Theatre of Lyon.

The Odeon of Lyon is particularly famous for its distinctive flooring, which is decoratively tiled to form geometric shapes. In 1998, Lyon’s historic centre, which includes the Odeon, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Oise-Aisne American Cemetery

Oise-Aisne American Cemetery is a World War I cemetery and memorial containing the grave of 6,012 American soldiers who lost their lives in this conflict.

DID YOU KNOW?

Oise-Aisne American Cemetery is a World War I cemetery and memorial containing the grave of 6,012 American soldiers who lost their lives in this conflict.

This article is a stub and is currently being expanded by our editorial team.

Omaha Beach Museum

The Omaha Beach Museum chronicles the largest of the D-Day Landings. It is among the most well known World War II historic sites in France located in Normandy.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Omaha Beach Museum (Musee Memorial Omaha) tells the story of the D-Day Landings on Omaha Beach in Normandy on 6 June 1944 during World War II.

Spanning an area of 10km, the Omaha Beach assault was the largest of the Normandy Landings and included, amongst others, the US 29th Division, the 1st US Division (Big Red) and the US 2nd Division.

The Omaha Beach assault suffered several setbacks, including the fact that the area was unexpectedly well-defended by the Germans and that many soldiers did not land at their intended targets. Despite these setbacks, the allied troops managed to establish footholds in the German occupied territory, although they were unable to complete their ambitious mission targets.

Through a series of exhibits, including dioramas, military uniforms, testimonials and photographs, the Omaha Beach Museum traces the events of the assault on Omaha Beach and Pont Du Hoc.

Palais de Justice

As the main courthouse in Paris, the Palais de Justice is not technically one of the tourist things to do In France, but is historically important as the former court of the Revolutionary Tribunal.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Palais de Justice in Île de la Cité in Paris is a vast and majestic gothic structure, the site of which was originally the home of governors of Ancient Rome.

Palais de Justice then became the royal residence of the French monarchy such as Louis IX and remained as such until Charles V moved the royal palaces to Marais in 1358 following the Jacquerie revolt.

As the current seat of the French judicial system, the Palais de Justice serves a function which it has fulfilled in various guises since medieval times. This began in earnest in April 1793, when the civil chamber or “Premier Chambre Civile” of the Palais de Justice became the home of the Revolutionary Tribunal. This was the fearsome court of the French Revolution from which the Reign of Terror was systematically carried out.

Also part of the Palais de Justice is the famous prison known as La Conciergerie and it is next to Sainte Chapelle, which was built by Louis IX.

Palais de Papes

Part palace part fort, Palais de Papes in Avignon was the 14th century seat of the papal court and is one of the more imposing ecclesiastical historic sites in France.

DID YOU KNOW?

Palais de Papes (Popes’ Palace) is a medieval fortified palace in Avignon, southern France.

A magnificent 15,000 square metre palace defended by ten towers, some might be surprised to find that this heavily protected complex was the fourteenth century seat of the papal court or “Curia” rather than a military stronghold. In fact, it was Pope Clement V who had transferred the court from Rome to Avignon in 1309 in order to avoid the conflict which raged in its former home.

Over the next decades, seven popes, including Clement VI and Innocent VI, built and expanded the Palais de Papes, transforming it into the buildings seen today.

From the frescos depicting hunting imagery in the fourteenth century Stag Room to the vast Great Chapel, the Palais de Papes offers an insight into the time of the Avignon Papacy. In 1377, the papacy moved back to Rome and the Palais de Papes was used to house Papal representative or “legates”.

During the French Revolution, the Palais de Papes was stripped of much of its riches by looting.

Today, most of the site is open to the public and, since 1995, the Palais de Papes has formed part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Audio guides are included in the entry ticket and guided tours are available for an extra fee.

Palais du Tau

Palais du Tau in Reims was where French monarchs would prepare for and celebrate their coronations. It is one of several historic attractions in France in this area awarded UNESCO status.

DID YOU KNOW?

Palais du Tau in Reims is a seventeenth century neo-Classical palace once used as the residence of each future French monarch the night before their coronation at Reims Cathedral.

The monarch-to-be would also be dressed for the occasion there and the banqueting hall or “salle” of Palais du Tau, which is still adorned with fifteen century tapestries, was then used for a sumptuous post-coronation banquet. The most famous tapestry at Palais du Tau is the one of the baptism of King Clovis by Saint Remi.

It is thought that a palace has existed on the site of Palais du Tau since Reims was a Gallo-Roman town. However, it was in the late seventeenth to early eighteenth century that Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Robert de Cotte created the current “T” shaped building - “Tau” meaning “T” in Greek.

Now a museum, Palais du Tau offers visitors a chance to see its various ceremonial rooms as well as pieces from Reims Cathedral and its treasury. Palais du Tau is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Pegasus Bridge

Pegasus Bridge in Normandy was captured by British forces at the start of D-Day, the Allied invasion of France.

DID YOU KNOW?

Pegasus Bridge, originally known as Caen Canal Bridge, in Normandy, France, was a vital strategic position during Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of France.

On 6 June 1944, Allied forces landed on Normandy’s beaches, an event known as the Normandy Landings or “D-Day”.

Sword Beach was to be a landing point for British forces and, just to its east, was Pegasus Bridge, a small crossing over the Caen Canal. In order to protect the soldiers who would land at Sword Beach from German attack, a unit of the British 6th Airborne Division, led by Major John Howard, was tasked with capturing Pegasus Bridge.

They were also required to take the Merville gun battery in order to put it out of action. This would form part of Operation Tonga, in turn part of Operation Overlord.

On 5 June 1944, under cover of darkness, Major Howard and his men landed in gliders near Pegasus Bridge and proceeded to capture it intact within the staggeringly short time of ten minutes. This action was vitally important, preventing the possibility that German forces could attack the eastern flank of the soldiers arriving at Sword Beach.

The Merville gun battery and other bridges were also successfully taken by airborne forces. However, these victories came with heavy losses of around 2,000 men in all.

Caen Canal Bridge was renamed as Pegasus Bridge on 26 June 1944 after the winged horse emblem on the uniforms of the airborne division. The events at Pegasus Bridge and D-Day in general also inspired the 1961 film, “The Longest Day”.

There is currently a new bridge where Pegasus Bridge once stood, the original is now on display at the Pegasus Bridge Museum (just next to the bridge itself). There is also a plaque near the bridge setting out the events that occurred there.

Photo by extranoise (cc)

Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris is the resting place of many famous figures of French and other nationalities. It is quite popular among places to visit in France.

DID YOU KNOW?

Pere Lachaise Cemetery (Cimetière du Père-Lachaise) was established by Napoleon I in 1804. Originally considered to be too far from the main city, Pere Lachaise Cemetery initially attracted few funerals, but following a marketing campaign and the transfer of the remains of French philosopher Pierre Abélard in 1817, its popularity grew and it soon gained over 33,000 residents.

