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Weird History: That Time France Built a Fake Paris

During World War I, France was bombed significantly by German forces. It started around 1914 and was becoming increasingly dangerous for the population and the city itself by 1917. In determining ways to stall and disorient German pilots, France decided to build a decoy city that would draw bombs away from the real Paris.

According to The Daily Beast, three fake neighborhoods were constructed outside of Paris itself. These carefully selected locations featured a faux train hub, city center, and industrial factories. The city center featured replica monuments of classic French landmarks including a replica Arc De Triomphe.

There was no radar tracking at this time and Bloomberg notes that fake cities were a military tactic that had been around since at least the 18th century. A map for World War I's decoy Paris was found by bookstore owner John Ptak in a 1920 issue of The Illustrated London News. "Fake cities had limited utility, of course, but the idea did have its place," Ptak explained to Bloomberg. "Even in the extraordinary history of deception, sham Paris was extraordinary."

Neighborhoods were painted on facades. A wooden train was built for the tracks. Italian electrical engineer Fernand Jacopozzi insisted on real lights for the fake city to enhance the illusion. Dimmed lighting setups were designed to give the appearance that French citizens had closed their curtains in preparation for the air raid.

Unfortunately, the decoy Paris was constructed but never used. By the time it was complete, the war was near its end and the real Paris had already been bombed. Nonetheless, it was an ambitious and creative solution that might have helped had time and resources permitted.

Interested in more fake cities? You can find them all over the world. Some were built for strategic purpose. Others were constructed so that scientific testing could be done in a given area. A few were even built for the film industry and left behind, uninhabited once production was completed. And yes, with that last one we are talking specifically about Middle Earth sets from the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Know about another a fake city worth exploring? Share it in the comments!

[Image Credit: photo via Wikimedia Commons]

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