No war has changed the landscape as much as the First World War. It took years for the areas of land to begin to recover from the countless artillery shells, which repeatedly ploughed through the earth and decimated any vegetation, after a positional war had taken place over four years. The earth was totally contaminated in parts by poison gas, which meant that only stunted plants managed to grow there. Every new use of the land for farming still involves danger today, owing to the amount of unexploded ordnance.
On the hill crests of "Les Esparges" (near Verdun) the underground mine war left craters of up to 25 metres deep and 80 metres in diameter. The hard-won hill called "Dead Man" (also near Verdun) became about 10 metres lower as a result of heavy artillery bombardment. Similarly, entire villages were, so to speak, pulverized and were only recognizable in aerial photos as blotches in a crater landscape. Many of the villages destroyed then have never been rebuilt; they still exist today (2005) as so-called "villages détruits" (destroyed villages). Most often a chapel stands in remembrance of the original place where the village church used to be.
More and more relics of the First World War are being developed for tourists. The former battlefield of Verdun, for example, is covered with a network of walking paths, on which the visitor can wander past the individual focus points in the battle of 1916, finding information boards there, off the beaten track of tourist highlights.
However, at less known sections, which were not so fiercely fought over during the First World War, relics are beginning to be opened up. An advantage of this kind of quieter section of the front is that many systems of trenches, countless types of dugouts, barbed wire barriers and gun emplacements have remained largely intact. What had been covered by nature over the last 90 years is being opened up again today, in some cases even reconstructed. In this way the relics of the First World War are mutating into a kind of open-air battlefield museum in situ.