From singer Edith Piaf, novelist Marcel Proust and impressionist painter Camille Pissarro to playwright Oscar Wilde, an array of famous figures are buried there today. One of the most popular graves at Pere Lachaise Cemetery is that of The Doors’ front man Jim Morrison, probably attracting the largest number of visitors, but all of the graves are fascinating, including those of the regular citizens.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery is also the home of the Mur des Fédérés or ‘Communards Wall’ where 147 of the working class defenders of Belleville or ‘Communards’ were shot on 28 May 1871 as part of the ‘Bloody Week’. This is also surrounded by monuments to concentration camp victims from the Holocaust.

Maps are available to buy at the entrance, but you can also use the directories on the grounds. Overall, Pere Lachaise Cemetery is a peaceful and interesting way to spend an afternoon.

Photo by nhosko (cc)

Place de la Concorde

Place de la Concorde was where King Louis XVI and many others were executed in the French Revolution. It is one of a trail of famous historic sites in France set around Paris.

DID YOU KNOW?

Place de la Concorde in Paris was the site where King Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793.

During the French Revolution, Place de la Concorde was named Place de la Revolution. Prior to this, it had been known as Place Louis XV and had contained a statue of the monarch. However, when the revolution took hold, this monument was taken down and replaced with the guillotine.

Place de la Concorde became the focus of the executions of France’s elite during the Reign of Terror, a period of exceptional violence during the French Revolution. Over 1,300 people were executed at Place de la Concorde, amongst them Louis XVI’s wife Marie Antoinette and even leading revolutionary figures such as Danton and Robespierre.

Today, Place de la Concorde is the home of the Luxor Obelisk. This monument was gifted to the French by the viceroy of Egypt in 1833 and it once formed part of the ancient Luxor Temple.

Photo by Passion Leica (cc)

Pointe Du Hoc Memorial

The Pointe Du Hoc Memorial is located on one of the sites of the Normandy Landings. It is among the World War II commemorative historic sites of France.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Pointe Du Hoc Memorial in Normandy, France commemorates the American Second Ranger Battalion who fought there on 6 June 1944 as part of the D-Day landings in World War II.

The D-Day attack was a pivotal offensive which allowed the Allies to gain a foothold in Nazi-occupied France and begin the process of liberating Western Europe.

Pointe Du Hoc overlooks Omaha Beach, which was a vital landing point for Allied troops during the D-Day operation. Led by Lieutenant Colonel James E. Rudder, the Second Ranger Battalion was tasked with capturing German artillery at Pointe Du Hoc to ensure the safety of the troops landing on the beaches below.

The Pointe Du Hoc Memorial is a large granite structure which stands at the edge of the 100-foot cliffs these Rangers had to scale to complete their dangerous mission. The Rangers succeeded in their task, but suffered significant causalities in the process.

Constructed by the French and now managed by the American Battle Monuments Commission, the Pointe Du Hoc Memorial is a reminder of the heroism of the Rangers and the forced involved in the Normandy landings.

The area surrounding the Pointe Du Hoc Memorial is also historically fascinating, littered by bomb craters, it is preserved in much the same state as it was immediately following D-Day.

Photo by Wolfgang Staudt (cc)

Pont du Gard

Among the most arresting of the Roman historic sites in France is Pont du Gard, a famous ancient bridge and aqueduct once used to supply Nimes with water.

DID YOU KNOW?

Pont du Gard is an iconic Ancient Roman bridge and aqueduct built in first century AD and located near Nimes in France. In fact, it was the tallest bridge ever built by the Romans, rising 160 feet.

Nimes had been a major city of Gaul before 45BC, when it was incorporated in the Roman Empire. As the city’s population grew, exceeding 20,000, the need for water surpassed the available supplies of the Nemausus spring. Thus, from 40AD, over 1,000 workers were engaged in building Pont du Gard in order to transfer water from the Gard River (the Eure) to the city. Upon its completion, it would stay in use until the sixth century, when it was finally abandoned.

Since then, Pont du Gard has undergone a series of restoration projects and is now a spectacular place to visit. In 1985 it was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Today guided tours of Pont du Gard take visitors right to the very heart of this iconic structure to see the how such an engineering feat was achieved and how the aqueduct operated. Visitors can also walk the full length of the bridge itself and explore this Roman marvel up close. These tours last approximately 1.5 hours.

There is also a Pont du Gard museum on site that explores the engineering techniques used by the Romans to build the bridge as well as the history of the area in which it is built, which actually stretches back to prehistoric times. Other exhibits found within the museum also focus on the history of Nimes and the surrounding area during the Roman era.

Photo by stephanemartin (cc)

Pont Neuf

Pont Neuf is the oldest bridge in Paris and one of the most famous tourist sites in France.

DID YOU KNOW?

Pont Neuf in Paris dates back to the sixteenth century, making it the oldest bridge in the city. Work on Pont Neuf was started in 1578 by King Henry III and completed in 1607 by Henry IV.

Porte de Mars

Porte de Mars is an ornate 3rd century Roman arch in Reims.

DID YOU KNOW?

Porte de Mars is a well preserved third century AD ancient Roman triumphal arch in Reims.

Comprised of three wide arches and still adorned with many friezes portraying ancient legends, including that of Romulus and Remus, Porte de Mars was dedicated to the Roman god of war.

At the time of its construction, Porte de Mars would have been one of four arches which would have led to the Gallo-Roman settlement of Durocortorum, as Reims was then known.

Pozieres

One of the major World War I historic sites in France is Pozieres, which was the site of an important battle between Allied and German forces in 1916, forming the first part of the Battle of the Somme.

DID YOU KNOW?

Pozieres in France was the site of the Battle of Pozieres in World War I. Starting in the summer of 1916, the Battle of Pozieres was the first of numerous battles together known as The Battle of the Somme. Before the battle, the village of Pozieres was a vital strategic point for German forces, its elevated location along the Thiepval-Ginchy ridge providing critical defence.

The Battle of Pozieres was carried out into two tranches, the first to capture the German Pozieres Trench and the second to capture the defences known as the ’Old German Lines’.

Fighting was initially carried out by the British Third and Fourth Armies, who were then joined and relieved by numerous Australian infantry units. At the end of the Battle of Pozieres, the Allies emerged victorious, marking a significant loss for the German army. However, this victory came at a heavy price.

The Battle of Pozieres claimed the lives of thousands of British and Australian soldiers, making it one of the bloodiest battles on the western front. The Australian forces, including the first, second and fourth Australian Divisions suffered significant losses, having carried out the majority of the offensive.

