Ardennes (department)


Prefecture building of the Ardennes department, in Charleville-Mézières


Coat of arms

Location of Ardennes in France
Coordinates: 49°30′N 4°40′E / 49.500°N 4.667°E / 49.500; 4.667Coordinates: 49°30′N 4°40′E / 49.500°N 4.667°E / 49.500; 4.667
Country France
Region Grand Est
Prefecture Charleville-Mézières
Subprefectures Rethel
  President of the General Council Benoît Huré (UMP) (UMP)
  Total 5,229 km2 (2,019 sq mi)
Population (2013)
  Total 280,907
  Rank 77th
  Density 54/km2 (140/sq mi)
Demonym(s) Ardennais or Ardennaises[1]
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
  Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Department number 08
Arrondissements 4
Cantons 19
Communes 457
^1 French Land Register data, which excludes estuaries, and lakes, ponds, and glaciers larger than 1 km2

Ardennes (French pronunciation: [aʁ.dɛn]) is a department in the Grand Est region of northeastern France named after the Ardennes area. Its prefecture is the town Charleville-Mézières. The inhabitants of the department are known as Ardennais or Ardennaises.[1]



The department is surrounded by the French departments of Aisne to the west, Marne to the south, Meuse to the east and by the Belgian province of Namur to the north.

It is traversed in its northern part by the winding valley of the Meuse and it is in this part of the department that the majority of people and activities are focused. Charleville-Mézières and Sedan are the main urban centres.

The department is part of the Academy of Reims and under the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal of Reims. The INSEE and Post Code is 08.

General geographic data

With an area of 5,229 square kilometres (2,019 square miles), the Ardennes was the smallest of the four departments that made up the region Champagne-Ardenne. It nevertheless presents a degree of geographical diversity.

Ardennes owes its name to a vast natural area, the Ardennes, a plateau deeply cut by the Meuse and its many tributaries which extend above the Walloon part of southern Belgium as well as Luxembourg, Germany (Eifel), and the north of the neighbouring department of Meuse.

The highest point of the department is 504m and is situated on the southern slopes of the Croix Scaille (located between the French commune of Les Hautes-Rivières and the Belgian commune of Gedinne).

It is in this part of the Ardennes mountains that the Meuse winds through a picturesque valley, known locally as "the valley". Flowing into the northern part of the Ardennes department it waters both upstream and downstream the main cities of Sedan, Charleville-Mézières, and Nouzonville. It has numerous tributaries – the main ones in the department being the Semois and the Chiers.

In the south of the department where the Aisne flows lies the vast treeless plain of Champagne chalk (formerly called flea-ridden Champagne) extended to the south-west by the small grain-growing region of Porcien, while Thiérache in the west and Argonne in the east are fringe grasslands with very highly individualized soils.


The Ardennes department does not have a uniform climate throughout its territory especially not during the winter period.

In the north of the department near the department of Aisne and the border with Belgium to the centre of the department near the Canton of Omont and in the south of the valley of the Meuse, the climate is considered "degraded continental" (heavy rainfall in autumn and frequent frosts in winter), while the rest of the department has a "degraded oceanic" or "temperate continental" climate (relative to an oceanic climate, the winters are colder and the summers are hotter, rainfall in the lowlands is lower and winds are of lower strength). All this stems from the location of the department, which is midway between the English Channel, the North Sea and the interior of Europe.

Rocroi in the snow: a common situation in winter in the northern Ardennes department.

This difference can be easily observed in practice. Winter is more rigorous and there is a higher risk of snow at Rocroi, Givet, and Sedan – all cities in the north of the department where the common characteristics of the degraded continental climate prevail.

This nuance of climate is also evident by the temperature difference with the adjoining regions. The Nord-Pas-de-Calais and the Parisian Basin benefit from the maritime influences of the English Channel, the Pas de Calais, and the North Sea as well as the geophysical conditions in the presence of relatively flat terrain.

