1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ardennes (district)

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ARDENNES, a district covering some portion of the ancient forest of Ardenne, and extending over the Belgian province of Luxemburg, part of the grand duchy, and the French department of Ardennes. Bruzen Lamartinière states in his Dictionnaire Géographique that the Gauls and Bretons called it by a word signifying “the forest,” which was turned into Latin as Arduenna silva, and he thinks it quite probable that the name was really derived from the Celtic word ardu (dark, obscure). The Arduenna Silva was the most extensive forest of Gaul, and Caesar (Bello Gallico, lib. vi. cap. 29) describes it as extending from the Rhine and the confines of the Treviri as far as the limits of the Nervii. In book v. the Roman conqueror describes his campaign against Indutiomarus and the Treviri in the Ardenne forest. Strabo gave it still greater extent, treating it as covering the whole region from the Rhine to the North Sea. It is safer to give it the more reasonable dimensions of Caesar, and to accept the verdict of later commentators that it never extended west of the Scheldt. At the division of the empire of Charlemagne between the three sons of Louis the Débonnaire, effected by the pact of Verdun in 843, the forest had become a district and is called therein pagus Arduensis. It was part of the division that fell to Lothair, and several of the charters of 843 expressly specify certain towns as being situated in this pagus. In the 10th century the district had become a comitatus, subject to the powerful count of Verdun, who changed his style to that of count of Ardenne.

The Belgian Ardennes may be said now to extend from the Meuse above Dinant on the west to the grand duchy of Luxemburg and Rhenish Prussia as far north as the Baraque de Michel on the east, and from a line drawn eastward from Dinant through Marche, Durbuy and Stavelot to the Hautes Fagnes on the north, to the French frontier roughly marked by the Semois valley in the south. Within these limits there are still some of the finest woods in Europe, which seem to have come down to us almost intact from the days of the Arduenna of Caesar. Notable among these portions of the great forest are the woods of St Hubert, the woods round La Roche, and those of the Amerois, Herbeumont, and Chiny on the Semois. In the grand duchy the forest has almost entirely disappeared, but owing to the compulsory law of replanting in Belgium this fate does not seem likely to attend the Belgian Ardennes.

In addition to being a forest the Ardennes is a plateau, and it offers to the geologist a most interesting field of investigation. The greater part of the Ardennes is occupied by a large area of Devonian beds, through which rise the Cambrian masses of Rocroi and Stavelot, and a few others of smaller size. Upon the folded slates and schists which constitute these inliers the Devonian rests with marked unconformity; but north of the ridge of Condroz Ordovician and Silurian beds make their appearance. Near Dinant carboniferous beds are infolded among the Devonian. Along the northern margin lies the intensely folded belt which constitutes the coalfield of Namur, and, beneath the overlying Mesozoic beds, is continued to the Boulonnais, Dover and beyond. The southern boundary of this belt is formed by a great thrust-plane, the faille du midi, along which the Devonian beds of the south have been thrust over the carboniferous beds of the coalfield.

The Ardennes are the holiday ground of the Belgian people, and much of this region is still unknown except to the few persons who by a happy chance have discovered its remoter and hitherto well-guarded charms. There is still an immense quantity of wild game to be found in the Ardennes, including red and roe deer, wild boar, &c. The shooting is preserved either by the few great landed proprietors left in the country, or by the communes, who let the right of shooting to individuals. Occasionally it is still stated in the press that wolves have been seen in the Ardennes, but this is a mere fiction. The last wolf was destroyed there in the 18th century.