The Département of Aisne is located in the eastern most part of
Picardy. It borders the
département of Nord to the north and barely touches the
Belgium frontier to the northeast. The départements of
Marne are to its east. It is bordered by the départements of Seine-et-Marne to the south and by
Somme to the west. The Aisne River flows into the département from the east and ultimately joins the Oise River in the west. Much of the département has areas where masses of outlying rock form ridges such as the Chemin des Dames and the ridge at Laon.
Laon is the départemental capital.
The département’s principal towns are
Soissons and Veryins.
Great World War I battles were fought over much of Aisne. The battle of Aisne, which was a German offensive against the ridge known as the Chemin des Dames, near the battlefield of
Château-Thierry to the south, caused great destruction and denuded many of the old-growth forests. The destruction included some of Aisne’s architectural monuments. However, many escaped with little or no damage. The medieval churches at Braine,
Laon and Urce were among the lucky ones. The remains of the La Ferté-Milon castle also weathered the war. The damaged basilica of
Saint-Quentin has been rebuilt.
Mirrors have been fabricated at Saint-Gobain since the 17th century. Cotton, silk and wool are woven at
Saint-Quentin and other Aisne towns. Aisne’s agricultural and industrial center is in the northern town of Guise. Its grain lands are in the south and west and dairying is carried on in the hilly Thiérache country to the northeast. Sugar beets have been grown in Aisne since Napoleon’s time due to the French government’s heavy subsidization of the crop.
The Département of Oise is situated in the southwestern portion of
Picardy. The département of Somme borders it to the north,
Aisne to the east, Val-d’Oise and Seine-et-Marne to the south and the départements of Eure and Seine-Maritime to the west. The Oise River splits the eastern half of Oise in half. The département was created from the historic provinces of
The Oise River flows through a forested valley, northeast to southwest, through the towns of
Compiègne and Creil. To the east, above
Compiègne, it meets the Aisne River. The capital of Oise is the cathedral city of
Beauvais. It is located on the Thérain River, in the center of western Oise, between
Paris. The Thérain River flows into the Oise River at Creil, northeast of
Senlis. The town of Chantilly is nestled in a forested region west of Senlis.
Chantilly is well known for its château, its racecourse and Chantilly desert cream.
The Autoroute du Nord cuts through Oise on its way from Paris to
Joan of Arc was captured in Oise and sold to the English, by Bourguignon soldiers, in 1430. The national tapestry factory was established in Oise in 1664. On November 11, 1918, at 5 AM, in General Foch’s railroad car at Rethondes, in
the forest of
Compèigne-Chantilly, the Armistice ending WWI was signed. The Franco-German Armistice, of 1941, took place at the same place, and in the same railroad car.
At Chaplieu are Gallo-Roman ruins. The towns of Saint-Leu-d’Esserent and Morienval boast of northern France’s finest Romanesque churches. Located near the ‘Sea of Sand’ are the ruins of the 13th century Chaalis abbey church. Elsewhere are the ruins of Royaumont abbey and the feudal castle of Pierrefonds; the latter has been reconstructed.
The Oise département consists of undulating plateaus and gentle valleys. Market gardening is prevalent in the valleys, where cereal and sugar beets are grown. Cattle are also raised in the Oise.
There is considerable sandstone quarrying and clay digging in the area. The light industry, consisting of cement, glass, chemicals and metallurgy, is centered in the Oise valley, mostly around Creil and Compiègne. Due to its proximity to Paris, the housing industry has been expanding.
The département of Somme was created from a small part of the old province of
Artois and largely from the historic province of
Picardie. It is located in the northwestern part of the Picardy region, and is bordered by the départements of
Pas-de-Calais to the north,
Aisne to the east,
Oise to the south, Haute-Saône to the west and by 30 miles of the Channel to the northwest, where the Somme River estuary and the Bay of Somme account for most of the costal area. The département’s capital is
The Somme River flows from the département’s east to its northwest, through the towns of Péronne, Amiens and
Abbeville. The Authie River, to the north, flows parallel to the Somme. To the south, the Bresle River parallels the Somme. The chalk plateau of Picardie covers most of the
Somme département, and in the southwest the chalk cliffs look out on the English Channel. The Channel’s shore line is covered by sand dunes and a number of small seaside resorts and harbors. Both the Authie and Somme estuaries have created marshland from silting.
There are a number of military cemeteries throughout the Somme River valley, marking the battlefields of World War I. During the War, which lasted from 1914 to 1918, the British developed tanks which were clumsy and slow. They first used them, to little advantage, in the Battle of the Somme in 1916; a battle that took the lives of more than one million souls during its 4 month duration. However, during the battle of
Cambrai, in 1917, improved tanks were successfully used against the Germans. While under development, and for secrecy purposes, the British called them ‘water tanks’.
Along the valleys, where land has been reclaimed from the marshes, market gardens abound. These areas also support considerable cattle grazing. Cattle are also raised on the Picardie plateau where cereals, fodder and sugar beets are grown.
Although the département is predominantly rural, industries such as chemicals, food processing, metal- working and textile manufacturing exist around Abbeville and Amiens.
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