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The Lion of Belfort has kept watch over the little town of Belfort, France since 1880. Made of pink sandstone from the Vosges mountains, it is 22 metres long by 11 metres high and it is the symbol of freedom and of the resistance of the people of Belfort in the face of the Prussian invasion. At the end of 103 days of military assault and siege (3 November 1870 - 13 February 1871), the troops of Colonel Pierre Denfert-Rochereau did not capitulate and only surrendered the city on order of the French government. This heroic resistance earned the region of Belfort to remain French territory contrary to Alsace and Lorraine which were annexed to the new German Empire. In December 1871, while the Prussian forces were still in the city, the municipality decided to erect a monument to the memory of the victims. The project was to be modest with an allocated budget of 2,000 Francs and conceived as a simple stele or column to be erected on the ground that served as a cemetery. Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi (2 August 1834 – 4 October 1904) submitted another proposal which attracted immediate attention: to erect beneath the rock of the citadel a monumental lion for "glorifying the energetic defense" rather than a mere reminder of a victory or defeat. The project rapidly won support from the whole country and was accepted in 1873. Erecting such a symbol of the valiant local resistance and honour saved became a national affair. Even before being built, the Lion became a legend and Belfort the symbol of patriotism. Before the Great War, many demonstrators converged on Bastille Day toward the city for military parades with among them, many Alsatians. Construction did not begin until spring 1876 as due to estimated costs surpassing 50,000 Francs, it required the launching of a national donation campaign. The last stone was placed in September 1879 and the Lion was presented to the public on 28 August 1880. Although listed by the French Historic Monument Society in 1931, the monument had interestingly not been formally unveiled until Sunday, 18 September 2011, or 131 years later! A smaller bronze copy of the Lion dominates Place Denfert-Rochereau in Paris commemorating the act of resistance. Also, in Montréal, Québec, inspired from the original Lion is a pink-granite fountain-monument with a lion on top that was erected in 1897 to mark Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. It is also worth noting that Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Lion of Belfort also designed the colossal 'Statue of Liberty' (Liberty Enlightening the World), a gift to the United States from the people of France on 28 October 1886.
On this day, 3 November 2021, we commemorate the 151st anniversary of the beginning of the siege of Belfort by the Prussian Army in 1870 and mark 141 years since the presentation of the Lion of Belfort as a symbol of freedom and heroic resistance of the people of Belfort.
Christophe Kervégant-Tanguy / André M. Levesque