France > Lorraine
During World War II, when de Gaulle and the Free French chose Lorraine's double-barred cross as their emblem, they were making a powerful point. For it is this region, above all others, that the French associate with war. Its name derives from the Latin, Lotharii regnum, "the kingdom of Lothar", who was one of the three grandsons of Charlemagne, among whom his empire was divided by the Treaty of Verdun in 843 AD.
Lorraine has been the principal route of invasion from the German lands across the Rhine ever since, even though the trench-like valleys of the rivers Meuse and Moselle form a main line of defence. Joan of Arc was born here in 1412, at Domrémy-la-Pucelle on the Meuse, when the land was disputed by the dukes of Burgundy and the kings of France it only finally became part of the kingdom of France in 1766. In 1792 a mixed army of Prussians and other alarmed royalist enemies of the French Revolution was stopped by Revolutionary forces at the battle of Valmy to the west of Verdun. In 1870 Napoléon III's armies suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Prussians on the heights above Metz. Then, in the twentieth century, the two world wars saw terrible fighting in the area, both ultimately involving Allied troops alongside the French armies.
Of all the killing fields the bloodiest was Verdun, where the French army fought one of the most costly and protracted battles of all time from 1916 to 1918. The battlefield is a site of national pilgrimage, and the SNCF still lays on extra trains here for the celebration of Armistice Day, though there are now few left alive who knew and mourn the hundreds of thousands of dead. For a fascinating and detailed history of all the various battlefields there is no better account than Richard Holmes' Fatal Avenue. The rest of Lorraine a rolling, windswept plateau of farmland to the south, moribund coalfields and heavy industry along the Belgian and German frontiers north of the handsome capital, Metz seems to stand in the shadows, though the smart city of Nancy, the attractive market town of Pont-à-Mousson and picturesque villages such as Rodemack are exceptions to this rule. The landscape may not be the finest in France but, if this is your first stop out of Paris, you'll notice that the people seem far friendlier.
Pages in section ‘Lorraine’: Verdun, Nancy, Metz, Amneville, Moselle, Pont–a–Mousson, Travel details, Region.