10 largest cities in France




Verdun, officially named Verdun-sur-Meuse from 1801 to 1970, is a French commune located in the department of Meuse, in the Grand Est region. It is located in the historical and cultural region of Lorraine.

The existence of the Verdun conurbation dates back to Antiquity when the Celts founded an oppidum overlooking a bend in the Meuse. Become the capital of the Civitas Verodunensium, the city is one of the four cities of the Roman province of Belgium first. In 843, the Treaty of Verdun, which divided the Carolingian Empire into three kingdoms, was signed there. City of the Holy Roman Empire since the tenth century, Verdun was submitted by France in 1552, during the “Voyage of Austrasie”. It forms with the other free cities of the Empire, Metz and Toul, the province of Trois-Évêchés, which is definitively attached to the Kingdom of France in 1648 by the Treaty of Münster. A fortress in eastern France, the city is the scene of several battles, such as that of 1792 during the wars of the French Revolution, and that of 1870 during the Franco-Prussian war. But it was above all the Battle of Verdun in 1916, during the First World War, that made the city famous throughout the world forever.

Little affected by the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, Verdun is now turning to memory tourism. The city has many military remains due to its history as a stronghold, as well as several places of memory of the Great War. The city also has a rich religious heritage as the seat of the bishopric of Verdun since the 4th century.

Main urban pole of the center of Meuse, the town is one of the two sub-prefectures of the department, and the capital of the arrondissement of Verdun, the Pays de Verdun and the urban community of Grand Verdun. It is also the most populous city in the department, even if it has continued to see its number of inhabitants decrease since the 1970s.



Antiquity: birth of an agglomeration
The history of Verdun begins with the Celts who founded an oppidum called Verodunum (or Virodunum) on a rocky promontory between the valley of the Meuse and that of the Scance, its tributary. From 57 BC, in the midst of the Gallic War, the Romans occupied the site which appeared to be a pagus, an administrative subdivision of the Civitas Mediomatricorum (City of Mediomatrics) based in Divodurum Mediomatricorum (Metz). Following the administrative reorganization of the Roman emperors Diocletian and Constantine I, the agglomeration becomes the capital of the new Civitas Verodunensium, created by the dismemberment of the Civitas Mediomatricorum. It was then one of the four cities of the first Roman province of Belgium with the Civitas Treverorum (City of Trévires) based in Augusta Treverorum (Trier), the Civitas Leucorum (City of the Leuques) based in Tullium Leucorum (Toul) and the Civitas Mediomatricorum. The city, which occupied "La Roche" on the left bank of the Meuse, expands and crosses the river to extend on the other bank. It is both a shopping center along the second route of the Roman road linking Reims to Metz, but also a port which exports, in particular to Northern and Eastern Europe, ceramics and Argonne glasses.

In the third century, due to growing insecurity in the region, the city was built with walls and became a castrum, like several other cities. At the beginning of the 4th century, Verdun was evangelized by Saint Saintin who had the first church dedicated to Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul built on Mount Saint-Vanne. The city becomes the seat of the bishopric of Verdun and Saint Saintin, its first bishop. Barbarian invasions are on the rise as the Roman Empire collapses. In 451, the Huns ravaged the region and Attila would even have taken and sacked the city. The bishop then installed the cathedral in the shelter of the Roman castrum.

Verodunum is mentioned both in the Antonine Itinerary, a travel guide to ancient Rome from the third century, and in the Notitia provinciarum et civitatum Galliae (Notice des Gaules), a list of the provinces of Gaul from the fifth century .

Early Middle Ages: entry into the Holy Empire
At the end of the fifth century, Clovis, leader of the Franks, invaded the north-east of Gaul. Verdun is besieged and the inhabitants send the priest Euspicius to negotiate their surrender. Clovis forgives the besieged and appoints Vanne, nephew of Euspicius, as the new bishop of Verdun. When Clovis died in 511, his son Thierry I received the eastern part of Gaul which took the name of Austrasia. Verdun becomes the capital of a county whose boundaries are those of the old civitas, one of the largest in Frankish Gaul. The city is both a political center and a religious center with a count and a bishop who administer the city.