This climatic difference is particularly pronounced in the presence of frost especially in the valleys of the Meuse, Semoy, the plateau of Rocroi, and around the Croix-Scaille where it can be very marked and has the disadvantage of persisting longer in the year with a significant influence on the vegetation.


The evolution and distribution of the population

Despite a high birth rate (the highest rate in France in 1968), the department continues to lose population: 300,000 in 2000 due to high unemployment (hence "migration" continues). The two world wars have each time resulted in a loss of population (such as the "exodus" of 1940). There were 330,000 people at the end of the 19th century.

That the major urban areas of the department are the most affected is characterized by a stagnation of the population – a population decline of up to 2% compared to 1999 in the city centres and suburbs (Charleville-Mézières, Revin, Fumay, Givet, Rethel).

The communes, however, are gaining inhabitants (the phenomenon of urban sprawl). This is explained by the search for better living in the countryside which matches the desire of many people to build a small land-holding, typically a house with land to the detriment of their proximity to their workplace. This highly contemporary concept favours commuting between Home and Work. This is the phenomenon of suburbanization which has become common in the whole of France from which Ardennes does not escape.

On 1 January 2006, the Ardennes population stood at 295,653 inhabitants. The population is declining in urban areas but five times less than in rural areas. The limited decline in the urban space where two thirds of the Ardennes people live is the result of two opposite dynamics. Semi-urban communes have gained 0.5% of inhabitants per year over the period 1999–2006 at the expense of urban centres (downtown and suburbs) which lost 0.6% per year. For thirty years the population has lagged in the main cities of Ardennes. Between 1999 and 2006, the annual decline was 0.2% for Sedan and Rethel, 1.8% for Revin, and 1% for Charleville-Mézières. The most unfavourable rural population change came from degradation of rural employment centres, such as Fumay or Vouziers and to a lesser extent that of their periphery. This was slightly mitigated by a small increase in population in other rural communes.

List of cities

Population of the Main towns of Ardennes in 2009[2]

Haybes Nouvion-sur-Meuse Rocroi Donchery Floing, Ardennes Monthermé Carignan, Ardennes Villers-Semeuse Vivier-au-Court Vrigne-aux-Bois Fumay Vouziers Bogny-sur-Meuse Nouzonville Givet Revin Rethel Sedan, Ardennes Charleville-Mézières



The name of the department is related to the toponym Ardenne which could derive from the Gallic ardu meaning "high". It would have been transformed into Arduenna by the Romans to designate the ancient Ardennes forest and the mountains mentioned by Julius Caesar in the work attributed to him: Commentaries on the Gallic War. Arduenna Sylva was used for the pine forest on the plateau of Bastogne. It was then transformed into Ardenna in the 6th century.[3]

This toponym is absent from the names of communes in the department of Ardennes while those of Argonne (Beaumont-en-Argonne), Porcien (Château-Porcien, Novion-Porcien, Chaumont-Porcien, and even Champagne (Vaux-Champagne) are sometimes fused and all have a connotation of regional belonging. This is why the name of Ardenne is not specific to the department as it is found in many other parts of France – for example in western and central-western France,[N 1] Belgium, and Luxembourg where it has its usual sense – from Celtic origin – of "high", "high woods" or "forest".[4]

History of the Ardennes department

The department is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790 under the Act of 22 December 1789. It includes part of the former provinces of Champagne and Argonne, several principalities including those of Arches and Sedan, countships (such as Rethel), and different areas returned to France (from the former Spanish Netherlands) in the 18th century.

On 12 May 1793 the department expanded itself with the Bailiwick of Liège, Couvin, and the countships from the Holy Roman Empire of Fagnolle and on 26 October 1795 a part of the Duchy of Bouillon.

After the victory of the allies in the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815, the second Treaty of Paris subtracted territory from Ardennes to attach to the Netherlands: Duchy of Bouillon, Couvin, Mariembourg, Fagnolle, and Philippeville. In addition, the department was occupied by Prussian troops from June 1815 to November 1818.