Today, visitors can follow the battle with signs and information panels and view the site of the Battle of Pozieres, including its Tank Memorial and the remnants of the Gibraltar blockhouse which was a German observation tower. There is also a cemetery and several obelisk shaped memorials. Poziers is one of the sites that make up the Circuit of Remembrance, a route along which visitors can explore the Battlle of the Somme.


TAGS: WW1 Battlefields in France

Reims Cathedral

Of the historical sites in France, Reims Cathedral has one of the strongest links with the French royal family, having been the setting of its royal coronations. It is a World Heritage site.

DID YOU KNOW?

Reims Cathedral (Cathédrale de Reims), also known as the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in France’s Champagne region was the site of every royal coronation since the medieval period. The final monarch to be crowned there was Charles X in 1825.

A cathedral has stood on the site on which Reims Cathedral sits since 401 AD. The current cathedral was constructed from 1211, after the previous one on the site had burned down and was almost entirely completed by the end of the thirteenth century, with its Western façade added in the fourteenth century.

Reims Cathedral is vast, at 460 feet in length and a nave rising 125 feet with intricately designed stonework and looming towers. In fact, with its incredible architecture, Reims Cathedral has been hailed by UNESCO as “one of the masterpieces of Gothic art” and has been listed as a World Heritage historic site since 1991.

Much of Reims Cathedral has had to be restored since its construction, including its windows, damaged during the French Revolution and later its stonework, which suffered during First World War bombings. Nevertheless, from the thirteenth century Great Rose Window to the Gallery of the Kings, Reims Cathedral is imbued with beauty and with history.

Photo by Historvius

Remains of the Bastille

Among the least well known historic sites in France is the location of the remains of the Bastille prison, which can be viewed at Square Henri Galli in Paris.

DID YOU KNOW?

Some remains of the Bastille, the state prison which was famously stormed thus sparking the French Revolution, can be seen in a small park known as Square Henri Galli in Paris.

A small plaque next to what seems like an innocuous pile of stones marks this out as the remains of one of the most notorious sites in history.

For the original location of this prison, see the entry for The Bastille.

Photo by Historvius

Rocamadour Shrine

The Rocamadour Shrine is an 11th to 13th century holy complex in the south and one of the Christian historic sites in France which attracts pilgrims from around the world.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Rocamadour Shrine in southern France is a place of holy pilgrimage of the Christian faith, made so by a series of reports of miraculous events taking place in this location.

One of the main historic sites at the Rocamadour Shrine is the Chapel of Notre-Dame, in which one of these incidents took place. In 1166, it is said that the body of Saint Amadour – from which the town takes its name – was found here in an incredibly well-preserved state. Today, the chapel contains a statue of the Black Virgin.

Other sites include the thirteenth century Saint Anne’s Chapel and Chapel of Saint Blaise, the former tomb of St. Amadour, the twelfth century frescos in St. Michael’s Chapel and the Chateau.

Roman Amphitheatre - Saintes

The Roman Amphitheatre in Saintes was built in the 1st century in the Roman settlement of Mediolanum Santonum.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Roman Amphitheatre in Saintes is a 1st century AD construction built around 40AD during the reign of Emperor Claudius.

Saintes was then known as Mediolanum Santonum and was a thriving Roman settlement in modern day France which was founded around 20BC. The amphitheatre itself would have had space for several thousand spectators and would have been the venue for ancient Roman games.

Along with the Arch of Germanicus, the Roman Amphitheatre in Saintes gives visitors a glimpse of the historic ancient Roman city and is certainly worth a visit for anyone exploring the area.

Roman Pyramid of Vienne

Whilst Vienne’s Roman Circus is not one of the historic sites in France to have survived intact, its Roman Pyramid, once its centrepiece, can still be seen today.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Roman Pyramid of Vienne (La Pyramide de Vienne) is a monument which would once have formed the centrepiece of Vienne’s Roman Circus.

While described as a pyramid, this is infact more of a triumphal monument made up of an arched base topped with a steep-sided square-based pyramid tower. Modelled after the one the monuments found at Rome’s Circus Maximus, La Pyramide de Vienne dates back to the 2nd century AD.

Roman Theatre of Orange

One of the best-preserved Roman historic sites in France is the 1st century Roman Theatre of Orange. UNESCO listed.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Roman Theatre of Orange, known locally as the Theatre Antique, is a stunningly well-preserved first century theatre and one of the best preserved Roman sites in the world.

Dating back to the rule of Augustus (31 BC to 14 AD), the Roman Theatre of Orange is an incredible site and one of the largest existing theatres of its kind, able to hold up to 10,000 spectators.

The façade wall of the Roman Theatre of Orange is an impressive 338 feet long and 121 feet high and the structure still retains its original stage. This is despite the fact that the Prince of Orange, Maurice of Nassau, damaged it in the seventeenth century by using it as a quarry for building materials.

Today, the Roman Theatre of Orange is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage historic site together with the Triumphal Arch of Orange. It is still used as a theatre, meaning that visitors can enjoy a play in its incredible and historically evocative surroundings. There are also audio guides included in the entry prices (seven languages) and guided tours are offered.

Rouen Cathedral

Rouen Cathedral is the site where Richard the Lion Heart’s heart is buried.

DID YOU KNOW?

Rouen Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen) is an historic gothic church, part of which dates back to 1145 and other aspects of which were reconstructed following a fire (and completed in 1250). Its famous façade, immortalised by the artist Claude Monet, was revamped in the fifteenth century.

Imposing and dominated by its vast, albeit uneven, towers, Rouen Cathedral at one point had the honour of being the tallest building in the world.

One of the most famous attractions inside Rouen Cathedral is the Chapelle de la Vierge or “Lady Chapel”, which houses numerous tombs ranging from Norman dukes and French monarchs to religious leaders. Amongst these tombs lies that of Richard the Lion Heart – or at least that of his heart.

Richard the Lion Heart (1157 - 1199) was King Richard I of England and was renowned as a brilliant military leader, hence him being known as the “lion heart”. His heart was buried in Rouen, while the rest of him is located in Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou, France.

Rouffignac Caves

The Rouffignac Caves house a myriad of Palaeolithic paintings. They are one of the historic sites in France listed under the World Heritage category of the cave paintings of the Vézère Valley.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Rouffignac Caves (Grotte de Rouffignac) stretch for eight kilometres near Les Eyzes, southwest France and contain a huge array of Stone Age cave paintings, primarily of mammoths.

Much of this historic site can be accessed via an electric train. The Rouffignac Caves form part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the cave paintings of the Vézère Valley.

