Housed in a hill-top fort, this is a small- to medium-sized museum about the role of Cherbourg
and Normandy, France
, during WWII
with a focus on the occupation by Nazi Germany
and the city’s eventual liberation by Allied troops in 1944.
More background info: Cherbourg
’s Musée de la Libération, to give it its official name in French, is actually the oldest of its kind in France
, going back to first suggestions as early as 1949; it opened its doors in 1954, but has since been modernized, especially in 1994 for the 50th anniversary of the liberation, and again ten years later, when it was given its present form.
The location is significant: inside parts of a fort atop the 384 feet (117 metre) high Roule mountain that overlooks the city. This had been first fortified at the end of the 18th century, while the present fort was constructed during the reign of emperor Napoleon III between 1853 and 1857.
When the Nazi
German military occupied France
it also took the fort and later expanded it by digging underground tunnels and installing gun emplacements. It again became a place of tough resistance, this time by the Germans, when US
troops captured Cherbourg
following the D-Day landings
on the beaches to the east of the city. Naturally, Cherbourg’s deep-water port, the only one in the region, was of prime strategic importance. The Germans finally surrendered on 26 June, and the fort was taken over by the Americans, while Cherbourg became the busiest harbour for resupplying the Allies.
, the fort became a command post of the French Navy, and parts of it are still in the hands of the military and off limits. But the main building of the fort now houses the museum, and sections of the tunnels and former ‘Batterie du Roule’ gun emplacements built by the Nazis have also been opened to the public (see below
What there is to see: You enter the museum through a modern annexe and via a footbridge crossing the moat leading to the upper level of the fort. Inside you are greeted by a large war-themed mural that dates back to the museum’s first inception in 1954.
The permanent exhibition as such begins on the lower level, though, so you should head down the stairs to that part first. It mostly covers the period of the Nazi
occupation, its propaganda, indoctrination of the youth, deportation of Jews, but also the French resistance. On display are plenty of objects from everyday life during this difficult time, posters, war games, items of clothing, propaganda brochures and much more. But there is only very little military hardware – as it was decided during the remodelling of the museum in 1994/2004 that this should not be a museum of weaponry. Also covered on this lower level is the beginning of the D-Day landings
and the preparations for “Operation Overlord”, with Cherbourg
’s strategic significance in this a special emphasis.
The upper level has separate sections, the first of which is about Cherbourg’s role as the harbour of liberation, not just for Normandy and France
, but in some sense that of Europe at large (though the role the Soviet
Red Army played in this in the east is more or less overlooked here). Dioramas of the port, which at that time was the busiest in the world, illustrate this period.
In another room, various displays are on the horrors of the war, including the Holocaust
(e.g. there’s an urn with ashes of victims of Dachau
as well as samples of soil from Bergen-Belsen
). Also on display are personal items belonging soldiers, gas masks and a parachute.
Finally there is a cinema where topical films are shown as well as a separate room for temporary exhibitions that change every year.
Back outside it’s worth taking a look at the grand panoramic view to be had from the bastions of the fort. You can see more or less the entire city of Cherbourg
spread out at bottom, and the vast harbour in the distance.
All in all
, this may not be a particularly large museum, and those expecting to see big exhibits like military vehicles and artillery may be disappointed, but I found the emphasis on people’s lives during the war years a refreshing change to many of the other war-themed museums in Normandy, and the rich collection of personal items and everyday objects is certainly captivating. Some of the displays are also quite dramatically designed, e.g. a stretch of beach under glass with footprints symbolizing the D-Day
beach landings, or the bit which is designed like the ramps of the amphibious landing crafts.
at the top of the Roule mountain to the south-east of the centre of Cherbourg
Access and costs: a bit of a walk up the hill, but doable; comparatively inexpensive.
Details: To get to the museum you have to walk up to the top of the hill – or get a taxi. It is quite a long way up, up a steep road with several switchbacks so the estimate given on Google Maps saying the walk takes 19 minutes from the foot of the hill is perhaps a bit optimistic, unless you’re super fit and used to such “mountaineering” But it is doable for less sporty people too.
From the city centre you first have to make your way to the south of the city, e.g. via the train station. From there head east along the big main road and after crossing the canal turn right into Voie de la Liberté. Proceed to the war memorial and then turn left and right again to get to the street called Montée des Résistants, which after a while starts going up the hill. You can already see the fort towering at the top, a good 100 metres above you. Brace yourself and keep walking. It took me a good half hour to get to the entrance gate.
Opening times: Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 12:30 noon and from 2 to 6 p.m., at weekends open only from 1 to 6 p.m., closed Mondays and on public holidays, except 8 May and 11 November.
Admission: 4 EUR, free for under-26-year-olds, students, school groups and teachers as well as the unemployed. Free for everybody every Wednesday.
Time required: ca. 45 minutes to an hour.
Combinations with other dark destinations: En route to the museum, two switchbacks beneath it, you pass the entrance to the Batterie du Roule. Here parts of the tunnel system and former gun emplacements inside the mountain can be visited by guided tour; times vary, but between May and September there’s usually a tour at 2.30 p.m. for which prior reservations are not required. More tours at different times as well as special night sessions can be booked in advance (check on exspen.com); the cost is 12 EUR for adults, 9 EUR for under-18-year-olds, and 6 EUR for under-10-year-olds. You will be provided with a hard hat equipped with headlamp, so it’s real “spelunking”.
Also en route to the museum you pass closed gates to the parts of the military installations on Mount Roule that are not open to the public, but you can have a peek in.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under Cherbourg
- Liberation Museum 01 - sitting atop a hill
- Liberation Museum 02 - at the bottom of the road leading up the hill
- Liberation Museum 03 - arrival at the top
- Liberation Museum 04 - looking down over Cherbourg
- Liberation Museum 05 - going in
- Liberation Museum 06 - mural inside
- Liberation Museum 07 - propaganda section
- Liberation Museum 08 - prisoners
- Liberation Museum 09 - deportations
- Liberation Museum 10 - everyday life exhibits
- Liberation Museum 11 - you and your army
- Liberation Museum 12 - HJ
- Liberation Museum 13 - war game
- Liberation Museum 14 - D-Day landings
- Liberation Museum 15 - model of a landing craft
- Liberation Museum 15b - beach sand and footprints
- Liberation Museum 16 - section on the upper level
- Liberation Museum 16b - war-time harbour diorama
- Liberation Museum 17 - gas mask
- Liberation Museum 18 - adaptors, including one for dark
- Liberation Museum 19 - parachute
- Liberation Museum 20 - on the way down
- Liberation Museum 21 - entrance to the Roule battery
- Liberation Museum 22 - into the rock