The Ardennes is a region of extensive forests, rolling hills and ridges primarily in Belgium, but stretching into France (lending its name to the département and the région).
© Ardennes tourism
Much of the region is covered in dense forests, with mountains averaging
around 350–500m (1,148-1,640ft) in height. The region is typified by steep-sided
valleys carved by swift-flowing rivers, the most prominent of which is the
Meuse. Its most populous cities are Verviers in Belgium and
Charleville-Mézières in France, both exceeding 50,000 inhabitants. The region is otherwise relatively sparsely populated, with few of the cities exceeding
10,000 inhabitants with a few exceptions like Eupen or Bastogne.
© R. Moss
The extensive forests have
an abundant population of wild game. The scenic beauty of the region and its
wide variety of outdoor activities, including hunting, cycling, walking and
canoeing, make it a popular tourist destination.
The rugged terrain of the region limits the scope for agriculture. As a result, arable and dairy farming in cleared areas form the mainstay of the agricultural economy. The region is rich in timber and minerals, and Liège and Namur are both major industrial centres.
The region took its name from the ancient "Arduenna Silva", a vast forest in Roman times; the modern region covers a much smaller area.
© R. Moss
The strategic position of
the region has made it a battleground for European powers for centuries. The
region repeatedly changed hands during the early modern period. In the 20th
century, it was widely thought unsuitable for large-scale military
operations, due to its difficult terrain and narrow lines of communications.
But, in both World War I and World War II, Germany successfully gambled on
making a rapid passage through the region to attack a relatively lightly
defended part of France. The area became the site of three major battles
during the world wars – the Battle of the Ardennes in World War I, and the
Battle of France and Battle of the Bulge in World War II. Many of the towns of
the region were badly damaged during the two world wars.
Today, the many sites mark the key historical periods, such as the Waroux Windmill and the Villy-la-Ferté Fort, the House of the Last Cartridge for 1870 and, of course, the Castle of Sedan in a town full of art and history. Fortified churches are found in the region of the Thiérache Ardennaise.
CDT des Ardennes
24, place Ducale - B.P. 419
08107 Charleville-Mézières Cedex
Tel: 03 24 56 06 08