Saint-Hippolyte Convent

The Saint-Hippolyte Convent was founded by Saint-Fulrade in the 8th century.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Saint-Hippolyte Convent, also known as the Monastery of Saint-Fulrade, was founded by the Abbott Fulrade in around 774 AD and formed the centre point around which the estate of Saint-Hippolyte flourished. The Saint-Hippolyte Convent was originally furnished within with the relics of its namesake, brought from Rome and which are now under ownership of the monastery of Saint-Denis.

Saint-Hippolyte Convent would later become a cour colongère.

Saint-Pierre Abbaye of Moissac

Mossaic Abbey is a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned as part of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela.

DID YOU KNOW?

Mossaic Abbey or 'Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Moissac' is a grand medieval monastery, renowned not just for its Romanesque architecture and treasures, but for its association with the Order of Cluny. Indeed it is one of the churches inscribed by UNESCO as part of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela.

Although much of the abbey has been destroyed over time - including during the French Revolution - there is still much to see, including its cloister and chapels along with the abbey church itself as well as its tympanum and living quarters.

Saint-Remi Abbey

Saint-Remi Abbey in Reims houses the tomb of Saint Remi. This is one of many medieval World Heritage historical sites in France.

DID YOU KNOW?

Saint-Remi Abbey is a UNESCO listed historic Benedictine abbey in Reims which was built in the eleventh century and renovated in the twelfth century.

Upon its construction, Saint-Remi Abbey replaced the former St Christopher’s Chapel in housing the relics of Saint Remi (440-533 AD), an archbishop of Gaul who famously baptised the Frankish king, Clovis I and was canonized after his death.

Saint-Sulpice Church

Saint-Sulpice Church is a large 18th century church in Paris.

DID YOU KNOW?

Saint-Sulpice Church in Paris is one of the city’s largest churches, being only slightly smaller than Notre Dame Cathedral.

Initial construction of Saint-Sulpice Church began in the mid-seventeenth century and took nearly a century to complete, finally consecrated in the name of Saint Sulpitius the Pious. There are various historic architectural and artistic pieces in Saint-Sulpice Church including its impressive grand organ and murals by French artist, Eugène Delacroix.

In 1743, an element of science entered into Saint-Sulpice Church with the construction of a sundial or “gnomon”, which can still be seen there today. It is manifested in the form of a line across the floor ending at an obelisk. For fans of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” novel, this gnomon, together with the obelisk, offers a particular draw as the place where the villain monk ‘Silas’ finds a false clue left by the mysterious “Priory of Sion”.

In case you are wondering how much of the Dan Brown story is true in relation to Saint-Sulpice Church, it does provide an explanation inside which generally deals with what it calls “fanciful allegations”.

Photo by inoc (cc)

Sainte Chapelle

Sainte Chapelle is a stunning 13th century gothic church, home to the oldest wall painting in Paris and one of the top tourist sites in France.

DID YOU KNOW?

Sainte Chapelle or the “Holy Chapel” is a gothic church built by Saint Louis in Ile de la Cité in the centre of Paris.

The construction of Sainte Chapelle began in 1246 under the orders of King Louis IX, and was carried out with the specific purpose of housing the relics of the Passion of Christ, including the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the true cross. In fact, even by the time Sainte Chapelle was consecrated on 26 April 1248, at a cost of 40,000 livres, this expense paled in comparison to the 135,000 livres which these relics cost when bought from the Byzantine emperor Baldwin II.

The relics are now housed in the Treasury at the Notre Dame Cathedral, but there are still many attractions in Sainte Chapelle. With its two impressive upper and lower chapels and imposing gothic architecture, Sainte Chapelle a top tourist attraction.

Audio tours are available guiding visitors through and explaining the significance of its colourful stained glass windows and statues. In particular, the windows at Sainte Chapelle depict over a thousand images relating to the Old Testament and the Passion of Christ.

Sainte-Foy Abbey

Those looking for places to go in France to track the famous pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela can visit Sainte-Foy Abbey in Conques, which was one of the stopping off points.

DID YOU KNOW?

Sainte-Foy Abbey, also known as Conques Abbey and Abbey de Sainte Foy, was one of the churches along the medieval pilgrimage route to the Spanish cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The main reason for this was that Sainte-Foy Abbey has held the relics of its namesake, Sainte Foye, since the ninth century.

Sainte Foye, translated as “Saint Faith” was a young girl said to have been martyred during the persecution of the Christians under the Roman Empire. Her relics were held at a monastery in Agen before being stolen by a monk and brought to Sainte-Foy Abbey, where they have been ever since. They are inside a golden statue of the saint.

Sainte-Foy Abbey is a Romanesque-style church with ornate carvings and picturesque towers. Its beautiful twelfth century tympanum is a depiction of the Last Judgement. Its treasury is brimming with a collection of works by goldsmiths from as early as the ninth century, which managed to survive the French Revolution by being hidden away.

Since 1998, Sainte-Foy Abbey has been a UNESCO World Heritage site, listed as one of the historic churches on the “Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France”.

Salses Fortress

Salses Fortress is an impressive medieval fortress in Plateau de Rousillon and one of the Spanish-built historical sites in France.

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Salses Fortress, also known as Salses Castle or ‘Forteresse de Salses” is a medieval fortified castle in the eastern Pyrenees area of Plateau de Rousillon in France.

Constructed by the Spanish in the late-fifteenth, early-sixteenth century, Salses Castle was a vital stronghold on the then-border with France. It was the subject of numerous sieges in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries before being taken by the French in 1642. At the time, Salses Castle was within Spanish territory, a fact changed by the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees, which redefined the French-Spanish border, incorporating the area into France.

It is the architecture of Salses Fortress which makes it such an interesting historic site. A typical medieval fortification with round towers and a thick curtain wall, Salses Fortress has semi-subterranean features and a maze of passageways.

Today, Salses Fortress is open to the public as an historic site and as an art museum. Guided tours are available.

St Amand de Coly

St Amand de Coly is a 13th century fortified church in France’s Dordogne region.

DID YOU KNOW?

St Amand de Coly in the Dordogne, France is a well-fortified yet austere church originally built in the twelfth century and completed in the thirteenth.

Located in a village by the same name, St Amand de Coly is a Romanesque style church which is heavily defended by ramparts and high towers.

During the One Hundred Years’ War, St Amand de Coly suffered significant damage and was later the subject of a dramatic sixteenth century siege. However, it was the French Revolution which ended its life as a religious centre.

Today, St Amand de Coly is open to the public.

St Nicolas Mine

The St Nicholas Mine was once the most productive silver and lead mine in the commune of Steinbach. It is arguably one of the most important mining historic sites in France.

DID YOU KNOW?

The St Nicholas Mine (La Mine St-Nicholas) was once the most productive mine in the French commune of Steinbach in Alsace. Steinbach has a long mining history, with some dating it back to the Roman period. This activity began to grow from the 15th century and, by the mid-16th century, it was at its peak.

