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The origins of the citadell of Verdun and the building of the tunnels

As a fortified promontory since the most recent times, Verdun has always been an important strategic place. The city is annexed by the king of France Henri II in 1552.
To protect and supervise it, he decides to rebuild the medieval fortifications according to the principles of the bastioned architecture. The idea to build a citadel is born.

Overall plan of the citadel from Vauban
Overall plan of the citadel from Vauban

The Saint-Vanne Mountain, which is the historical birthplace of the city and where there rears up a Benedictine abbey (with the same name) since the 11th century, is chosen. The building of the citadel begins in 1567 and ends in 1634.

Verdun is definitely annexed to the kingdom of France in 1648. Louis XIV wants to ensure the protection of the borders by improving the defences of the big fortresses. This task is entrusted to the marshal Vauban. In 1687 Vauban tackles the work in the citadel and organizes the defence of the south-east of the city.

During the wars against Prussia in 1792 and 1871, the citadel suffers from numerous bombardments, which destroy the barracks and a part of the abbey.

The loss of Alsace-Moselle in 1871 puts Verdun in the front line and at 60km from a garrison town which has been annexed recently, Metz. The new border has to be defended and fortified.

Under the command of the military engineer Séré de Rivières, director of the Engineers of the Ministry of War, 19 forts are built around Verdun. In addition, 4km of subterranean tunnels are dug underneath the citadel from 1886 to 1893. They can shelter men and material in case of a conflict.