On 2 September 1870 Sedan was the place of surrender for Napoleon III at the Battle of Sedan against the troops of the Prussian states, a coalition commanded by Helmut von Moltke. The King of Prussia Wilhelm I, the future emperor of the Second Reich under the same name and Bismarck viewed the battle from the hills overlooking Sedan. The defeat marked the end of the Second Empire,[5] and at the same time the birth of the French Third Republic on 4 September 1870.

Forest of Argonne in October 1915 ravaged by shellfire.

During the two world wars for strategic reasons the region each time became the passage for the invading armies because of the narrow width of the Meuse and its deep valley. The French military believed that the region was defended by its terrain and thick forests present in the northern of the department and so neglected the defence of the territory. During the First World War the Battle of the Ardennes was fought in the department and Charleville-Mézières became the headquarters of the German Crown Prince. It was at Vouziers and other places that the Czechoslovak legions fought with the man who would become the first president of the Czechoslovak republic, Jan Masaryk, and it was also near the same city that the aeroplane of Roland Garros was shot down.

It was the only French department have been fully occupied during that conflict except for northern Lorraine (Moselle) and Alsace which had been under German administration since 1871.

During the Second World War the main effort of the German army was again focused on this area, especially on the right bank of the River Meuse, symbolized by the breakthrough at Sedan which would lead the French troops into the strategic trap the Yellow Plan designed by General von Manstein and approved by Hitler.

It is in this department that the Maginot Line ended: the last fort of the line (Fort Villy la Ferte) was located about five kilometres from Carignan. The French General staff did not want to continue the line of defence along the border with Belgium, a neutral and friendly country. Furthermore, they hoped that the unique geography and the forest would stop the German army.

After the armistice of 1940 Ardennes was declared a "forbidden zone" (actually a German settlement area) throughout the occupation by the Nazi army.

In 1944 the "Battle of the Bulge" was fought partly in this department.



Azure, a bend argent potent counter potent of Or with an inescutcheon argent charged with a boar in sable; in chief of gules charged with 3 rakes of Or 2 and 1.


Administrative organization

Place Ducale in Charleville-Mézières, prefecture of the Ardennes department.

The seat of the prefecture of the department is at Charleville-Mézières and the three sub-prefectures are Rethel, Sedan, and Vouziers. Rocroi was also a sub-prefecture until 1926. In addition, the departmental seat of the General Council of Ardennes is located at Charleville-Mézières.

Territorial organization

Map of the communes of the Ardennes department.

The Ardennes is composed of 457 communes which are grouped into 19 cantons and four arrondissements of varying sizes.

The largest arrondissement of the department is that of Charleville-Mézières while the smallest is Sedan which is twice as wide. The two arrondissements that occupy the northern part of the Ardennes, however, have four fifths of the departmental population.

The other two arrondissements, Rethel and Vouziers, occupy the southern part of the department with roughly comparable areas but are very sparsely populated.

The small town of Rocroi was a sub-prefecture of Ardennes until 1926.

Before the Poincaré decree of 10 September 1926 which removed many sub-prefectures in France, the department had five arrondissements. In addition to the four mentioned above, the fifth was that of Rocroi – a small historic city in the north-west of the department close to Belgium – which has been since annexed in its entirety to the district of Charleville-Mézières. The former arrondissement of Rocroi then consisted of six cantons – including four on the border with Belgium – which were Givet, Fumay, Revin, Rocroi, Rumigny, and Signy-le-Petit.[6]

The Hotel de Ville in Givet, a border town with Belgium.

Under the intercommunality framework, Ardennes consists of an urban community organized around the city préfecture, called Heart of Ardennes and has fifteen communities of communes including in Sedan the Communauté de communes du Pays sedanais which is the most important.

In addition, the Ardennes has 33 communes that do not adhere to any Intercommunal cooperative organisation (EPCI).

List of Territorial Collectives


The President of the General Council is Benoît Huré of the Union for a Popular Movement.

