A rocky spur overlooking the Alsace Plain in the southern Vosges, Hartmannswillerkopf is one of the four national monuments from the Great War.
During World War I, Hartmannswillerkopf, a rocky outcropping overlooking the Alsace Plain in the southern Vosges, held a strategic position.
More than 150,000 men belonging to regiments from all around France, notably the Chasseurs and the Red Devils of the Colmar regiment, fought here for four years to take back Alsace.
Nearly 25,000 officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers fell at "Le Vieil Armand", as the “poilus” called in during World War I.
Located in the Vosges Mountains at an altitude of 956 metres, the Hartmannswillerkopf site is one of the four national monuments of the Great War, during which it was a strategic battlefield. Some 25,000 French fighters died on the slopes of "Le Vieil Armand". Listed as a historical monument in 1921, it was developed thanks to a national subscription under the patronage of the President of the Republic and five Maréchaux de France. Several buildings were constructed between 1924 and 1929 in this centre of remembrance.
The site was inaugurated in October 1932 by the President of the Republic Albert Lebrun.
Today, the battlefield site, maintained and signposted, is one of the best preserved in France.
Forty-five kilometres of trails and trenches provide access to French structures such as the Roche Sermet or Roche Mégard, and to German structures (Aussichtsfelsen, etc.). These trails also lead to a cemetery, the monument to the 152nd infantry regiment, steles (Serret, Chambaud and the stele in remembrance to the sacrifice of Lieutenant Pierre Scheurer, killed on 28 April 1915) and, lastly, to German monuments such as the monument to the chasseurs and the 560-step staircase called "stairway to heaven".
Located on a sloped site, Silberloch cemetery contains 1,264 tombs of soldiers who have been identified and six ossuaries. Overlooking the cemetery, an Altar of the Motherland, turned toward the east and the summit of Hartmannswillerkopf, was built on a stone esplanade laid out above the crypt.
Identical to the one set up in 1790, it symbolises the mass movement of volunteers who rushed to the borders to defend the Republic. Its four sides bear the names of the cities that took part in financing the monument complex: Paris, Strasbourg, Colmar, Mulhouse, Besançon, Metz, Lille, Rouen, Lyon and Marseille,
An eighty-metre trench leads to the devotional crypt at the centre of which is an ossuary. Covered by a bronze shield, six metres in diameter, it holds the remains of 12,000 unknown soldiers. The word "Patrie" (Motherland) is engraved on the shield in gold lettering. The entrance to the crypt, closed by a wrought-iron gate, bears the inscription Ad lucem perpetuat, is guarded by two archangel by the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle.
Inside, weapons and equipment retrieved from the battlefield are presented to the visitor, along with photos and sculptures. Bronze plaques hang on the walls of the corridor leading to the crypt, bearing the numbers of the 101 units, regiments and battalions that, one after another, fought on the battlefield over fifty-two months. A Catholic chapel, surmounted by a statue of the Madonna, also by Antoine Bourdelle, is decorated with inscriptions written by Mgr. Ruch, the first Bishop of Strasbourg after 1918.
Protestant and Jewish places of worship have also been set up. A reinforced concrete cross measuring 20 metres high and 5.25 metres wide extends the memorial toward the heights of the Vosges Mountains. It was lit up for the first time in the night of 10-11 November 1936.