The Zone Rouge: France's Exclusion Zone

Updated on November 30, 2017
jasonponic profile image

Recently married on Sept. 8, 2017, Jason Ponic works in the exciting world of Hollywood film and television by day and writes by night.

Imagine a place so despoiled its very entry is prohibited by national law. An area the size of Paris abandoned for nearly a century. A place so geographically and ecologically annihilated it's as desolate as the surface of Mars. One would think such a place exists only in fiction, yet in France it exists for real. It is the Zone Rouge, the Red Zone.

For nearly 100 years, approximately 460 square miles of the French countryside has been outlawed by its government for any use of any kind. Why? Scattered across these acres are an impossible amount of human remains and unexploded weapons left over from World War I.

This map shows the areas the French Government have determined as destroyed after WW1.  Red shows completely devasted while yellow, green and blue show areas that have been deemed moderately damaged or cleaned up enough to be returned to civilization
This map shows the areas the French Government have determined as destroyed after WW1. Red shows completely devasted while yellow, green and blue show areas that have been deemed moderately damaged or cleaned up enough to be returned to civilization

Lasting Legacy of the Great War

In northeastern France, this ecological devastation is so total, it parallels if not supersedes that of Chernobyl or Fukushima. Over a dozen areas, originally spread over 460 square miles, have been deemed too destroyed for any form of housing, farming, or forestry. While clean-up efforts have greatly reduced this acreage over the last century, the red zones, or Zone Rouge, have been declared permanently destroyed.

The Battle of Verdun

Zone Rouge ground zero is the Battle of Verdun, the largest of World War I and the one of the most costly in human history: 303 days of fighting resulting in anywhere from 700,000 to 1,250,000 casualties. The exact number is so large, it's impossible to gauge an accurate count.

The Germans intended Verdun to be a war of attrition. Their plan included inflicting mass casualties to destroy the French will to fight and force the British into peace terms. In the opening assaults, the Germans alone fired more than two million shells. By the battle's end nearly 60 million shells were fired by both sides. With that enormity of artillery, entire French villages were totally annihilated.

The following villages were wiped from existence during the Great War and never rebuilt, marked only with simple wooden placards.

  • Beaumont-en-Verdunois
  • Bezonvaux
  • Cumières-le-Mort-Homme
  • Fleury-devant-Douaumont
  • Haumont-près-Samogneux
  • Louvemont-Côte-du-Poivre

One of the villages destroyed, marked only by this sign.
One of the villages destroyed, marked only by this sign.
The Verdun Battlefield 100 years after the war, permanently changed by combat.
The Verdun Battlefield 100 years after the war, permanently changed by combat.

The Iron Harvest

As many as one in three of the shells fired were duds. It's no wonder farmers and authorities alike recover more than 900 tons of ordinance during the so-called Iron Harvest each year. The French government's Department du Deminage is the agency tasked with the tedious and dangerous task of collecting unexploded ordinance. It is through this agency that the size of the Zone Rouge has been reduced over the last century.

Cleaning up these shells has had a learning curve. Until the 1970s, ordinance would be collected and destroyed. No consideration was given to the leaking of contaminants into the soil and water. Chemicals like lead, arsenic, mercury, acids, and gases have since penetrated the ground. In some areas the pollution is so concentrated that it's killed nearly all plant life. Even a century later, the soil resembles the soil on Venus, unable to support life. The French authorities estimate that at current disposal rates, it will take 700 years to clean the Zone Rouge to the point of usability.

Piles of shells both French and German recovered during the Iron Harvest.
Piles of shells both French and German recovered during the Iron Harvest.
French authorities removing some old heavy artillery shells.
French authorities removing some old heavy artillery shells.

Ongoing Casualties of World War I

Nearly 100 years after the fighting, World War I is still claiming lives all across Europe. Since the armistice, over 1,000 people have been killed as the result of ordinance, mines, and chemicals that still litter the countryside.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)