In the ninth century, the County of Verdun was included in the Carolingian Empire of Charlemagne. In 843, the Treaty of Verdun divided the empire between his three grandsons: West Francia for Charles the Bald, Eastern Francia for Louis the Germanic and median Francia for Lothaire I, to which the county of Verdun belongs. On the death of Lothaire I in 855, the middle Francia was also divided into three by the Treaty of Prüm and Verdun was then part of a territory which would later take the name of Lotharingia.

Under the Merovingians and the Carolingians, Verdun is a prosperous city which trades metals, wines, fabrics, cereals and spices with the countries of the North. The city is also a slave market to the chagrin of the Church. The city, which was a castration center for slaves transformed into eunuchs, maintains privileged relations with Muslim Spain, which can be reached via Langres then Meaux.

Under the episcopate of Barnoin (925-939), the city was plundered by the Hungarians.

In 925, Lotharingia was attached to the kingdom of Germania (formerly Eastern Francia) of Henri I the Oiseleur. Verdun will then belong to the Holy Roman Empire for the next five centuries, despite the attempts of the French kings to retake Lotharingia. In 959, Lotharingia was divided into two duchies: that of Basse-Lorraine (present-day Belgium) and that of Haute-Lorraine (present-day Lorraine), in which Verdun is found.


The Holy Roman Emperor Otto I placed the Church under his direct tutelage in order to counter the lords who sought to feudize themselves. He gives the bishops privileges and sovereign rights and chooses the attorneys, that is to say the lay lords who defend the goods of the Church in his name. Bishop Haymon, from 988 to 1024, was the first to obtain the right to mint money and to use Verdun tolls and markets. In 963, Godefroid Ier “the Captive” was the first count of Verdun to come from the House of Ardenne, a wealthy Lotharingian family.

Verdun developed with the construction of Notre-Dame cathedral in 990, four large Benedictine abbeys and two collegiate churches. The port is seen surrounded by walls around 985, and not the usual wooden palisades. A monastic reform marked the beginning of the arts of illumination, enamelling and goldsmithing, in which Nicolas de Verdun made himself known.

Central Middle Ages: struggle between bourgeoisie and episcopate
The counts and bishops of Verdun do not get along as the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire appoint loyal German bishops to counter the spirit of independence of the counts. The Count of Verdun and Duke of Haute-Lotharingie Godefroid "the Bearded" went so far as to take the city in 1047, expel Bishop Thierry and set the cathedral on fire. But he ends up doing public penance, returns the stolen territories and rebuilds the cathedral.

In 1095, Godefroy de Bouillon took the lead of the First Crusade and sold his county to Bishop Richer before he left for the Holy Land. The new attorneys of the Church are the counts of Bar. Renaud I of Bar will lose and regain the county-avouerie several times against William I of Luxembourg and Count Henri I of Grandpré. But he abuses his power by building a dungeon, the Tour-le-Voué, at the top of the city and by having Bishop Ursion abdicate. The new bishop, Albéron de Chiny, and the inhabitants demolish the tower and force Renaud to relinquish his office.

On August 17, 1156, in Colmar, the emperor Frédéric Barberousse confirms to the new bishop Albert de Mercy and to the Church of Verdun the benefit of the County of Verdun given by Otto III to Haymon at the end of the tenth century, in recognition of the services rendered to the Empire. The ecclesiastics have the right to mint money, to dispense justice, and are owners, outside Verdun, of the abbey of Juvigny, of the collegiate church of Montfaucon and of ten fortresses. The bishops decide to no longer appoint a lawyer and to remain the only masters by combining the functions. In 1227, the king of the Romans Henri VII will qualify the bishop of Verdun of princeps (prince of the Holy Empire) at a time when the latter administers a hundred villages.

