Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
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: