First opened in 1967, Verdun Memorial Museum bears witness to history and warfare, located in the heart of the battlefield. After more than two years of extensions and renovations to the building by the Brochet Lajus Pueyo firm of architects, and with a new layout designed by the Le Conte-Noirot Agency, the Memorial Museum will be reopening its doors on February 21, 2016, marking the centenary of the start of the Battle of Verdun.
An interpretive center for the battle
The memorial has been given a whole new look in the extended, redesigned building standing on the site of the actual battle. The Verdun Memorial Museum explains and describes the history of the conflict by immersing visitors in the battle that began with a German attack on February 21, 2016. It is the soldiers, both French and German, who are the focal point of the visit. More than 2,000 items, a multitude of photos never before displayed, French and German eyewitness accounts, and outstanding audiovisual exhibits combine to give insight into the experience of the men who came from so many different walks of life to fight here. The tour, over three floors, takes visitors on a journey of discovery that is as educational as it is emotional.
A new immersive visitor experience over three floors
The permanent exhibition, with translations in German and English, is laid out on the first two floors.
The first stage of the exhibition awaiting visitors entering the building sets the Battle of Verdun in its historical period and describes contemporary events. They are invited to follow in the footsteps of a soldier heading for the front line. All of the museum’s founders were ex-servicemen who had fought at Verdun and it was their idea to create a replica of the battlefield as the central exhibit. Now, the replica has been extended with a new audiovisual display that covers an area of 100 sq. meters. The fighting experienced and the violence of the battle are told through archive photographs and artwork by the soldiers. Throughout the exhibition there are everyday objects used by the men, set out in bare wooden display cases, giving visitors a different view of the battle. The logistics of the gigantic combat are illustrated with a mock-up of the road known as the “Sacred Way”.
On the second floor, visitors are shown the environment of the battle and background details of the countries at war. The work that went on behind the French and German lines is shown here, including the role of aviation in history’s first battle of the skies, the role of the high commands and the heroic part played by the medical teams. Through the thoughts and impressions of soldiers on leave, visitors are also given a glimpse of everyday life in France and Germany. The permanent exhibition ends back in the foyer, with information on the history of the Memorial Museum itself.
A new architectural layout
The new Memorial has 1,900 sq. meters of additional space. Two wings, each with an area of 400 sq. meters, have been added to the original museum. One of them will house the museum’s reserve collection; the other will be part of the permanent exhibition, focusing on artillery and the Sacred Way. A foyer has also been built on the lower floor of the museum, set partly into the embankment under the road. The ticket office, shop and tourist information desk specialising in battlefield tourism in Meuse are all in this new area. Last but not least, the third floor, added in 2015, has two side terraces open to the public, a 200 sq. meter hall for temporary exhibitions, a classroom, the documents library and a lounge area.
The project cost a total of €12,500,000 and was financed mainly out of public funds (central government, Lorraine Regional Council, Meuse “county” council), although the museum also received contributions from patrons of the arts.
“A tour of the Memorial Museum leaves a lasting impression. Visitors are brought face to face with History and with those who shaped it beneath the shells and in the mud of the Battle of Verdun.” – Edith Desrousseaux de Medrano, Curator
The official ceremony marking the centenary of the Battle of Verdun will take place at the Memorial Museum on May 29, 2016. It will be part of the “Verdun 2016” commemorations spread over the “300 days” of the battle, from February 21 to December 21, 2016, with a sustained program of special events. For further information, log onto : www.verdun2016.org
Director : Thierry Hubscher | Curator : Edith Desrousseaux de Medrano
Mémorial de Verdun, 1 avenue du Corps Européen, BP 60048, 55100 Verdun. +33 (0) 329 881 916 Open daily, 9.30am to 5pm (December to March) and 9.30am to 7pm (April to November). Admission €11, concession ticket (including children aged 6 to 17) €7
Family pass (2 adults + 2 children) €25
Other prices and details on : www.memorial-verdun.fr