Party seats
Union for a Popular Movement 20
Socialist Party 8
Miscellaneous Right 5
Miscellaneous Left 3
MoDem 1


The economy of the department, after previously resting on agriculture (forestry and livestock – crops are poor), has been based for over a century now on industry (now in a difficult position) and the services sector, although the proportion of the Ardennes labour force working in this sector is lower than the national average. At the beginning of the 19th century, the region was the largest in France for metal working using charcoal. There was no coal found in the department (only slate from Fumay was usable) but the metallurgical industry developed there (bolts, screws, nails). The railway with many branches (Compagnie des chemins de fer des Ardennes from the Sellière family which merged with the Compagnie de l'Est) accelerated the industrialization at the end of the 19th century in Charleville, Sedan (which had its trams), and Revin. The newspaper L'Usine ardennaise (The Ardennes Machine) became L'Usine nouvelle (The New Machine). The crisis in the 1970s precipitated the decline of metallurgical activity in the department (the blast furnace and small workshops closed one after the other: Blagny, Vireux-Molhain, Murtin-et-Bogny, etc.). Today there are still many subcontractors for the railway industry (TGV for example) and the car industry (GMC, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Mercedes-Benz, among others), Hermès has recently installed themselves at Murtin-et-Bogny, PSA Peugeot Citroën is installed at Les Ayvelles. There is also a nuclear site – the Chooz Nuclear Power Plant with several reactors including the first pressurized water reactor (REP) in France. Agriculture has grown considerably using industrial techniques (wheat, corn, sugar beet).

There are direct TGV trains from the Gare de l'Est in Paris to Charleville-Mézières (1h 35m), Sedan, and several TGV trains to Reims with a change for Charleville-Mézières.[7]

A "Y" road has also been set up with the A4 Reims-Paris, the A34 (freeway), and the links to Lille and Brussels which need to take the N5 to join the motorway ring of Charleroi. Similarly, the junction with the highway leading to Luxembourg and Cologne needs to use a portion of highway in France.[7] Improved means of land communication (TGV and A34 motorway) provides the benefit of relative proximity to Paris, Reims, Metz and Belgian cities such as Liège, Charleroi and Brussels.

Every year in September, the Sedan fair is a big shopping event (2nd in the region) which attracts about 250,000 people each year.


General Information

In the department there are iconic landmarks such as the Château de Sedan (the busiest Ardennes pay site with an average of 60,000 admissions per year), the fortified site of Charlemont at Givet, the fort at Les Ayvelles, and the fortress of Rocroi attract many visitors each year. There are also many fortified churches and medieval sites in the department.[N 2] There is the Ardennes forest, the "Green Way" (a bicycle path connecting Montcy-Notre Dame near Charleville-Mézières to Givet along the Meuse valley) promoting weekend tourism and tourist routes (green tourism).

Cultural tourism is booming with many music festivals (Le Cabaret Vert, the Douzy'k festival, the Aymon Folk Festival) not to mention museums (Museum of the Ardennes etc.) and castles (Castle of Sedan) and the growing interest in industrial heritage which is of more and more value.

Finally, the creation of the Natural Regional Park of Ardennes (Regional Natural Park of Ardennes on 21 December 2011, should continue to promote this type of tourism which is increasingly sought.

Second homes

Home purchases by Belgians and Dutch people are common in the region because the prices are much lower than in their country of residence. However, according to the census of the general population of 1 January 2008, 3.7% of available housing in the department are second homes which is rather low.



For more than 40 years (the first time in 1961 at the initiative of Jacques Félix) there has been in Charleville-Mézières the World Festival of Puppet Theatre (now every three years). At the last festival in 2009 more than 200,000 people were present. In the same city there is also a school: the International Institute of Puppetry. The Rock Festival and Territory Le Cabaret Vert had more than 50,000 festival-goers at the seventh festival in 2011 and this takes place every year in Charleville-Mézières making it the 7th largest festival in France by attendance. The festival The Poetic Otherworld organizes events in October in some Ardennes communes.

Medieval Festival in 2011

At Sedan the medieval festival is held every year around the Castle of Sedan, the largest castle in Europe. This is an event that brings together more than 30,000 spectators.

Medieval Festival in 2011

At Rethel there are the famous festivals of Saint Anne which have been held for over 200 years.

