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
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.”
State secretary to the Minister of the Armed Forces
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.
Understanding the chronological and spatial context
See the 150th anniversary timeline for the Franco-Prussian War
View the leaflet of Franco-Prussian War remembrance sites
View the map of France showing the key Franco-Prussian War remembrance sites
Representing the war
Contemporary photographs of the Franco-Prussian War, together with emblematic objects from the conflict, can be viewed at the bottom of the page.
View the catalogue of the Musée d’Orsay collections on the Franco-Prussian War. © Musée d'Orsay
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 France’s system of defence in the Franco-Prussian War (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
View the programme for the defence museums
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
Visit the website of Le Souvenir Français
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