At this time, the St Nicholas Mine was generating high quantities of top quality silver-lead ore, making it one of the most important mines in the area. Its level of productivity rose to a high between 1612 and 1633. However, the outbreak of the Thirty Years War in 1618 marked difficult times for the region, with the Swedish destroying much of Steinbach’s mining operation.

The fortunes of the St Nicholas Mine changed for the positive in 1659, when it was taken over and updated by the Mazarin. However, like other mines in the area, the St Nicholas Mine suffered during the 18th century, especially during the French Revolution.

It experienced resurgence under occupying Prussians in the 19th century, with yet more development of its facilities and mining activities resuming. Nevertheless, a flooding incident in 1902 marked the start of the demise of the St Nicholas Mine. In fact, it would close in 1904, with its miners moving to work at the newly opened potato mines nearby.

Today, the fascinating remains of this mine are open to the public by tour.

St-Trophime Church

St-Trophime Church in Arles renowned for its Romanesque architecture. UNESCO listed.

DID YOU KNOW?

St-Trophime Church (Eglise St-Trophime) is one of the main Romanesque structures in the town of Arles and is part of the town’s UNESCO World Heritage listing.

Arles was one of the earliest settlements in Gaul to have had a Christian presence and a church has existed on the site of St-Trophime since the fifth century. St-Trophime itself was constructed in around the twelfth century and originally served as a cathedral. It was also renovated in the fifteenth century, accounting for the fact that some of its features are gothic in style, such as its choir.

The exterior of St-Trophime is ornately carved with depictions of Christian stories and figures, this attention to detail being continued in its cloisters, with its intricately decorated columns. The inside of St-Trophime does contain some interesting aspects, such as an early sarcophagus, but is otherwise sparsely decorated.

In the Middle Ages, St-Trophime was one of the French sites along a famous Christian pilgrimage to the Spanish church of Santiago de Compostela.

Photo by iamkaspar (cc)

Sword Beach

Sword Beach was one of the five historic sites in France where the Normandy D-day Landings took place in World War II.

DID YOU KNOW?

Sword Beach (Ouistreham) in Normandy, France was one of the sites of the Normandy Landings on 6 June 1944, D-day.

Assigned to units of the British 3rd Division, the landings at Sword Beach were the most eastern part of Operation Overlord, the allied offensive which led to the liberation of German-occupied France and subsequently Europe in World War II.

Photo by AndyHay (cc)

Temple de Mercure

The ruins of a temple built atop a mountain called Puy de Dome outside the Gallic city of Augustonemetum (now Clermont-Ferrand).

DID YOU KNOW?

The ruins of a temple built atop a mountain called Puy de Dome outside the Gallic city of Augustonemetum (now Clermont-Ferrand).

This article is a stub and is in line for expansion by our editorial team. You can help expand this information by adding comments below.

Photo by maarjaara (cc)

Temple of Augustus and Livia

The Temple of Augustus and Livia is a very well preserved Roman temple in Vienne. It is one of the historic sites in France which is viewable for free.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Temple of Augustus and Livia (Temple d'Auguste et de Livie) is a very well preserved Roman temple in Vienne.

Whilst probably first built sometime between 20BC and 10BC, several aspects of the Temple of Augustus and Livia date to the first century AD. Yet, the main reason for the great state of preservation of the Temple of Augustus and Livia is that it was incorporated into a church perhaps as early as the fifth century and restored in the nineteenth century.

Temple of Diana - Nimes

The Temple of Diana is a Roman site in Nimes whose ultimate purpose remains a mystery.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Temple of Diana (Temple de Diane) is a Roman site in Nimes whose ultimate purpose remains a mystery, as does the origin of its name.

Believed by some to have been originally built sometime during the reign of Augustus - others say in the 2nd century - it has been suggested that the Temple of Diana may have been a library.

Whatever its original function, this stunning site boasts well-preserved vaulted ceilings, grand archways and enticing passageways. Apparently, the reason for its excellent state is that the Temple of Diana was used as a medieval church, only to be damaged in the French Wars of Religion.

The Bastille

The Bastille was a prison stormed in 1789, sparking the French Revolution. Nothing remains at its original location, but it is still among the significant historic sites of France and is marked by a monument.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Bastille was a fourteenth century fortress turned prison in Paris which would become central in igniting the French Revolution. On 14 July 1789, a large group descended on the Bastille demanding that its prisoners – by now only seven were held there – be released. Their main aim was to have access to weapons and gunpowder that were held in the Bastille.

After some negotiations, the crowd became restless and stormed the prison, an incident known as the “storming of the Bastille”. Whilst the storming of the Bastille had been preceded by general turmoil in Paris, this chaotic event is widely considered to have been the catalyst of the French Revolution. It was followed by the abolition of feudalism and the signing of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a central document of the revolution.

The Bastille was later torn down by the revolutionary government. It was located in what is now known as Place de la Bastille, as shown on the map. Place de la Bastille is now a busy junction with a plaque about the prison. It is centred on a tall statue called Colonne de Juillet – the July Column – which commemorates the events leading up to the revolution.

Some remains of the Bastille building can now be seen at Square Henri Galli, a small park nearby.

The Bayeux Tapestry Museum

One of the top tourist sites in France for fans of the Norman period is the Bayeux Tapestry Museum, home of the famous embroidered account of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Bayeux Tapestry Museum (Musee de la Tapisserie de Bayeux) is housed in a seminary in Bayeux called Centre Guillaume Le Conquerant and holds one of the most famous historical chronicles in the world, the Bayeux Tapestry.

The Bayeux Tapestry is 230-foot wool embroidered account of William, Duke of Normandy’s conquest of England including the Battle of Hastings where he defeated Harold, the King of England on 14 October 1066. Whilst the origins of this incredibly detailed tapestry are a subject of controversy, it is thought that it dates back to the year of the battle and was commissioned by William’s half-brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux.

Told from the Norman viewpoint, the Bayeux Tapestry has itself been a subject of debate, but it remains one of the only sources telling the story of the Norman Conquest and a useful insight into the medieval world. The importance of this historical document has been recognised by UNESCO, who listed it on their Memory of the World Register.

The Bayeux Tapestry Museum displays the original embroidered piece in a special gallery and has a further exhibit offering an insight into the story it tells as well as the way in which it was made. Audio guides lasting twenty minutes explain each of the 58 scenes shown in the tapestry are available in 14 languages and for children in English and French.

The Bayeux Tapestry Museum also has cinema room, showing a documentary about the history of the Norman Conquest and the tapestry. A visit to the Bayeux Tapestry Museum lasts around 1.5 hours.

