Verdun is the largest city in Meuse and perhaps best known for the major battle that took place here in World War I. Key to that battle was the immense Verdun Citadel, with its extensive underground galleries.
The origins of the citadel date back to 1567 but a century later major additions were made by the famious military engineer Vauban. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century major changes included the building of 19 forts around Verdun and the excavation of around four kilometres of galleries beneath the citadel itself.
These preparations were to prove vital as the citadel came under attack in Febraury 1916. The citadel continued to operate underground with dormitories, magazines, kitchens and hospital all continuing to operate sheltered from enemy fire. When the Germans were eventually forced back, the city of Verdun was awarded a number of medals for its bravery during the battle.
In November 1920 the ‘unknown soldier’ to be interred beneath the Arc de Triomphe was chosen at Verdun Citadel. Coffins of eight unknown casualties from different areas of the battlefield were assembled and a young corporal - Auguste Thin - was given the honour of randomly selecting one of these for ceremonial burial in Paris.
Today the underground galleries can be visited on an guided train ride, where key parts of the complex are traversed. The visit concludes with a re-enactment of the ceremony where the unknown soldier was chosen.