Albert suffered tremendous damage during the First World War, especially during the Battle of the Somme when the town became the centre of intense military activity. By the end of the war, nothing remained of the town but a vast expanse of ruins. Entirely rebuilt during the 1920s and 30s, beautiful facades and features of the Art Deco period can now be admired throughout the town centre. The most spectacular piece of architecture is the Basilica Notre Dame de Brebières, an exact replica of the basilica made famous during the war by its crowning statue of the Golden Virgin, later known as the Leaning Virgin. Hit by a German shell in early 1915, the statue was left hanging over the town in a horizontal position. The troops serving in the vicinity of Albert began to believe that “The war would end when the virgin fell." In 1918, when the Germans held possession of the town, the British shelled the Basilica to prevent the steeple being used as an observation post. The Leaning Virgin fell to the ground; the war ended a few months later...
The Somme 1916 Museum
Beneath Albert's Basilica, visitors can experience the daily lives of soldiers in the trenches at the Somme 1916 Museum. Located in 250 metre long tunnels, which were dug in the 13th century and turned into air-raid shelters in 1938, remarkable life-like dioramas bring history to life in a gripping atmosphere. Reconstructed trench scenes enable visitors to visualise how soldiers fought the enemy, but also their everyday hardships such as living conditions in the cold and mud, sleepless nights, lack of hygiene, lice, fleas and rats.
The style of the museum tries to make sense, arouse emotions and restore the human dimension of history through a vast collection of objects, equipment, weapons and souvenirs of men from the main nations at war. The last section of the tunnel sends visitors through a light and sound display mimicking a walk through the trenches by night, under shell fire. This leads to the brand new “Heroes’ Gallery”, which features the stories of nine people who played a significant part in the Great War. These men and women include John McCrae, who wrote the famous poem “In Flanders’ Fields”, and Sadi Lecointe, airman and fighter pilot. Leading from this gallery is a souvenir and militaria shop, and two large briefing rooms. On exiting the museum, visitors can enjoy the peaceful public gardens and arboretum surrounding the River Ancre.
- Open every day from the end of January to mid-December from 9am to 6pm
- Ticket prices: Adults €7 – Children €4 (free for children under 6 years old)
- Battlefield guided tours by reservation (individuals and groups)
- Picnic area for groups (booking required), gift shop, toilets