Official launch of the 150th anniversary of the Franco-Prussian War

View the feature and read the editorial by the state secretary to the Minister for the Armed Forces

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It is 150 years since the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), the first conflict between France and Germany. Remote in time, remote in our memories, this slice of French history flashes by when we try to evoke it. It lies in the shadow of the two world wars of the 20th century. And yet there have been few events of such founding importance, few episodes in history that have influenced the fate of Europe to such a degree. 

The Franco-Prussian War was behind the fall of the Second Empire, the proclamation of the Third Republic, the unification of Germany, the Paris Commune and a 75-year-long dispute between France and Germany, and because of that it is a blueprint for the 20th century and contemporary European history. A blueprint for the modern wars that would follow, with the fundamental role played by artillery, increasingly destructive firearms, the involvement of the civilian population through the press, and the phenomenon of irregular soldiers.

The fighting took place on French soil; Paris underwent a terrible siege; heroic figures came to the fore, like Gambetta; certain towns resisted in this national drama, such as Belfort or Bitche; despite the republican awakening, the country was overcome by defeat; German unification was proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles. These events and memories, Alsace-Moselle blacked out on the map of France, it was all still fresh in the minds of the men and women who fought in the First World War – many of them in the Second World War as well. The memory then became blurred by the scale of the fighting in the First World War, then by the tragedies of the Second.

The Ministry of the Armed Forces, the French State’s number-two cultural actor and an essential contributor to remembrance policy, wishes to make the 150th anniversary a time of remembrance, for passing on a page of our national and European history. Therefore, we are approaching these commemorations from the angle of Franco-German friendship. Our actions will promote the cultural, educational and visitor programmes of museums and heritage sites. I am thinking, for example, of the remarkable Musée de la Guerre de 1870 et de l’Annexion, in Gravelotte. We will also be supporting local projects and initiatives. 

Keeping the past alive and passing it on is not a duty. It is a collective responsibility, a job for the nation as a whole. The Franco-Prussian War marked the beginning of 75 years of conflict between France and Germany, followed by 75 years of peace in Western Europe. Let us make the 150th anniversary of that oft forgotten war a time to reflect on our European identity. Let us recall Victor Hugo’s words: “A war between Europeans is a civil war.” 

Geneviève Darrieussecq

State secretary to the Minister of the Armed Forces

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View the feature  and remembrance video

 

The remembrance video shown here was intended to be followed by a web series presenting ten key Franco-Prussian War sites. 

 However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, filming of this audiovisual production by ECPAD is currently suspended.

 

Couv-DP-1870-DPMA_1

 

 

 

Controlling the chronological and spatial context

 

 

 
  • View the   map of France showing the key Franco-Prussian War remembrance sites

 

 

 

Representing the war

 

  • In slides 

Contemporary photographs of the Franco-Prussian War, together with emblematic objects from the conflict, can be viewed at the bottom of the page.  

  • In paintings

View the catalogue of the Musée d’Orsay collections on the Franco-Prussian War. © Musée d'Orsay

  • In photographs

View the  ECPAD collections, in particular the collection of 44 card-backed albumen prints, part of which are attributed to Louis Joseph Gemmi de Prévot (1820-96).

 

 

 

Understanding the conflict

 

  • Read the historical articles

... On the events of the Franco-Prussian War and the battles of Saint-Privat and Champigny

... On France’s system of defence in the Franco-Prussian War (Annie Crépin)

... On the consequences of the conflict at various levels (two analyses by Eric Anceau and Annie Crépin)

... On the construction of the memorial landscapes of the war (Charlotte Schenique)

... On the conflict’s emblematic figures: Napoleon III and Léon Gambetta

 

 

 
  • Find out about the educational offerings of the remembrance sites:

Musée de la Dernière Cartouche - Musée Guerre et Paix en Ardennes - Château de Sedan - Musée de la Guerre 1870 - Loigny-la-Bataille - Musée Saint-Rémi - Citadelle de Bitche - Musée de la Guerre de 1870 et de l’Annexion - Halle du Souvenir - Musée de la Bataille du 6 août 1870

 

 

 

 

Keep up with the latest news about museums and remembrance events in the regions

 

 

Due to the current health crisis, the programme of museum events is suspended and remembrance events are postponed until further notice. 