At Bogny-sur-Meuse there is the Aymon Folk Festival which brings together nearly 10,000 people.

The Ardennes also has other well-known festivals such as the Festimeuse which attracts 10,000 people, the festival of Cassine with 7,000 people at the 3rd festival in 2010.

The metal festival of Vouziers attractes about 2000 people. The Rock festival in El Mont at Aiglemont hosted more than 2,000 people in 2010. Lastly there is at Douzy every July and every second year the Douzy'k Festival which brings between 5,000 and 7,000 people each time.

The Argonne does not have only two musical events. For 14 years, the village of Louvergny has staged a lyrical festival called Encounters of Louvergny in early August as the heart of the Argonne campaign, with singers from different countries. More recently Notes of Argonne propose to cross the Argonne mountains with copncerts of classical music with regional and national performers. The May 2008 festival included Patrice Fontanarosa and Marielle Nordmann. Both events had an immediate success in the region and the public has not stopped coming since.

The Ardennes in tales and legends

For a long time the region was a land of legends with its rocks, rivers, lakes, and thick dark forests: for example The Four Sons of Aymon, knights on their horse called Bayard helped by the enchanter Maugis who gave his name to village of Noyers-Pont-Maugis at the time of Charlemagne.[8]

The Ardennes in literature

The novel by Yves Gibeau, Les gros sous (The big money) (1953) takes place in the south-west of the department.

The Ardennes serves as the backdrop to the novel by Julien Gracq, A Balcony in the Forest (Un balcon en forêt), published in 1958 and for which Michel Mitrani made a film in 1979 with Jacques Villeret. This novel/story is based on the experience as a soldier by the author at the beginning of the Second World War.

The region serves as a backdrop for the Ardennes writer André Dhôtel (1900-1991), especially in Le Pays où l'on n’arrive jamais (The country where one never arrives).

The Ardennes in cinema

The department has a varied natural environment (the Meuse valley, the border between Belgium and France, the Ardennes plateau, forests, etc.) which attracts filmmakers and television which first began in the late 1960s and in the 1970s.

Notable people linked to the Department

Arthur Rimbaud was a native of Charleville-Mézières.

The local press in Ardennes

Regional newspapers are: L'Ardennais (from Charleville-Mézières) and L'Union, they now have shared writing – only the first page differs. Since 2009, a weekly newspaper has been published in the Ardennes: La Semaine des Ardennes. Printed in Charleville-Mézières over 2000 copies are printed.

See also

Notes and references


  1. This toponym is present 5 times in Charentes; notably in the name of the village of Saint-Grégoire-d'Ardennes in Charente-Maritime); principal source: Jacques Duguet, Place names of Charentes, éditions Bonneton, 1995, p. 9 and 10 (French)
  2. See the article:The Discovery of Medieval sites of North Argonne, Daniel HOCHEDEZ in the review HORIZONS D'ARGONNE, No. 88, June 2011, p. 7-14 (publication of the Centre for Studies of Argonne) (French)


  1. 1 2 Inhabitants of Ardennes (French)
  2. Legal Population from the census of 2009 for the department of Ardennes (municipal population)
  3. General Toponymy of France, Vol. 1, Ernest Nègre, Librairie Droz, 1990, ISBN 9782600028837, page 128, Ardenne (French)
  4. Dottin G., The Gallic language, grammar, texts, glossary, Paris, 1920. (French)
  5. The Franco-German War and the occupation of Argonne (1870-1873), Daniel Hochedez, Concerning the movement of troops preceding the Battle of Sedan and generally on the war of 1870 in Argonne, Ardennes, and the German occupation, Revue Horizons d'Argonne, publication of the Centre for Argonne studies, Number 87, June 2010 (French)
  6. List of Cantons in the SPLAF for Ardennes (French)
  7. 1 2 How to come to Charleville-Mézières, consulted on 31 May 2013 (French)
  8. The Ardenne, Jean-Pierre Lambot, Éditions Mardaga, 1987, ISBN 9782870093160, 175 pages (French)

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