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Orne (Geography & History)

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Normandy territory, Orne has withstood France's most remarkable historical events.
The urban and rural landscape bears witness to times of war and periods of great prosperity alike.
A verdant department of distinctive territorial diversity


When retracing Orne's history, the department recalls that its first inhabitants were Ligurians and Iberians.
As from the second iron age (from the 5th to the 2nd Century BC), just like Normandy's other provinces, the area was subjected to successive invasions, interspersed with long periods of acculturation:
- Arrival of Indo-European and Gaulish populations in the 2nd Century BC.
- Roman conquest
- Germanic invasions during the 3rd, 4th and 5th Centuries AD.
- Frankish invasions in the 5th Century, longer-lasting and heralding an era of economic and cultural prosperity (development of monasteries and rural evangelisation).

The Norman invasion up to the 9th Century was, however, to initiate long centuries of unrest. Until 1450, when the area was freed from English control once and for all, Orne was torn between Norman dukes, the English and the crown of France, and was at the heart of permanent battles for succession and many a fierce battle.

However, despite wars and feudal instability resulting in misery and anarchy, Orne contributed to the remarkable intellectual and artistic revolution during the Middle Ages. The department's utmost cultural bloom was during the 16th Century with the brilliant court of the Duchess of Alençon, protector of art and literature.
The temporarily restored political tranquillity was soon to be unsettled by the religious wars, then by the Fronde Revolt and its intrigues.
In 1636, Richelieu created the generalities of Alençon and, under Colbert's administration, Orne entered into a new period of economic prosperity: creation of stud farms and lace manufacture. Hence the creation, around 1650, of the renowned « Alençon stitch ».

In the 18th Century, the department's industrial expansion flourished. Orne was created in 1789, as were Normandy's other two departments.

But it was only in the 19th Century that the Orne department was permanently organised and its current geographical configuration was established in 1831.
During World War I, 20,000 soldiers from Orne were mobilised.
During World War II, Alençon was under German occupation as early as June 1940. The town was liberated on the 12th of August 1944 by General Leclerc's 2nd Armoured Division following bloody combat in the Falaise-Chambois pocket, hence bringing the bitter Battle of Normandy to an end.


Situated in the south of the Normandy region, Orne is faithful to its image of a verdant department. It offers a variety of landscapes from orchards and bocage to hills and forests. To the west, the deeply rural bocage separated by hedges, grazing and dairy breeding zones; in the centre a narrow strip of plain and open landscapes where cultivated land mingles with natural prairies and, finally, to the east an area of valleys and semi bocage.

  • Haras National du Pin
  • Dentelle d'Argentan ou d'Alençon
  • Vue de la vallée de Saint Ceneri
  • Cathedrale de Sées
  • Char Shermann - poche de Falaise