Monday, 2 April 2007

Chapter 36: Albert

Approaching Albert by train, April 2005

Albert from the Bécourt Road, April 2005

Known in ancient times as Enk, the town became ENCRE and then ANCRE until 1620, when letters patent of Louis XIII decreed that it be called ALBERT, for its then lord, Albert de Luynes.

The Ancre River between Albert and La Boisselle. May 2003.

The town was occupied by the Germans from 29 August to 14 September 1914. In October 1914 the German and French lines stabilised a few kilometres to the north-east at La Boisselle.

Albert then became the rearguard town for the French, and from August 1915, the British. The town suffered heavy shelling. In January 1915 a German shell damaged the bell-tower of the basilica. From then until March 1918 the gilded Madonna hung out horizontally above the town, giving birth to the legend of “The Leaning Virgin”. Australians commented that she looked like swimming star of the time, Fanny Durack.

The town was taken by the Germans again in March 1918. It was liberated by the British on 2 August 1918.

At the end of these battles, nothing was left of the town. The basilica was rebuilt as an exact reconstruction of the original neo-Byzantine style.

Albert Basilica after bombardment created the “Leaning Madonna” aka Fanny Durack as she was known to Australian troops (after an Australian swimming star of the time - it looks as if she is about to dive off the blocks.

The Golden Madonna restored to the Basilica. (Photo May 2003)

Interior of the Basilica, during the war, and 2003.

In Albert it is worth visiting the The 1916 Somme Shelters Museum (Musee des Abris), located in the WW2 bomb shelters under the basilica and the centre of the town. They were able to accommodate 600 people. The back exit of the museum opens out to the Albert public gardens.
The museum presents along its corridor galleries scenes of life in the trenches.
From the museum entry, you will discover a 200 meter-long gallery that leads you to the public garden. This gallery accommodates about 15 alcoves that present scenes of life in the trenches during the Somme Battle.

We stayed at the Hotel de la Paix in Albert, where the rooms are comfortable and the food magnifique!

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