Remembrance tourism at Reims
Few cities were visited by as much destruction as was Reims during the First World War. Indeed the city was almost completely destroyed. The fire at the cathedral on 19 September 1914 combined with 1,051 days of bombardment led to the city being awarded the légion d’honneur in 1919. Very many sites, which one can visit by taking the remembrance tours, remind the visitor of how much this part of the world suffered during the First World War.
The Fort de la Pompelle
Built on a hill just eight kilometres away from Reims, the Fort de la Pompelle, was responsible for defending that city. It would be one of only a few positions to remain in Allied hands during the war. Today a development and museum project aims to make the museum of the Fort de la Pompelle one of the must-see sites for the commemorations of the Centenary in 2014 of the Great War.
It is one of the rare sites open to the public which still bears the scars of the fighting. Furthermore close by can be found several commemorative monuments, ossuary and cemeteries (monument to the Russian expeditionary corps, stele to the soldiers of la Pompelle, the “Vauthier” stone to the Mexican veterans, regimental stones and plaques of the Fort).
Its museum is home to a rich collection all about the Great War including the Charles Friese collection, the only one of its kind in the world with some 560 types of headgear belonging to the imperial German army.
The monument to the black army
The Monument to the Heroes of the Black Army of Reims, which is the work of Paul Moreau Vauthier and which was inaugurated in 1924, is to be reborn. This monument, “in recognition of the adopted Children of France, who died fighting for freedom and civilisation” occupies a special place in local, national and colonial history. It was built on a granite base brought over from Africa and the names of the principal battles during which African troops had been engaged during the First World War were engraved on it. On its top sat a bronze representing the group of African soldiers from the Colonial Army Corps.
The monument was destroyed when German troops entered Reims in September 1940. It was loaded on to a wagon at the Reims station and taken to an unknown destination. In November 2013, the city was presented with an identical monument.
The Discovery centre at Suippes
Located on the former Champagne front, the 14-18 Marne Discovery Centre at Suipppes is at the crossroads of the sites of Verdun and the Chemin des Dames. Built over a space of 600m², Marne 14-18 was created from a modern and interactive design: it offers a living, modern and humanist account of the First World War. A rich iconographic collection with numerous accounts left by the soldiers and civilians demonstrates the full intensity and horror of the conflict.
Interactive terminals provide a vivid account of the story of the men and women of the Great War: they enable visitors to live the destiny of a character swept along by the events. Moments from the lives of soldiers and civilians during the first world war have been put together and incorporated in a computer program which presents them to the visitor in the following way: each person entering the centre, registers his or her finger print and is allocated, depending on whether the visitor is male or female, and completely at random, a particular life path. The person then follows the character’s adventures right the way through the visit to Marne 14-18 using 5 terminals spread out along the circuit. Each one marks a stage in the evolving personal circumstances of the protagonist.
The areas around Suippes and the neighbouring towns and villages bear witness to the fighting through numerous remembrance venues. Monuments which are either on a large scale or more modest in size all depict the power with which these soldiers were engaged: soldiers who came from background which were so different and sometime far away: Russians, Poles, Americans, Africans... These sites are very much part of Marne 14-18 and are located at the heart of the tourist trail “Land of sensations – In the footsteps of the Armies of Champagne”.
The remembrance paths
As part of the commemoration of the Centenary of the First World War, tours are going to be devised in the Reims region so that visitor can retrace this period in History.
More than 250 remembrance venues have been identified in this region and several tours are currently being prepared. All the tours will be part of the 2014 to 2018 program. The Reims tourist information centre is also offering several remembrance tours on themes such as the “Offensive in Argonne” or the “The Champagne Plains”.
A “Reims 14-18 Pass” also provides the visitor with free access to what were the three main battlefields in Champagne during the two world wars but also to visit the city centre by taking the “Reims reconstruction 1920-1930” tour.