The Forbidden Zone: 65 Square Miles of France Still Uninhabitable after World War I


(Photo: Camille)

The Battle of Verdun consumed most of 1916. Over 10 months, 300,000 Frenchmen and Germans died. Another 750,000 were wounded. There was a constant monsoon of artillery shells. It permanently changed the landforms of the area. After the war, it was dangerous to live there because of the vast amounts of unexploded ordnance, including poison gas shells. Stepping on the wrong spot or plowing a furrow in the wrong field meant death.

So France closed off much of the area, which became known as the Zone Rouge or "Red Zone." It gradually shrank over the years, but approximately 65 square miles remains off-limits to most human activity. Vegetation has filled in many of the craters. Wild animals, especially boars, are common. Last year, National Geographic explored this forbidden zone that remains scarred by war a century later. It quotes historian Christina Holstein:

Holstein believes the Zone Rouge will never be fully cleared of its unexploded ordnance.

“They reckon that they have 300 years work ahead of them before they have cleared the whole battlefield,” she says. “And they never will.” […]

“I suspect that what might happen is that certain areas are cleared a bit more and perhaps you get a 'discovery trail' or something like that so that people can walk around some of the main sites and get some information,” she says.

Holstein also thinks that the Zone Rouge’s light human footprint over the last 100 years might actually be one of its greatest assets.  

“Because it has been abandoned and covered with trees, it is a microcosm of something that happened a hundred years ago,” Holstein says. “It is a bit like Sleeping Beauty. Things have just gotten frozen in time.”

-via VA Viper


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