The Chapel of the Souvenir Francais

This is a memorial to French soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Somme.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Chapel of the Souvenir Francais is a memorial church to the French soldiers who fought in the First World War, particularly the Battle of the Somme.

It was originally founded by the du Bos family, who lost their son in the battle on 25 September 1916 and who wanted a memorial for him and his comrades.

Located in the village of Rancourt, the Chapel of the Souvenir Francais stands next to Rancourt Cemetery, which, at 28,000 square metres is France’s largest burial ground for the soldiers of the Somme. Over 8,500 soldiers are buried here, each symbolised by a simple white cross.

The Chapel of the Souvenir Francais is one of the sites along the Circuit of Remembrance, a route which explores the role this region played in the First World War, specifically between September and November 1916.


TAGS: WW1 Battlefields in France

The Cryptoporticus

Reims is home to a few Roman historic sites in France, including The Cryptoporticus, which is a very well preserved 3rd century AD passageway.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Cryptoporticus (Le Cryptoportique) of Reims is is a very well preserved third century AD Roman passageway. At the time, Reims was a Gallo-Roman town known as Durocortorum.

Like other structures of this kind, the Cryptoporticus of Reims was a semi-subterranean arched passageway, the roof of which would have been a walkway. It would have been one of three such passageways surrounding the forum of Durocortorum.

The Cryptoporticus of Reims is an excellent example of this type of Roman architecture, particularly as it is so very well preserved.

The Franco Australian Museum

The Franco Australian Museum in the Picardie region explores the contributions and experiences of Australian troops in World War I.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Franco Australian Museum in Villers-Bretonneux in France is one of the sites along the route dedicated to First World War history, known as the Circuit of Remembrance.

The Franco Australian Museum looks at the role played by Australian forces during the World War I. A small museum based on the first floor of the Victoria School, the Franco Australian Museum offers a variety of exhibitions including visual presentations.

The town of Villers-Bretonneux was also the site of fierce fighting during the First World War.

The Gier Aqueduct

The Gier Aqueduct near Lyon served its Roman counterpart, Lugdunum. Reconstructed along the roadside, this is a great example of historic sites in France which can be viewed at all times.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Gier Aqueduct was a Roman aqueduct used by the Gallo-Roman city of Lugdunum, which would later become the city of Lyon.

At the time, the Gier Aqueduct would have been one of four aqueducts supplying water to this important and highly populated city.

Today, the impressively restored remains of the Gier Aqueduct, with its stone arches, can be seen just south of Lyon, on the roadside in Chaponost.

The Joan of Arc Memorial Cross

Among the commemorative monuments in France is The Joan of Arc Memorial Cross, which is dedicated to the Catholic saint and military heroine at the site where she was burnt at the stake.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Joan of Arc Memorial Cross is located in Rouen in France in the location where Joan of Arc, the Catholic saint, patron saint of France and solider was burnt at the stake on 30 May 1431.

Joan of Arc was an important figure in the Hundred Years’ War and is said to have been inspired by the voice of God to rid her native France of the English. From freeing fortresses to entire cities such as Paris and Reims, Joan of Arc played a vital role in the war. However, in 1430, Joan was captured and sold to the English.

Joan of Arc was tried and convicted of heresy, leading to her being executed.

In 1456, a court led by Pope Calixtus III posthumously reversed the conviction. Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909 and canonised in 1920.

The Joan of Arc Memorial Cross is an iron construct found at the Eglise Jeanne d’Arc.

Photo by Milan Boers (cc)

The Juno Beach Centre

The Juno Beach Centre explores the history of the Canadian forces in World War II.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Juno Beach Centre, also known as the Normandy Canadian Museum, chronicles the Canadian contribution to the war effort during World War II.

Based in the location assigned to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division in the D-Day Landings, the Juno Beach Centre focuses especially on the events which took place on 6 June 1944, whereby Canadian forces took part in the invasion of Normandy.

From photographs and documents to multimedia presentations and even a tour of the D-Day landing site and bunker, the Juno Beach Centre looks not only at the Canadian efforts in World War II, but paints a portrait of modern Canada.

A visit usually lasts 1.5 hours.

The Lyon Gallo-Roman Tombs

The Lyon Gallo-Roman Tombs are a trio of reconstructed 1st century burial chambers. Whilst probably some of the least well-known historic sites in France, they are also free to view.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Lyon Gallo-Roman Tombs (Tombeaux Gallo-Romain) are three reconstructed ancient burial chambers displayed at Place Eugène-Wernert.

Dating from the 1st century AD, these tombs were discovered in the late 19th century during works constructing the railway system. In order to ensure their preservation, the tombs were painstakingly moved brick by brick to their current location.

Today, these ancient tombs are an interesting site and, in places, the original inscriptions giving details about the occupants of the tombs can be seen.

The Magne Tower

One of many historic sites in France built under the Emperor Augustus, the Magne Tower in Nimes is a well preserved remnant of the Roman fortifications.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Magne Tower (Tour Magne) is an impressive Roman tower built under the Emperor Augustus in the 1st century BC as part of the fortifications of Nimes. In fact, it is the town’s sole remaining tower from this period.

Beyond its Roman roots, the Magne Tower also played a role in the Hundred Years’ War, acting as a stronghold against the English.

Despite the loss of its top storey, the Magne Tower is still an imposing sight, rising some 112 feet in height at the town’s highest point. With its prime location overlooking Nimes, visitors to the Magne Tower can climb its many steps for fantastic views and a map of Roman Nimes.

Photo by Archangel12 (cc)

The Merville Gun Battery

The Merville Gun Battery is a former German fortification neutralised by the Allies on D-Day. It is one of several such World War II historic sites in France.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Merville Gun Battery was a German held fortification in Normandy which the Allies captured in the course of Operation Overlord in World War II.

Operation Overlord was the Allied invasion of Normandy, France, in June 1944. This hinged on the ability of Allied troops to land at various beaches in Normandy, an event known as D-Day or the Normandy Landings.

The Merville Gun Battery, which had four 100mm calibre guns (the Allies thought it had 150mm guns), was within firing distance of Sword Beach, which was designated as a British landing zone. This was a danger to the forces which were to land at Sword Beach and their supporting fleet. Thus, the 9th Battalion of the British Parachute Regiment led by Lieutenant-Colonel Terence Otway were tasked with capturing and disabling Merville Gun Battery before the landings were due to take place on 6 June 1944.

The complex operation was subject to severe setbacks. Only 150 of the 750 troops who were supposed to arrive actually reached the site after troops were dropped in incorrect locations up to ten miles from the intended drop zone. Furthermore, very few supplies reached these troops.

Yet, despite these problems, Otway and his men managed to improvise a new plan and successfully neutralised the Merville Gun Battery just hours before the Normandy Landings began. German troops managed to return to the fortification in the afternoon, but it now had only two working guns and posed a much smaller threat to troops landing at Sword Beach. In any event, it was recaptured by the Allies once again on 7 June.

