Notre-Dame-de-Lorette International Memorial

Produced by the Nord-Pas de Calais Region, in partnership with the Ministry of Defence - Inaugurated on Tuesday, 11 November 2014.

Notre-Dame-de-Lorette International Memorial. Philippe Prost, architect/AAPP©adagp, 2014 ©Aitor ORTIZ



With nearly 580,000 soldiers dead on their soil and over 300 villages and towns flattened, the Nord and Pas-de-Calais departments were among the regions that suffered the worst destruction during the Great War. Arras, like Reims and Verdun, was declared a martyred city.


At the end of World War I, the Nord-Pas de Calais region was one of the areas that had suffered the worst destruction. Reporters at the time called it “l’Enfer du Nord” (the Hell of the North).

On 11 November 2014, the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette International Memorial near Arras was inaugurated as part of the centennial commemorations of the Great War. The Memorial, built on the plateau to the south-east of the National Cemetery – the largest French military cemetery – was designed by architect Philippe Prost: a ring with a 345-m perimeter on which the names of 580,000 soldiers of all nationalities who were killed in French Flanders and in Artois between 1914 and 1918 are inscribed in alphabetical order, with no distinction of nationality, rank or religion.

The Nord-Pas de Calais Region, bordering on Belgium, was one of the major theatres on the Western Front during World War I. First, terrible battles between the French and Germans took place (1914-1915), then, starting in the spring of 1915, between the troops of the German Empire and those of the British Empire, with men from the United Kingdom (English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish) as well as from the Crown’s distant possessions – Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and India. Men came from around the world to fight on the soil of Flanders and Artois, and a great number of them perished.



An original initiative put forward by the Nord-Pas de Calais Region with support from the Ministry of Defence


Under an agreement signed with the French State (Ministry of Defence) in 2011, the Nord-Pas de Calais Regional Council undertook a major programme for the Centennial of the Great War: the creation of an international memorial in homage to the soldiers of all nationalities who lost their lives here between 1914 and 1918. This initiative is unique in that it embodies a new dimension in the remembrance effort. It goes beyond the winners-losers approach, in which each side honoured its own dead. It evokes the suffering shared by all soldiers, that mass slaughter characteristic of all wars in the industrial era and which, between 1914 and 1918, decimated an entire generation of men and sent millions of families into mourning. The Notre-Dame-de-Lorette International Memorial will also emphasise the peace that, for the first time, has reigned over the European continent for a sustained period of time.



An exceptional monument by Philippe Prost


Notre-Dame-de-Lorette International Memorial. Philippe Prost, architect/AAPP©adagp, 2014 - Pierre di Sciullo, graphic artist©Aitor ORTIZ



The Memorial built on the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette site is exceptional in many ways:


• An unprecedented approach bringing together the men who fought each other in a terrible conflict in a single remembrance and a single homage. The list of 580,000 soldiers’ names will be engraved in alphabetical order, with no distinction of nationality, rank or religion. It will be a powerful gesture of dignity and respect,

• A real monument, with great aesthetic and symbolic power, at a time when immaterial forms of commemoration are increasingly used with computer databases,

• A major site for visits and encounters along the “Chemins de Mémoire” of the Great War, accessible to all men and women today who are lucky enough to live in peace.

The architectural project


Notre-Dame-de-Lorette International Memorial. Philippe Prost, architect/AAPP©adagp, 2014 - Pierre di Sciullo, graphic artist©Aitor ORTIZ



The Memorial will be located on 2.2 hectares (5.5 acres) of land granted by the French State to the Nord–Pas-de-Calais Regional Council for a symbolic price. Including the Memorial in a “sacred perimeter”, that of the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette National Cemetery (a classified site under the law of 1930) meant major aesthetic and architectural constraints during the competition to designate the principal contractor for the operation: respect for the French National Cemetery located nearby, the need to maintain the view of the majestic landscape over the Artois plateau, an obligation for a powerful structure in a programme that is universal in scope.

At the end of the competition, which brought together five French and foreign teams, the project presented by the Parisian architect Philippe Prost won. It is a remarkable work, both sober and impressive, respectful and powerful, perfectly meeting the requirements laid down by the contracting authority. A large ellipse is set on the edge of the plateau; one-third of its circumference in an overhang to indicate the fragility of peace. Visitors enter the structure by a trench giving access to a footbridge, along which are placed the plaques with the names, laid out like the pages of a book. The structure, in fibre-reinforced concrete, is held by a taut cable. The ring, a simple but powerful figure, symbolises a circle, symbolising unity and eternity.



Notre-Dame-de-Lorette International Memorial. Philippe Prost, architect/AAPP©adagp, 2014 - Pierre di Sciullo, graphic artist©Aitor ORTIZ



Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, a major site from the Great War

In 1914 and 1915, Notre-Dame-de-Lorette hill, located about ten kilometres north-west of Arras, was the theatre of bloody fighting between the French and German armies. On 16 January 1924, a decree issued by the President of the French Republic ordered the creation of a national cemetery on the summit of the “bloody plateau” of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette. Covering 27 hectares, it is the last resting place of 40,000 French soldiers killed in Flanders and Artois during the Great War. The cemetery was built from a small temporary cemetery laid out in 1915 near the ruins of an 18th century chapel that was destroyed during the fighting. Bodies from 150 temporary cemeteries between the Somme and the North Sea were brought together here in the 1920s. 19,998 unidentified bodies were placed in seven ossuaries; the remains of 20,000 identified men were placed in individual graves; a special section was set up for Muslim and Jewish soldiers. A 52-metre lantern tower with a lighthouse on its summit was built in the centre of the cemetery, along with a basilica in the Neo-Byzantine style.



The National Cemetery. Source: MINDEF/SGA/DMPA-ONACVG



For several years, the site of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette has undergone a rehabilitation programme carried out jointly by the French State and local authorities (Pas-de-Calais Department and the Lens-Liévin Urban Area Community) in preparation for the Centennial. It lies at the heart of a remarkable group of remembrance sites all along the north-west front. Indeed, three major sites can be found within a radius of 10 km – the Canadian National Vimy Memorial at Vimy Ridge, no doubt one of the most beautiful monuments constructed in the inter-war period and which receives over 500,000 visitors each year, La Maison-Blanche German War Cemetery in Neuville-Saint-Vaast, the largest German cemetery in France and, lastly, the Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery in Souchez, one of the loveliest of the hundreds that are admirably maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.



Notre-Dame-de-Lorette International Memorial. Philippe Prost, architect/AAPP©adagp – Yann Toma, "La Grande Veilleuse"©adagp, 2014©Aitor ORTIZ



Notre-Dame-de-Lorette International Memorial is financed by the French State (Ministry for Veterans Affairs), the Nord Departmental Council, the Regional Council and the Lens-Liévin Urban Area Community. It was built on land granted to the Nord-Pas de Calais Region by the Ministry of Defence.



Notre-Dame-de-Lorette International Memorial. Philippe Prost, architect/AAPP©adagp, 2014 - Pierre di Sciullo, graphic artrist©Aitor ORTIZ



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