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The Maginot Line


The strongest line of fortifications

As early as 1920, in order to prevent another invasion of the kind experienced in 1914, the French authorities began designing a modern system of defence to run along the borders with Germany, Italy, and then Belgium. Subsequently, from 1929 to 1940, several thousand concrete and steel structures were integrated into the countryside, with the largest ones being interspersed between casemates and artillery observation posts. The goal was for the 700 km line to constitute a defensive barrier, impenetrable due to the crossfire from the different blocks equipped with gun turrets and loopholes. Strategically placed armoured structures were built, half underground, heavily armed and equipped with telephones and electrical generators. Many kilometres of underground passages and railway tracks served access areas and depots. Situated 10 km from the various borders, they were, in reality, part of a carefully organized, 10 to 25 km wide defensive network.

André Maginot (1877-1932)

A hero of World War I, André Maginot followed Paul Painlevé as War Minister in November 1929. In 1930, he was instrumental in passing a bill, which became law on 14th January 1930, dealing with border defense organization together with the provision of the required funds for construction. Thereafter, the fortified defensive line - and its extensions - would bear his name.

Les travaux

Alsace : 200 km of fortified ramparts

In Alsace, at the heart of the network, the Maginot Line comprises nearly 2,000 fortifications whose wide diversity clearly illustrates the defensive system’s design. In 1940, 4 powerful underground fortresses, one such being the Hochwald, the Line’s second-largest structure, were occupied by «crews» of up to 1,000 men. Some 200 casemates - holding 15 to 30 men - constituted the other key positions along with look-out posts, some equipped with periscopes, and underground or surface shelters; taken together, these were veritable concrete barracks. Finally, numerous blockhouses lined the 200 km border.

A decade of construction

The work ran well beyond the original 3-year timescale such that, in reality, the north-eastern section was not completed until 1935 and the southern section until 1940. The explanation for such an overshoot lies in the number of different sites, the complexity of some of the structures and the difficult economic climate which prevailed from 1932 onwards. In 1935, to complete the existing defenses, construction of new structures began, introducing a phase of «economic defense» construction which saw numerous blocks, of different shapes and sizes, built in an often uncontrolled fashion. Nevertheless, between 1938 and 1940, the Engineer Corps did attempt to impose a standard design on the casemates, fighting posts and look-out positions built during this final period.

Les galeries

A dense network of structures

The Maginot Line was a defensive line of structures, differing in size, function and placement depending on the topology of the landscape and the importance of the area to be defended. In the region of Alsace, a number of these structures, now restored and open to visitors, attest to the system’s organization. The structures presented in this document will provide a complete picture of what constituted France’s defensive lines. Generally, the fortifications consisted of 3 types of construction:

  • casemates, housing machine guns, positioned every 1,000 to 1,200 meters,
  • forts, veritable bastions dominating their positions, housing artillery pieces (long or short) beneath casemates or turrets. These were built 10 to 12 km apart,
  • concrete shelters, at ground level or in dug-out structures, designed to house local reserve troops.

A line of anti-tank devices followed by an inner line of meshed steel wire were the twin obstacles constituting the fortified region’s initial barrier, some 5 to 15 km from the border. Beyond them were the forts, veritable underground towns, undetectable from the surface. The forts were organized around combat blocks out of which, spaced some 30 to 50 meters apart, emerged turrets equipped with artillery. Below ground, 30 to 40 meters down, several kilometers of passages formed networks linking areas comprising munitions stores, hospitals and showers, barracks, kitchens, electrical generating areas, repair workshops, rooms for neutralizing air contaminated with gas, command posts, and through which ran strings of trucks carrying munitions.

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