Also known as Ablain Saint-Nazaire French Military Cemetery, Notre Dame de Lorette contains the remains of 40,000 soldiers, as well as the ashes of many concentration camp victims. Located in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, this is the world’s largest French military cemetery, and its location isn’t a coincidence — the focal point of the three deadly battles of Artois, the ground was strategically important during World War I and was bitterly contested in a series of long and bloody engagements between the French and German armies over the course of a year.
The 25-hectare cemetery is located atop the 165-meter-high Notre Dame de Lorette hill and comprises 20,000 individual graves, laid out with no regards to rank or military training – hence why General Ernest Barbot, commander of the French 77th Mountain Division, is buried alongside one of his privates. The cemetery’s mission goes far beyond commemorating French soldiers: it is a living homage to every victim of every war. The site also contains a basilica, a lantern-tower, a museum, an east-facing Muslim cemetery and several ossuaries.
To mark the 100th anniversary of World War I on Nov. 11, 2014, President François Hollande unveiled a memorial named “Memory Ring;” the circular 300-ton monument features the names of the 600,000 soldiers who were killed in action between 1914 and 1918 in Nord-Pas-de-Calais.
Notre Dame de Lorette is located in Northern France, some 200 kilometers north of Paris (via route A1, A26 and D937) and 50 kilometers outside Lille (via N41, A21 and D937). There is ample free parking for cars at the cemetery site.