The Museum of the Great War of the Pays de Meaux will be inaugurated on 11 November 2011
by Jean-François Copé, Chairman of the Communauté d’Agglomération du Pays de Meaux, in
the presence of the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy.
The Museum of the Great War will be inaugurated on 11 November 2011. Covering 3000 m2,
it will display the extraordinary collection built up over a number of years by Jean-Pierre
Verney, an acknowledged expert on the First World War. The collection is now the property
of the Communauté d’Agglomération du Pays de Meaux.
The museum is a wide-ranging project that has been piloted since 2005 by Jean-François
Copé and the elected officials of the Pays de Meaux. Its aim is to become a centre for French
national memory, and to join the list of leading cultural and historic facilities in France and
in Europe. Several thousand visitors are expected.
Even today, Meaux and the communes of its district carry the traces of the First World War. Several sites bear
witness to combat: Barcy, Chambry, Chauconin-Neufmontiers, etc. It is to reaffirm a local story that has its
place in French national history that the Pays de Meaux, after having acquired Jean-Pierre Verney’s
exceptional collection, decided to proceed with this ambitious architectural and scientific project.
With the aim of becoming the entry point for the pathways of memory on the first world-wide conflict,
the Museum of the Great War of the Pays de Meaux is set at the foot of the USA monument commemorating
the Battles of the Marne of 1914 and 1918.
An ambitious architect ural project
Build the museum in its setting without disturbing the landscape: that was the challenge for the architect
Christophe Lab, who succeeded in creating a historical site in constant dialogue with one of the most emblematic
commemorative sites on the territory. Chosen to give a setting to the size of the project, the architect chose
to interpret this by using large spaces.
The new museum facilities cover 7000 m2: 3000 m2 for the permanent exhibition, 300 m2 for temporary
exhibitions, 2 halls for school visits and discovery workshops, a 115-seat auditorium, a documentation centre
that includes over 6 000 works, a café, a bookshop, and a gift shop. The building meets the needs of a great
museum of the 21st century.
An exceptional collect ion
The exceptional collection that the Museum of the Great War of the Pays de Meaux conserves and presents has
its origins in the work of a private collector, Jean-Pierre Verney, a self-taught man who is an acknowledged
expert on the First World War.
Jean-Pierre Verney started collecting items at the end of the 1960s. Unlike most collectors, his aim was not to
put together an exhaustive collection, but to be able to tell the History and the stories by using objects as
transmitters of memory: armaments and artillery (guns, machine guns, sabres, bayonets, shells, torpedoes,
etc.), objects from daily life on the front and from the rear (stoves, tobacco, prostheses, souvenirs, medical items,
religious objects, etc.), large items (field kitchen, horse-drawn field cart, hospital bed, invalid chair, shell tower,
etc.), over 200 complete uniforms representing all combatant nations (35 countries), newspapers, photographs,
glass plates, posters, postcards, drawings, letters, engravings, paintings, etc.
The collection is one of exceptional diversity. It “expresses emotion, lassitude, anger, pride, separation, and
a large part of the visible or obscured facets of the event” explains Jean-Pierre Verney, who has collected almost
50 000 objects and documents. Acquired in 2005 by the Communauté d’Agglomération du Pays de
Meaux, the collection is to date the largest in Europe to address the Great War under all its aspects.
In 2007, the future Museum was given the title of “Museum of France” by the Ministry of Culture and
Communication, which confirms the exceptional interest of the collection and of the project at national
A str ong museum-relate d bias
A scientific committee was constituted under the historian Marc Ferro to construct the historical
discourse of the Museum of the Great War of the Pays de Meaux. The content of the latter is intended to
show the extent to which conditions changed between the 1914 First Battle of the Marne, which harked back
to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and the 1918 Second Battle of the Marne, which drew on the technical
advances that would be found in all subsequent conflicts. This period is a true turning point in History, a transition
from the 19th to the 20th century, and of which several consequences still resonate today. It is through this
approach that the Museum defines itself as a Museum of History and Society.
To tell the story of the men and women who lived through the first world-wide conflict, an immersive
museography experience was designed. It enables publics of all types to understand the Great War.
The high point of the visit: the “great nave”, which contains complete uniforms from the Battles of the Marne of
1914 and 1918, large items (Blériot XI and Spad XIII aircraft, 3 lorries, a Renault FT17 tank, a Marne taxi, etc.),
and the reconstitution of a battlefield (German trench, No Man’s Land, and French trench).
All around, themed areas lead visitors into a series of different environments: objects to be touched and handled,
olfactory settings, a piece of work on sound design, and projections on various supports are also offered.
Archive pictures bear witness to the intensity of combat, of life in the trenches or in the rear lines. A large-format
relief screening area takes visitors right into the heart of the period.
Multimedia audio-visual terminals accessible to all members of the public, relaxation areas, play areas for young
people: museography uses the most modern technologies and plays with visitors’ senses.
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