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History of the Ardennes

With a strategic position that has piqued the interest of foreign invaders through the ages, the history of Champagne-Ardenne is coloured by the influence of Europe’s most fascinating civilisations. From the Gauls to the Romans, the Renaissance to Revolution, the Ardennes has been touched by an array of major events that have left a legacy to this day.

Earliest inhabitants

The history of man in the region stretches back until the 6th century BC and the early Gauls that made the Ardennes home. Then known as lower Belgium, the area thrived under these early inhabitants, but it was from the invading Roman armies that the modern name for the Ardennes originated, with a vast forest known as the Arduenna Silva occupying a larger expanse than the current department.

The rule of Clovis I and the advent of Christianity enabled the Champagne-Ardenne region to thrive in the wake of the Roman Empire’s collapse. The city of Reims took prominence as the site where the monarchs of France were crowned, and the subsequent growth and influence shared with the surrounding region proved significant.

Outside influences

The centuries of the Middle Ages would see dominion of the Ardennes hotly contested among Europeans, most notably the French, German, Spanish, Dutch, and English. As such, many areas of the region have clear outside influences, with the town of Charleville-Mezieres notable for its Renaissance-style architecture and grand 17th century buildings.

The Ardennes was unable to emerge free from the scars of successive battles across France. From the Hundred Years’ War to the War of Religions, the onset of the French Revolution to successive World Wars, the area has witnessed scenes of great significance on its picture-perfect landscapes.

Wartime Ardennes

As one of the most infamous and devastating battles of the Second World War, the Battle of the Bulge saw a surprise offensive campaign from the German army that crossed the Ardennes in December 1944. The operation, which was intended to support the German capture of Antwerp in Belgium, saw Allied troops halt the advance of Nazi forces at the River Meuse in Dinant, with many US ranks decimated by the operation.

In more recent years, the Ardennes has embraced tourism as one of its major trades. With a history spanning millennia and a number of fascinating sites relating to tradition and heritage, the pride of the Ardennes region is apparent, both in the welcoming people and the architectural splendours. 

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