Lifestyle & Belief

These are the places you should visit to feel the legacy of WWI


The Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge. Canadians see this forest-covered ridge rising out of the farmland in northern France as the cradle of their nation.


Philippe Huguen

VIMY RIDGE, France — World War I started 100 years ago next month. Between July 28, 1914 and Nov. 11, 1918, 17 million people would die in the fighting.

The war marked the end of great empires, triggered the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and redrew the borders of Europe and the Middle East.

As commemorations are held around the world this summer to mark the conflict once called the war to end all wars, here’s a guide to 12 sites that show the war's lasting impact.


1. The Latin Bridge, Sarajevo, Bosnia

(Ismar Badzic/Flickr)

Where it all began. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were gunned down here on June 28, 1914, by Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip as he visited Bosnia, recently annexed by Austria to Serbia's dismay. Balkan rivalries that ignited WWI flared again in the 1990s and Sarajevo still bears the scars of the 1,425-day siege that left thousands dead. These days, however, the river Miljacka flows peacefully under the bridge's three arches and a museum on the northern bank marks the spot where Princip fired his fateful shots.


2. Langemark German Cemetery, Belgium

(AFP/Getty Images)

A visit to any of the war cemeteries scattered across Flanders or the other theaters of WWI is always a moving experience. This German graveyard holding the remains of 44,000 fallen soldiers is particularly poignant. Shaded by oak trees, row upon row of flat, roughly hewn grey stones mark graves. Among the fallen are 3,000 schoolboys and students mown down when inexperienced German volunteers charged Allied machine guns in October 1914. One young infantryman who survived the carnage around Langemark was Adolf Hitler, who paid a visit to the cemetery after his forces occupied Belgium in World War II.


3. Przemysl, Poland

Market Square in Przemysl. (Krzysztof Dobrzański/Flickr)

Although the fighting on WWI's eastern front is often neglected in the West, the battles between the Baltic and Black Sea cost an estimated 4 million lives. Przemysl was an Austro-Hungarian fortress town on the border with the Russian Empire. Russia's attack on the city led to the longest siege of the war. It took six months until Austrian defenses were overpowered — a defeat that dealt a major blow to the tottering Hapsburg Empire. Today, visitors can stroll through remnants of the fortifications that stretch from city to the nearby Ukrainian border. On one street, four cemeteries provide a resting place for German, Russian and Austro-Hungarian casualties. In the city's main square sits a statue of The Good Soldier Svejk, hero of the anti-war novel with the same name by Czech writer Jaroslav Hasek, who became a symbol for ordinary servicemen dragged into the armies of empire.


4. The Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium

(AFP/Getty Images)

Apart for a four-year gap during the Nazi occupation, a bugler from the Ypres fire brigade has stood beneath the Menin Gate at 8 p.m. every evening since 1928 to play "The Last Post," Britain's mournful call to fallen soldiers. The ceremony honors the 54,896 men from Britain, Canada, Australia, India, South Africa and the West Indies whose names are carved on the great stone and brick gate. They died in the series great battles around Ypres but their bodies were never found. Even today, farmers regularly unearth the remains of WWI combatants. On Thursday, leaders from the 28 nations of the European Union attended a ceremony here in a symbol of reconciliation.


5. Farnborough Airport, England

Farnborough International Air Show. (CAPTAIN ROGER FENTON 9th.WEST MIDDLESEX VRC. 1860/Flickr)

The annual Farnborough Airshow on July 18-20 is one of several places around England this year where a team of pilots will be taking to the air in replica WWI aircraft to recreate dogfights between British and German fighters over the Western Front. Among the planes in action will be a Fokker triplane like the one flown by German ace Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron. Although Italian pilots made the first air strike in 1911 during an invasion of Libya, WWI saw the first large-scale use of air power. Aerial bombardments were just one of WWI’s technological advances that were to transform the killing potential of modern conflicts — along with machine guns, long-range artillery, tanks and poison gas.