Why not take a look at the digital resources offered by our partners during the lockdown?

 

      

 
  • The University of Lille invites you on a virtual tour of the war memorials catalogued in its database

  • From 30 March to 3 May, the Musée Guerre et Paix en Ardennes invites you to take part in a quiz on the history of the Franco-Prussian War 

 

 

 

 

 

  • © Musée de la Guerre 1870 Loigny-la-Bataille - Extract from the press pack, available for download here

  • Battle of Champigny-sur-Marne From 29 November to 3 December 1870, French troops attempted to loosen the stranglehold of the Prussian siege on Paris with a series of offensives. Large numbers of houses in the centre of Champigny were destroyed by artillery fire and 74 were burnt. It was thus a heavy toll for the commune, as seen in this photograph showing the buildings of the Place d’Armes razed to the ground. On the right, the public fountain was spared.

    2Fi93 - Postcard from Champigny-sur-Marne communal archives.

     

  • Battle of Champigny-sur-Marne Piece of Prussian shrapnel retrieved from the battlefield and preserved as a relic.

    ©Musée de l’Armée collection - Detailed description

     

  • Saint-Cloud in ruins after the bombardments of the Franco-Prussian War. © ECPAD/Don Brocheton

  • French soldiers during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Source: Brown University, Providence.

  • Saint-Quentin – The Prussians in the Grand’Place in 1871. 

  • Dispatch announcing the armistice, Bordeaux, 29 January 1871.

  • Kepi of a non-commissioned officer of the Garde Nationale Mobile

    Collection of the Office de Tourisme de Pontarlier, held by the Musée Municipal de Pontarlier, D.2015.0.581

     

    Created by the 1868 Niel Act, the Garde Nationale Mobile (“Mobile National Guard”) was tasked specifically with defending the fortified towns along the borders of the Empire. 

    At the beginning of 1871, the garrison at Fort de Joux consisted of one Garde Mobile company from Doubs, in the command of Captain Benoit Chabal.

    By the end of January, they were reinforced by detachments of artillery and engineers.

    With their musket fire, they covered the Army of the East on its retreat to Switzerland, on 1 February 1871. As well as defending the fort, they assisted the artillery and sappers with fortifying the cannon positions and buildings of the fort.

    This daily routine, punctuated also by reviews and the internal upkeep of the fort, lasted until May 1871, when the siege of the Fort de Joux came to an end.

    After the Franco-Prussian War, the Garde Mobile was replaced by the Infanterie Territoriale (“Territorial Infantry”), which remained part of the garrison at the Fort de Joux until the First World War.

    Jean-Bernard Passemard - Digital Outreach Officer, Château de Joux.
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    Click to enlarge the photo - The Franco-Prussian War memorial inChambière cemetery, in the commune of Metz,

    was built in memory of the 7 000 French soldiers who died for their country in the siege of the city. With Metz annexed to the German Empire,

    its inhabitants decided to erect a monument in their honour. A committee was set up to raise money through

    a subscription and choose an artist. The memorial was unveiled by the mayor and bishop on 7 September 1871, with a special mass being held

    in the cathedral. This civic and religious ceremony was repeated every year throughout the annexation. © ECPAD collection

     

    Memorial to the French soldiers who died for their country in the Franco-Prussian War (Chambière cemetery), artist unknown, 1871-99, ref. D0405-0011-0035 / ECPAD
  • The “Württemberger Memorial” on Rue de Dunkerque, Champigny. This carved stone obelisk, topped with an iron cross and decorated with the coat of arms of the kingdom, was erected by the German state of Württemberg, in honour of its “brave sons” killed at Champigny in the fighting of the Franco-Prussian War. The Württemberg division was then part of the 3rd Prussian Army. 

    The erection of this German monument in 1910, on land given by the town, and the circulation of its image on postcards, shows how remembrance of the battle was not only about revenge.  

    German monument © Didier Rullier - 20110929 – 6109 Copyright Didier Rullier (photographer of the town of Champigny)