In the 12th century, the rich bourgeois, or city dwellers, wanted to participate in the government of the city, but the bishops refused to share power. Many clashes will then oppose the bourgeoisie to the ecclesiastics. In 1142, Conrad III had already recognized a custom and a right specific to the Verdun bourgeois. In 1195, Henry VI took them under his special protection. In 1208, while the war was raging, the bourgeois allied to the lords drove out the chapter and Bishop Albert II of Hierges was killed while besieging the city. Just like in Metz, the bourgeoisie conjoined and equip themselves with jurors or "wardours (guardians) of the peace" making up a new magistracy, the "Number". Verdunites also draft a Peace Charter. But the bourgeois having obtained the leading functions do not belong to the Common but to the rich patrician families called the Lignages of Verdun. In 1214, Emperor Frederick II recognized the Messina Peace Charter and therefore tacitly that of Verdun, while forbidding the Verdunese to conjure up. The struggle between the bourgeoisie and the episcopate, however, continued throughout the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.


In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Verdun experienced its golden age. The city is divided into an upper town which concentrates the religious and administrative centers, and a lower town comprising the residential quarters inhabited by traders and craftsmen. The town then has 13,000 inhabitants. The industry is prosperous, between weaving of sheets, tanning of skins and pieces of silverware of Mosan art. The merchants crisscrossed Europe via Verdun, bringing back wood, precious metals, fabrics and spices. Many abbeys were built like the Benedictines of Saint-Vanne, Saint-Paul and Saint-Airy. But the period of prosperity does not last. At the end of the thirteenth century, traffic on the Meuse decreased in favor of that on the Moselle or the Rhine. Already in 1132, Bishop Albéron de Chiny had stopped minting money, leaving room for the money of Châlons-sur- Marne and entering the French monetary zone. Urban industry faces competition from rural industry, which is then more competitive.

In the fourteenth century, Verdun became aware of its vulnerability. The city is in fact encircled to the south by the county of Bar, to the north by that of Luxembourg and to the west by France which annexed Champagne in 1285. The influence of France is increasing in the west of Lorraine. : it annexed the city of Toul in 1300, the moving Barrois in 1301 and the bishopric of Toul in 1305. The Verdunois placed themselves in turn under the protection of Gobert VIII d'Apremont in 1314, of Edward I of Bar, then of the king of France Louis X "the Hutin" in 1315, causing inevitable conflicts to which Jean of Luxembourg joins. Finally, in 1331, Bishop Henri d'Apremont placed the city in the perpetual custody of France. With the outbreak of the Hundred Years War in 1337, the King of France placed the city under the joint custody of the Counts of Bar and Luxembourg.

Late Middle Ages: the decline
The plague struck Lorraine and Verdun around 1348/1350, killing between 30 and 60% of the population. Occupied by the war, the King of France no longer takes care of keeping Verdun, leaving the Empire to restore its authority there with difficulty. The emperor of the Romans Charles IV suppresses all the preceding reforms and gives again the power to the bishopric and the lineages. He then re-established joint custody of Bar and Luxembourg, which provoked the anger of the bourgeois for whom these guards were expensive. They formed a coalition in 1358 with Yolande de Bar, already in conflict with the bishopric since 1352 and the city since 1356. The Verdunois was ravaged but the two parties made peace in 1359 because of the growing threat from the Rover Scout companies. The bishopric and the city are then very indebted.

In 1374, Verdun obtained the title of free city of the Empire, placed under the direct supervision of the emperor. The seal of the city changes to feature an imperial eagle instead of a cathedral. The Grand-Rempart forms a new enclosure of around thirty towers and three monumental gates, including the Porte Chaussée. The city is not going to know peace, however. In 1382, during the Great Western Schism, Verdun had two bishops. In addition, the protectors of the city follow one another, alternating between France and the Holy Roman Empire, then between France and Burgundy. Finally, the bourgeoisie have less and less power while financial difficulties are felt. Abbeys and convents, which have seen the number of religious drop, must sell part of their property to survive

16th century: a French town
Even if the city remains a land of Empire and the bishop a Prince of Empire, the city is more and more under the French influence, by the language, the origin of the bishops and the religious orders, by the style architecture and economics (use of currencies and trade relations). In addition, the Holy Roman Empire no longer protects the territory of the cities of Metz, Toul and Verdun (future Trois-Évêchés) against looters.