6. Historial de la Grande Guerre, Peronne, France

Historial de la Grande Guerre, Peronne. (Adam Gimpert/Flickr)

Opened in 1992 on the battlefields of the Somme, this is one of the best museums dedicated to WWI. Housed in a building that combines modernist cubes with a medieval chateau, the collection of more than 70,000 objects focuses on the war’s impact on the lives of soldiers and civilians. Exhibits range from the plumed and polished helmets under which cavalrymen trotted to war in 1914 to propaganda posters, religious artifacts crafted from shell cases and letters sent home from the trenches. The first day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916, remains the deadliest in the history of the British army. Some 20,000 died advancing on the German lines.


7. Asiago, Italy

Sunset in Asiago. (efilpero/Flickr)

Thirteen million men fought on the Italian front, where the horrors of trench warfare were often compounded by the freezing Alpine winters as battles ravaged the beautiful plateaus, plains and mountains between Austria and the Adriatic. On a hilltop overlooking the little town of Asiago, a marble mausoleum holds the remains of 54,000 Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops, former enemies who now lie side by side. The fighting around here helped define the modern borders of Italy and the states that would emerge from the Habsburg Empire.


8. Vimy Ridge, France

(Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images)

It wasn't just the new states of Europe that were forged in the flames of WWI. Many Canadians view this forest-covered ridge rising out of the farmland of northern France as the cradle of their nation. In 1917, all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force came together for the first time to storm Germans dug in along the ridge. The land is now managed by the Canadian authorities as a National Historic Site and the soaring white stone monument dominating the ridge features on the country's $20 bill. For Australia and New Zealand too, the trauma of wartime sacrifice was a nation-building experience. The Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey, where troops from Pacific nations spearheaded a doomed attack on Ottoman positions, remains a place of pilgrimage.


9. Basra War Cemetery, Iraq

(AFP/Getty Images)

Many of the frontiers of today's Middle East emerged from the break-up of the Ottoman Empire after WWI. Syria and Lebanon became French protectorates. The British were given post-WWI mandates to run Iraq and Palestine. The Middle East was key theater of the war: British troops invaded Turkish positions in Arabia to secure oil fields; Egypt and Palestine were caught up when German and Ottoman troops sought to seize the Suez Canal from the British; under the command of Col. T. E. Lawrence, the British stirred up rebellion among the tribes of Arabia. After the war, the British and French failure to respect promised support for an independent Arab state fueled resentment that lingers today. In Basra, the scene of fighting between British and Iraqi forces in 2003, a cemetery holds the remains of 2,551 Commonwealth soldiers killed in the Mesopotamian campaigns of WWI.


10. 26 Pilies Street, Vilnius, Lithuania

Pilies Street, Vilnius. (David Holt/Flickr)

At the start of World War I, Vilnius formed part of the Russian Empire. In 1915, the Lithuanian capital was occupied by Germany. With Russia torn by revolution and the tide of battle turning against Germany, leading Lithuanians met in this 18th-century townhouse to sign a declaration of independence. Across Eastern Europe, people made similar bids for freedom as the rule of Russian tsars, Austrian emperors, German kaisers and Turkish sultans crumbled. The empires' implosion often brought chaos. Lithuania and the other Baltic states were riven by multifaceted conflicts involving the Bolshevik Red Army, renegade German fighters, White Russians, Allied forces and newly independent Poland before they finally won brief spells of independence that ended again in World War II.


11. Flanders Field American Cemetery, Waregem, Belgium

Flanders Field American Cemetery. (janheuninck/Flickr)

After the United States entered the war in 1917, the men of American Expeditionary Force were soon fighting in the fields of France and Flanders. Most of the 411 buried here were killed in the Battle of the Lys in 1918 as Allied forces pushed back the German line in the final months of the war. President Barack Obama traveled here in March to pay tribute and highlight the bonds between the United States and its European allies that were tempered in WWI.


12. Clairiere de l'Armistice, Rethondes, France

Clairiere de l'Armistice (olympi/Flickr)

This clearing in the Compeigne Forest north of Paris was chosen by French commander Marshal Ferdinand Foch as the site of Germany's surrender. Facing defeat on the battlefield and revolution at home, the German generals were escorted to Foch's private railway carriage. They signed his armistice terms on Nov. 11, 1918, ending the war. In 1940, Adolf Hitler had the same carriage taken from a museum and returned to the clearing. Hitler was there as defeated French generals were forced to sign a capitulation putting most of France under German control. Today, French monuments destroyed by the Nazis have been restored and the glade is a peaceful place to reflect on both great wars of the 20th century.