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"The citadel of Verdun is strongly lowered and covered with heavy masses of soil. Therefore it is more than a barracks, it is a casemate; it is the point of contact between the front and the rear. All reliefs end here, they all start from here – it is the switchyard between War and Peace." (Gaston Gras, DOUAUMONT)


Entrance of the citadel during the Great War
Entrance of the citadel during the Great War

On 21st February 1916 at 8:15am the German army launches its major offensive on Verdun. The first shells fall on the citadel. As intended, the staff and certain civil services find shelter in these tunnels dug under 16 metres of rock.

From then on the citadel gets organized like a small subterranean city with ceaseless activity: offices for the staff and its services; immense dormitories for the troops; powder and ammunition depots to supply the front; a bakery equipped with nine bread ovens which produce 41,000 rations per day; equipment dedicated to the breaks and the amusement of the soldier; a switchboard; an infirmary; everything lighted up by an electric power station. As they have never been reached by the bombardments, these subterranean tunnels played a crucial moral and logistical role.


Bakery of the citadel during the Great War
Bakery of the citadel during the Great War

As the subterranean citadel symbolizes the resistance of a whole nation, it is the setting for a moving ceremony on 13th September 1916.

In the presence of political personalities and French and allied military authorities, the President of the Republic, Raymond Poincaré, hands over 8 honorary medals to the representatives of the city Verdun.

Today, Verdun is, with its 26 medals, the most decorated city of France.