Today, the Merville Gun Battery is open to the public as the Musée de la Batterie de Merville, which stands as a museum, a memorial and an educational site.

Photo by Historvius

The Pantheon - Paris

The Pantheon in Paris is a neo-classical church completed in 1789. Whilst rarely at the top of tourist sites in France, this church is beautifully decorated and its crypt interns many famous French figures.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Pantheon in Paris (Le Pantheon), was built as a result of King Louis XV’s determination to create an edifice to the glory of St-Genèvieve, the patron saint of Paris.

“The Pantheon” means “Every God” and construction began in 1758 with the intention that the building be a church. However, it was completed just before the French Revolution in 1789 and the revolutionary government converted The Pantheon into a mausoleum for the interment of great Frenchmen.

The Pantheon’s crypt is now the burial place of many French icons and bears the inscription ‘Aux Grands Hommes La Patrie Reconnaissante’, meaning "To the great men, the grateful homeland".

Those buried there include Rousseau, Émile Zola, Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Jean Moulin, Marie Skłodowska-Curie, and the architect of the Pantheon Jacques-Germain Soufflot. In fact, Soufflot died before the Pantheon was completed, meaning that his vision of a semi-gothic building with elements of basic principals was somewhat compromised.

Guided tours of the Pantheon are available and last approximately 45 minutes.

Photo by Historvius

The Pegasus Bridge Museum

The Pegasus Bridge Museum in Normandy is dedicated to the British 6th Airborne Division, the first Allied troops to land on D-Day. It is among many World War II historic sites in northern France.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Pegasus Bridge Museum, officially known as Memorial Pegasus, in Normandy houses the famous Pegasus Bridge, which was captured by British forces on the night of 5-6 June 1944 during World War II.

The capture of Pegasus Bridge was carried out in order to protect the eastern flank of the landing operations at Sword Beach as part of the Allied invasion of German-occupied Northern Europe. It played a vital role in aiding this attack, part of Operation Overlord, more commonly known as the Normandy Landings or “D-Day”.

Visitors to the Pegasus Bridge Museum can not only learn about the events of the capture of this important strategic point, but also about the forces which carried it out, the British 6th Airborne Division.

With displays of historic items such as weapons and gliders, documents, photographs and, of course, Pegasus Bridge itself, visitors can learn about various missions carried out by this division and about the capture of the bridge on D-Day, which has been nicknamed “The Longest Day” after the 1961 film based on the offensive.

Guided tours are available and last around an hour and a quarter.

The Somme 1916 Museum

The Somme 1916 Museum explores the realities of this infamous First World War battle.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Somme 1916 Museum is part of the Circuit of Remembrance, a tour of the Picardie region of France dedicated to the Battle of the Somme. The Battle of the Somme was one of the most brutal battles of the First World War.

Based in a former crypt in the town of Albert which later acted as a Second World War underground shelter, The Somme 1916 Museum displays a series of exhibits relating to the Battle of the Somme, including original weaponry, uniforms and equipment as well as looking at the experiences of the soldiers in the trenches.

The Somme 1916 Museum uses a variety of methods to try and recreate soldiers’ lives, immersing visitors in the experience with imagery, sound effects and lighting. Guided tours are available in English, French and German as are films in the museum’s projection room.


TAGS: WW1 Battlefields in France

Photo by MikeFitz (cc)

Thiepval Memorial

The Thiepval Memorial is a Commonwealth memorial dedicated to over 72,000 servicemen who died in the Somme region during WWI.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Thiepval Memorial is a Commonwealth memorial dedicated to over 72,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom and South Africa who died in the Somme region during World War One and have no known grave. Over 90% of those listed died in the devastating 1916 Battle of the Somme.

Consisting of a massive 45m-high arch resting on sixteen separate pillars, the Thiepval Memorial bears the names of all these missing soldiers.

Also at the Thiepval Memorial is a small cemetery containing the graves of both Commonwealth and French soldiers, signifying the fact that the Somme campaign was a joint operation between the allies.

There is a visitors centre alongside the Thiepval Memorial which contains more information about the history of the campaign and every year a major ceremony of commemoration is held at the Thiepval Memorial.

Toulon National Maritime Museum

The Toulon National Maritime Museum houses exhibits relating to the city’s naval history.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Toulon National Maritime Museum (Musée national de la Marine à Toulon) is an historical and naval museum in the city of Toulon.

Toulon has long been home to a naval base and the Toulon National Maritime Museum is housed in a former naval arsenal, one of the city’s few remnants to have survived World War II.

Inside the Toulon National Maritime Museum, visitors can learn about the development of this historic port and the events which have taken place there, including the 1793 recapture of the port from the British by Napoleon Bonaparte. There are also a series of models of old ships as well as real ones, some dating back to the seventeenth century.

Triumphal Arch of Orange

The Triumphal Arch of Orange is a first century Roman arch built during the reign of Augustus. It is one of the many ancient historic sites in France found in this area.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Triumphal Arch of Orange (Arc de Triomphe d’Orange) is an Ancient Roman monumental gate, probably built during the reign of Augustus.

Originally built on what was via Agrippa, it is thought that the Triumphal Arch of Orange was built in honour of those who fought in the Gallic Wars, particularly the Second Legion.

Today, the Triumphal Arch of Orange is a UNESCO World Heritage site together with the nearby Roman Theatre of Orange. Extremely well preserved with its relief scenes of military events still decipherable, the Triumphal Arch of Orange is considered to be one of the most important existing relics of Roman Gaul.

Tropaeum Alpium

The Tropaeum Alpium, also known as Trophee des Alpes or the Trophy of Augustus, is a Roman monument dedicated to the Emperor Augustus.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Tropaeum Alpium, also known as Trophee des Alpes or the Trophy of Augustus, is a Roman monument dedicated to the Emperor Augustus built to commemorate his victories over the various tribes who inhabited this region.

Built in approximately 6 BC, the Tropaeum Alpium was built on the highest point of the via Julia Augusta, an important Roman thoroughfare in Gaul. It was built at the border of ancient Gaul and signified the subjugation of the area under Rome.

Today only part of this monument survives – though a section of the original construction still stands to a significant height and elements of the original colonnaded tower also survive.


 

Ulster Memorial Tower

The Ulster Memorial Tower in France is a memorial to the men of Ulster who fought and gave their lives in World War I. Made to look like St Helen’s Tower in County Down, this ranks among the more distinctive of commemorative historic sites in France.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Ulster Memorial Tower in Thiepval in France is a 70-foot high stone structure built as a memorial to the men of Ulster who fought and gave their lives during World War I. The first memorial to be built on the Western Front, the Ulster Memorial Tower is a replica of Helen’s Tower, an important monument which is located in County Down in Northern Ireland.