In 1548, the new bishop Nicolas Psaume turned to France to take the political and religious situation in hand. The king of France Henri II allied with the Protestant princes of Germany in struggle with the emperor of the Romans Charles V, and became vicar of the Empire and protector of the Trois-Évêchés. In 1552, he organized the “Voyage d'Allemagne” (or “Voyage d'Austrasia”), a military expedition to the territory of the Holy Empire. After having taken Metz and Toul without a fight and having gone to Alsace, he entered Verdun peacefully on June 12, 1552. The same evening he left the city, leaving behind a garrison of 300 men under the authority of a governor, Marshal de Tavannes.

A few months later, the emperor Charles V seeks to retake the territory of the Trois-Évêchés and lays siege to Metz. But the city resisted under the command of Duke François de Guise and the siege was unsuccessful, forcing the emperor and his army to withdraw.

With the French occupation of 1552, the bishops of Verdun lost all political power. The city then has 3 chapters, 14 abbeys and convents, and 24 churches. The cathedral chapter is made up of an archpriest, archdeacons, a cantor, a schoolboy, a chancellor, about sixty canons and chaplains. Bishop Nicolas Psaume however took an active part in the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and undertook to enforce his decisions and to fight Protestantism. In 1558, he founded a university where law, medicine, theology, philosophy and literature were taught, but it was to close its doors in 1565.

Despite the French occupation, the King of France, like the Emperor, still considers Verdun to be an imperial city. Bishops are still appointed by the Holy Empire and justice is administered by the Imperial Chamber. The city briefly passed under the care of Charles III of Lorraine from 1590 to 1595.

17th and 18th centuries: a garrison town
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the French monarchy wanted to bring the city out of the Holy Empire for good. Relations with France are intensifying. From 1624 to 1635, the king's engineers erected a citadel to assume the defenses of the kingdom.

Finally, in 1648, the Treaty of Münster, forming part of the Treaties of Westphalia, confirms the attachment of the city and the bishopric of Verdun to the kingdom of France. The inhabitants carved the king's arms on the city gates and adopted a fleur-de-lis crowned with gold as their new coat of arms. The border of the kingdom being found on the Rhine, Verdun becomes an important element of defense. Vauban fortified the city: he locked it up in a bastioned enclosure, surrounded by glacis, and he developed a system of three lock-bridges, including that of Saint-Amand, to flood the plain around the city. But not all the planned works are carried out, leaving the city vulnerable, unable to withstand a siege. Verdun will then only be a stopping place serving as a stopover for the royal troops. The garrison stabilized around 3,000 men.

In the seventeenth century, the city lost its judicial and administrative autonomy and came under the control of Metz, where it became one of the five and then eleven royal bailiwicks. A small town of 10,000 inhabitants, a second-rate military place and a modest administrative center, Verdun did not experience great economic growth or major transformations.

In the eighteenth century, Verdun's activities still revolve around regional trade, crafts, construction, tanneries, spinning mills, and sugar mills. The city experienced a period of peace and found itself in the grip of a constructive fever: the Saint-Nicolas chapel of the Jesuit college in 1731, the episcopal palace, the Saint-Paul abbey and the restoration of the cathedral in 1755. In 1737, the city buys the Japin hotel to make it its town hall. Two barracks were built to accommodate the men of the garrison: the Saint-Paul barracks (then Joan of Arc) from 1729 to 1735 and that of Saint-Nicolas from 1723 to 1766.