A Tour of the Eerie Villages France Never Rebuilt After WWI

After the Battle of Verdun left hundreds of thousands dead, the towns-turned-battlefields sat empty out of respect.

The Battle of Verdun, an 11-month struggle in northeast France between German and French forces during World War I, left hundreds of thousands on both sides dead (recent casualty estimates range between 700,000 and just under 1 million). When the fighting finally ceased in late summer 1917, the Germans had retreated, leaving small villages along the battlefields completely destroyed. As a tribute, many were never rebuilt

Vaux-devant-Damloup was rebuilt (2006 population: 68) and Douamont and Ornes were partially put back together. The other six sit empty, thought they do have symbolic mayoral representation and are managed by an appointed three-member council.

Today, these former villages appear as tranquil as they do haunting. Reclaimed by nature in the nearly 100 years that have passed, places like Ornes, Fleury, and Louvemont are defined by little more than forest, pathways, and signage that tell passers-by where a cafe or a main street once was.

Reuters photographers recently captured what these places look like today and also, by digging through local archives, how they appeared before being wiped out by war:

A combination picture shows views of the village of Louvemont near Verdun, in 1916 (top) and March 6, 2014. (REUTERS/Collection Louvemont (top) and Vincent Kessler (bottom)) 
A combination picture shows views of the village of Ornes near Verdun, in 1916 (top) after a German offensive, and March 5, 2014. (REUTERS/Collection Ornes (top) and Vincent Kessler (bottom))
A combination picture shows views of the village of Ornes near Verdun, in 1916 (top) and March 5, 2014. (REUTERS/Collection Ornes (top) and Vincent Kessler (bottom)) 
A combination picture shows views of the village of Fleury near Verdun, before 1916 (top) and March 5, 2014. (REUTERS/Collection Fleury (top) and Vincent Kessler (bottom)) 
A road sign that reads "main street" stands in the village of Bezonvaux near Verdun March 4, 2014. (REUTERS/Vincent Kessler)
A plaque marks the place where a cafe used to stand in the village of Fleury near Verdun March 5, 2014. (REUTERS/Vincent Kessler) 
A monument stands in Vaux near Verdun March 4, 2014. The quote from former French president and later prime minister Raymond Poincare reads "Passers-by, tell other people that this village died to save Verdun so that Verdun could save the world." (REUTERS/Vincent Kessler)

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