Located on what was the German front line during the Battle of the Somme, the Ulster Memorial Tower faces Thiepval Wood, the site from which the 36th (Ulster) Division made its charge on the first day of the famous offensive, 1 July 1916. Today, the site offers guided tours of these woods from its visitor centre.

Inside the Ulster Memorial Tower, visitors can view the plaques dedicated to the Irish soldiers, several paintings and visit its memorial chapel.


TAGS: WW1 Battlefields in France

Photo by Richard Matthews (cc)

Utah Beach Memorial

This memorial is located at the place where the US 4th Infantry Division landed on D-Day and is one of five such historic sites in France where the Allies landed on that day.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Utah Beach Memorial is an American monument in Normandy which commemorates the World War II D-Day Landings. On 6 June 1944, as part of the Allied invasion of German-occupied Normandy known as Operation Overlord, the US 4th Infantry Division, part of the VII Corps, landed on Utah Beach.

Comprised of a granite obelisk, the Utah Beach Memorial is a monument to the achievements of this division and their successful landings.

Photo by Wolfgang S (cc)

Verdun Memorial

The Verdun Memorial is a comprehensive museum of the Battle of Verdun and a memorial to fallen soldiers.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Verdun Memorial (Mémorial de Verdun) is both a memorial site and a museum located in the Verdun Battlefield in France. The Battle of Verdun was a fierce clash between French and German forces in 1916 during the First World War which resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties.

The Verdun Memorial is set amidst the site of this battle and the surrounding landscape bears the scars of the war, including mine and shell craters. The Verdun Memorial Museum displays an array of objects and documentation dating back to the Battle of Verdun, including weaponry, French and German aircraft, photographs and medical equipment.

Laid out over two floors, the Verdun Memorial Museum immerses the visitor in the realities of the battle by recreating the trench system and using multimedia presentations to guide visitors through the events of the war. Exhibits are translated into English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Dutch, making the Verdun Memorial very accessible and the museum is divided thematically.

For those wishing to tour Verdun generally and see the different sites, the Verdun Memorial offers advice and itineraries, meaning it’s a good starting point for anyone touring independently. It also has a dedicated educational centre.


TAGS: WW1 Battlefields in France

Photo by aurélien. (cc)

Vezelay Basilica

Vezelay Basilica is a 12th century Romanesque church. It is famed among the ecclesiastical historic sites in France as being said to have housed Mary Magdalene’s relics.

DID YOU KNOW?

Vezelay Basilica, also known as Vezelay Abbey or Basilique Ste-Madeleine, has been a place of pilgrimage since it was claimed that the relics of Mary Magdalene had been brought there, sometime before the twelfth century. Whilst it is unlikely that this was really the case, Vezelay Basilica has remained an important site for Christians.

In medieval times, Vezelay Basilica was a key stop for pilgrims making their way to the Spanish church of Santiago de Compostela. This fame was further enhanced by the important events that have taken place at the church, including a meeting between Richard the Lionheart and Philip Augustus in July 1190, just before they embarked on the Third Crusade.

Vezelay Basilica itself was founded as a Benedictine abbey in the ninth century, although the current structure was built later and completed in around the twelfth century. A vast Romanesque structure resplendent with detailed carvings, such as its twelfth century tympanum – a depiction of Christ on His throne surrounded by the apostles - Vezelay Basilica has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979. Much of it was restored by Viollet-le-Duc in the nineteenth century.

Photo by tm-tm (cc)

Vienne Cathedral

Vienne Cathedral was constructed over a long period, starting in the 11th century and up to the 16th.

DID YOU KNOW?

Vienne Cathedral (Cathedrale de Vienne) was constructed over a long period, starting in the 11th century and lasting up to the 16th. Built over such a stretch of time, Vienne Cathedral benefits from an eclectic range of styles, mostly Gothic and Romanesque. Even after the 16th century, the cathedral suffered several damaging events and underwent several restorations, including in the 19th century.

Yet, the Vienne Cathedral of today is not the first to be built. It is thought that the earliest cathedral in Vienne may have been there as early as the 4th century. In the 8th century, Vienne became home to some of the relics of Saint Maurice and, when Pope Innocent IV consecrated the current Vienne Cathedral on 20 April 1251, it was dedicated to this saint. As such, its official name is St. Maurice Cathedral (Cathedrale Saint-Maurice de Vienne).

Photo by TyB (cc)

Vienne Roman Theatre

Vienne Roman Theatre is a first century theatre said to have once been amongst the largest in Gaul. It is one of the historic sites in France which is still used today, now for festivals and shows.

DID YOU KNOW?

Vienne Roman Theatre (Theatre Antique de Vienne) is a first century AD theatre said to have once been amongst the largest in Gaul.

Built sometime around 40 to 50AD, it was originally able to house 13,000 spectators. From games and shows to public meetings, at its peak Vienne Roman Theatre hosted a variety of events, making it very much a social hub.

Now restored, Vienne Roman Theatre is full of life once again as the site of everything from plays to opera and jazz festivals.

Photo by Loimere (cc)

Vimy Ridge Memorial

The Vimy Ridge Memorial commemorates the more than 60,000 Canadians who lost their lives in th First World War.

DID YOU KNOW?

The striking Vimy Ridge Memorial is dedicated to the more than 60,000 Canadians who lost their lives in World War One.

Located on the site of a major victory by Canadian forces, the Battle of Vimy Ridge took place on 9th – 12th April 1917. During this action, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps captured the strategically important ridge and significantly aided the wider outcome of the Battle of Arras, of which the battle formed a part.

As the location of such a crucial Canadian victory, it was at Vimy Ridge that the Canadians chose as the site for their national memorial, and the site commemorates all those Canadians who fought in the war, as well as listing those with no known grave.

As well as the towering memorial, the site includes a number of restored First World War trenches and tunnels, which can also be explored by visitors.

Photo by jinterwas (cc)

Vis-En-Artois Cemetery

Vis-En-Artois Cemetery is a World War I burial site in France’s Pas de Calais region.

DID YOU KNOW?

Vis-En-Artois Cemetery is a burial site of Canadian and British soldiers who died in the First World War located between the villages of Vis-En-Artois and Haucourt.

Canadian forces took these villages in August 1918 and Vis-En-Artois Cemetery, which originally held 430 graves belonging to fallen Canadian soldiers and some from the Second Duke of Wellington regiment, has since been expanded to incorporate graves from smaller, surrounding cemeteries.

Vis-En-Artois Cemetery is now home to 2,369 First World War graves and is managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Many of the graves at Vis-En-Artois Cemetery are unidentified and there are also several memorials.