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Landscape of Frahan inside the bend of the Semois River
Ardennes département and Champagne-Ardenne, France
|Area||11,200 km2 (2,768,000 acres)|
|Governing body||Parc National de Champagne/Ardennes
Parc National de Furfooz
The Ardennes (//; Luxembourgish: Ardennen; also known as Ardennes Forest) is a region of extensive forests, rough terrain, rolling hills and ridges formed by the geophysical features of the Ardennes mountain range and the Moselle and Meuse River basins. Geologically, the range is a western extension of the Eifel and both were raised during the Givetian stage, of the Devonian (419.2 ± 3.2 to about 358 Mya (million years ago)) as were several other named ranges of the same greater range.
Primarily in Belgium and Luxembourg, but stretching into Germany and France (lending its name to the Ardennes department and the Champagne-Ardenne région), and geologically into the Eifel—the eastern extension of the Ardennes Forest into Bitburg-Prüm, Germany, most of the Ardenne proper consists of southeastern Wallonia, the southern and more rural part of the Kingdom of Belgium (away from the coastal plain but encompassing over half the kingdom’s total area). The southern part of the Ardennes is the northern section of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and on the southeast the Eifel region continues into Rhineland-Palatinate (German state).
The trees and rivers of the Ardenne provided the underlying charcoal industry assets that enabled the great industrial period of Wallonia in the 18th, 19th centuries, when it was arguably the second great industrial region of the world, after England. The greater region maintained an industrial eminence into the 20th century after coal replaced charcoal in metallurgy.
Allied generals in World War II felt the region was impenetrable to massed vehicular traffic and especially armor, so the area was effectively "all but undefended" during the war, leading to the German Army twice using the region as an invasion route into Northern France and Southern Belgium via Luxembourg in the Battle of France and the later Battle of the Bulge.
Much of the Ardennes is covered in dense forests, with the mountains averaging around 350–400 m (1,148–1,640 ft) in height but rising to over 694 m (2,276 ft) in the boggy moors of the Hautes Fagnes (Hohes Venn) region of south-eastern Belgium. 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 Ardennes is otherwise relatively sparsely populated, with few of the cities exceeding 10,000 inhabitants with a few exceptions like Eupen or Bastogne.
The Eifel range in Germany adjoins the Ardennes and is part of the same geological formation, although they are conventionally regarded as being two distinct areas.
L'Ardenne (French spelling) is an old mountain formed during the Hercynian orogeny; in France similar formations are the Armorican Massif, the Massif Central, and the Vosges. The low interior of such old mountains often contain coal, iron, zinc, and other metals in the sub-soil. This geologic fact explains the greatest part of the geography of Wallonia and its history. In the North and West of the Ardennes lie the valleys of the Sambre and Meuse rivers, forming an arc (Sillon industriel) going across the most industrial provinces of Wallonia, for example Hainaut, along the river Haine (the etymology of Hainaut); the Borinage, the Centre and Charleroi along the river Sambre; Liège along the river Meuse.
This geological region is important in the history of Wallonia because this old mountain is at the origin of the economy, the history, and the geography of Wallonia. "Wallonia presents a wide range of rocks of various ages. Some geological stages internationally recognized were defined from rock sites located in Wallonia: e.g. Frasnian (Frasnes), Famennian (Famenne), Tournaisian (Tournai), Visean (Visé), Dinantian (Dinant) and Namurian (Namur)". Except for the Tournaisian, all these rocks are within the Ardennes geological area.
The Ardennes includes the greatest part of the province of Luxembourg (number 4), the south of the province of Namur (number 5) and the province of Liège (number 3), and a very small part of Hainaut (number 2) and the main part of the French Département called Ardennes. Before the 19th century industrialization, the first furnaces in the four Walloon provinces and in the French Ardennes used charcoal for fuel, made from harvesting the Ardennes forest. This industry was also in the extreme south of Luxembourg, in the region called Gaume. The most important part of the Walloon steel industry, using coal, was built around the coal mines, mainly in the region around the cities of Liège, Charleroi, La Louvière, the Borinage, and further in the Walloon Brabant (in Tubize). Wallonia became the second industrial power of the world in proportion to its territory and to its population (see further).
The rugged terrain of the Ardennes limits the scope for agriculture; 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 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 region took its name from the ancient Silva, a vast forest in Roman times called Arduenna Silva. The modern Ardennes covers a much smaller area.
In The Song of Roland, Charlemagne was described as having a nightmare the night before the Battle of Roncevaux Pass. This nightmare took place in the Ardennes' forest, where his most important battles occurred.
Many of Wallonia's rivers, villages and other places are named in another song about Charlemagne: the Old French 12th-century chanson de geste "Quatre Fils Aymon". In Dinant is the rock named Bayard. This rock was named for Bayard, the magic bay horse which, according to the legend, jumped from the top of the rock to the other bank of the Meuse.
The strategic position of the Ardennes has made it a battleground for European powers for centuries. The region repeatedly changed hands during the early modern period, with parts or all of the Belgian Ardennes being incorporated into France, Germany, the Spanish Netherlands, the Austrian Netherlands and the United Kingdom of the Netherlands at various times. In the 20th century, the Ardennes 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 Ardennes to attack a relatively lightly defended part of France. The Ardennes was 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.
World War II
Through strenuous maneuvering and planning, the forest was selected as the primary route of mechanized forces of Nazi Germany in 1939 and 1940 for the Invasion of France. The forest's great size could conceal the armoured divisions, and because the French did not suspect the Germans to make such a risky move, they did not consider a breakthrough there. German forces primarily led by Erich von Manstein carried out the plan, and managed to slip numerous divisions past the Maginot Line to attack France. This event is frequently considered one of the greatest large-scale armoured movements in history. In May, 1940, the German army crossed the Meuse, despite the resistance of the French army. Under the command of General Heinz Guderian, the German armoured divisions crossed the river at Dinant and at Sedan, France.
The Ardennes area is also well known because of the Battle of the Bulge. The German Army launched a surprise attack in December, 1944, in an attempt to capture Antwerp and drive a wedge between the British and American forces in northern France. The German advance was stopped at the river Meuse at Dinant. Local residents say that a German vehicle exploded just before the Bayard rock, possibly after triggering a mine laid by US soldiers. They said the incident followed the legend of protection by the rock and its horse. Dinant's Rock was perhaps the most advanced position of the German army during this battle.
- Gerrard, John, Mountain Environments: An Examination of the Physical Geography of Mountains, MIT Press, 1990
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