1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Verdun
VERDUN, a garrison town of north-eastern France, capital of an arrondissement in the department of Meuse, on the main line of the Eastern railway between Paris and Metz,. 42 m. N.N.E. of Bar-le-Duc. Pop. (1906) 12,837. In addition the population comptie a part (soldiers, &c.) numbers 8198. Verdun is situated in a basin surrounded by vine-clad hills on the Meuse, which here forms the Eastern Canal.
Verdun as a fortress is of first-rate importance. It lies directly opposite the frontier of German Lorraine and the great entrenched camp of Metz. At the time of the war of 1870 (when it was defended for long without hope of success by General Guerin de Waldersbach) it was still a small antiquated fortress of the Vauban epoch, but in the long line of fortifications on the Meuse created by Serre de Riviere in 1875 Verdun, forming the left of the "Meuse Line" barrier, was made the centre of an entrenched camp. The first lesson of 1870 being taken to heart, forts were placed (Belrupt S.E., St Michel N.E., Belleville N. and La Chaume and Regret W.) on all the surrounding heights that the besiegers had used for their batteries, but the designers soon extended the line of the eastern defences as far out as the sharply defined cliffs that, rising gently for some miles from the Meuse, come to an abrupt edge and overlook the plain of Woevre. On this front, which is about 5 ½ m. long, the most important works are (from right to left) Chatillon, Manezel, Moulainville, Eix, Mardi Gras, Lanfee, Vaux and Hardimont. At right angles to this line, the south front, the works of which are placed along one of the long western spurs of the line of heights, are forts Rozellier, St Symphorien and Haudainville, the last overlooking the Meuse. The north front, also on a spur of the ridge, is thickly studded with forts, these in some cases being but 200 yds. apart and the left fort overlooking the Meuse. Behind the east front, chiefly designed to close the valley by which the Metz-Verdun railway penetrates the line of heights, are Fort Tavannes with its outworks and a series of batteries on the adjacent spurs. On the left bank of the Meuse there is a complete semicircle of forts. At the northern end of this semicircle (besides some works in the valley itself), and crossing its fire with the left of the north front, is Fort Belle-Epine, then comes Marre, Bourrus and Bruyeres, all four being on a single ridge facing N.W. The west front is composed of Fort Germonville, Fort Bois de Sartelles, Fort Bois du Chapitre, Fort Landrecourt and Fort Dugny, which last is within sight of Fort Haudainville over the Meuse. In second line behind these works are Fort Choisel, Chana redoubt and Fort Sartelles. In all there are 16 large forts and about 20 smaller works, the perimeter of the whole being about 30 m. and the greatest diameter of the fort-ring 9.
The chief quarter of the town lies on the slope of the left bank of the river and is dominated by the citadel which occupies the site of the old abbey of St Vanne founded in the 10th century. Several arms of the river intersect the quarter on the right bank. The whole town is surrounded by a bastioned enceinte, pierced by four gates; that to the N.E., the Porte Chaussee, flanked by two crenelated towers, is an interesting specimen of the military architecture of the 15th century. The cathedral of Notre-Dame stands on the site of two previous churches of the Romanesque period, the first of which was burnt down in 1047; a crypt and other remains of the second building consecrated in 1147 are still to be seen, but the greater part of the present church dated from subsequent periods. Built under the influence of Rhenish architecture, Notre-Dame has double transepts and, till the 18th century when the western apse was replaced by a façade, had an apse at each extremity. A fine cloister to the S.W. of the cathedral dates from the 15th century. The hôtel-de-ville (17th century) contains the museum.
Verdun is the seat of a bishop and a sub-prefect and has tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a communal college, ecclesiastical seminaries and a branch of the Bank of France. The industries include metal founding, the manufacture of sweetmeats (dragées de Verdun), machinery, nails, files, embroidery, linen, chairs and rope and the distillation of liqueurs. The canal port has trade in timber, agricultural produce, stone and building materials and coal.
Verdun (Verodunum), an important town at the time of the Roman conquest, was made a part of Belgica Prima. The bishopric, of which the most celebrated holder was St Vanne (498–525), dates from the 3rd century. Verdun was destroyed during the period of the barbarian invasions, and did not recover till towards the end of the 5th century. Clovis seized the town in 502, and it afterwards belonged to the kingdom of Austrasia. In 843 the famous treaty was signed here by the sons of Louis the Pious (see Germany, History). In the 10th century Verdun was definitively conquered by Germany and put under the temporal authority of its bishops. Together with Toul and Metz, the town and its domain formed the territory of the Trois-Évêchés. In the 11th century the burghers of the now free and imperial town began a struggle with their bishops, which ended in their obtaining certain rights in the 12th century. In 1552 Henry II. of France took possession of the Trois-Évêchés, which finally became French by the treaty of Westphalia. In 1792, after some hours of bombardment, the citizens opened their gates to the Prussians—a weakness which the Revolutionary Government punished by the execution of several of the inhabitants. In 1870 the Prussians, unable to seize the town by a coup de main, invested and bombarded it three different times, till it capitulated in the beginning of November.