Arras

Arras (Dutch: Atrecht) is an attractive town in the Hauts-de-France region of France. It was much fought-over in World War I and is mainly visited by tourists travelling from or to the nearby ports of Calais and Boulogne. It is also a good starting point for a visit to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial (see Lens).

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  • Les places (Grand’ Place et Place des Héros) – Like many town centers in France, Arras is made of cobblestone. Both main squares measure 17 000 m². The town’s two great squares are quite splendid providing a collection of 155 unique façades of Flemish baroque architecture. In 1492 Arras had become part of the Spanish Netherlands and this helps explain the style of the architecture (Arras was only retaken by the French in 1640 at the time of Louis XIII). These large town squares were designed to accommodate large markets which in different periods contributed largely to the prosperity of the city.
  • L’Hôtel de Ville & Le Beffroi d’Arras – The Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) on the Place des Héros (and not the Grand’ Place) was destroyed during the war but has been recreated in its original style. The dominating belfry (beffroi) is 77m high, or 326 steps and offers a great view of the city of Arras. Building had begun in 1463, but it was a century later in 1554 before the work was completed (by comparison the Hôtel de Ville took just four years to construct). The belfry was built in Gothic style. A 2m tall statue of the golden lion holding the sun can be found at the top of the bell tower. It was installed under Louis XIV (hence the sun found in its paws). The statue found at the top of the belfry is the reproduction of the original which sits in the Museum of Fine Arts in Arras (the original being damaged due to the bombings during World War I). During this period, the belfry was destroyed and it was rebuilt later, just as it had originally been with a concrete structure by the chief architect of historic monuments Pierre Paquet along the town hall of Arras. The belfry is a historical monument. Since 2005, the belfry of Arras is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in category: Belfrys of Belgium and France. The local Tourist Information Office is in an office on the left as you go in and it is open every day except Christmas and the New Year. Below, in the basement are the underground chambers – the Boves. These can be visited on tours, and give a glimpse of an area used by the British army as a field hospital. The Boves are still used today by the locals and some sections have even been turned into restaurants. During the war they were used for sheltering soldiers and afterwards the returning towns people took refuge there whilst they rebuilt their shattered town.
  • Les Boves – The Boves of Arras are a collection of underground chambers (galleries connecting individual cellars) that men have gradually dug since the tenth century. The existing network is of remarkable length and excellent condition. These quarries were dug when local builders used great blocks of chalk to build the town’s most important buildings. These tunnels were also used as shelters by the Arrageois during times of war, invasions, bombings… These undergrounds were also used by the British during World War I to install a small hospital. Columns of sandstone or limestone pillars support the vaulted halls and stairways that allow residents to store food in the cellars at constant temperature of 11 °C, which, as some of you may know, is ideal for wine storage!
  • Les Carrières Wellington – The Wellington Quarry is an attraction in Arras relating to the Battle of Arras in 1917. This network of underground tunnels played a major role in taking the enemy lines and helped save the lives of many soldiers. Miles of tunnels were dug beneath the Arras countryside to create command posts, kitchens, sleeping quarters and even a hospital, protecting around 24,000 Allied troops. The Wellington Quarry is located about 700 meters behind the SNCF railway station of Arras, in the direction of Bapaume. The entrance is Delétoille Street, first left immediately after the Leclerc supermarket. Tel: +33 3 21 51 26 95 | Admission Fees: €6.60, Special Price €3.00 | Open every day all year round: 10:00-12:30 and 13:30-18:00 pm | (Annual closure: January 1 and 3 weeks after the Christmas holidays, The 28, 29 and 30 June, and 25 December).
  • Musée des Beaux-Arts d’Arras – The Museum of Fine Arts in Arras is located in the ancient Abbey of Saint-Vaast. The original statue of the golden lion (le lion d’or) of Arras resides in this museum. In the museum’s painting collection several works of art by the following artists can be seen: Pieter Brueghel le Jeune, Balthasar van der Ast, Paul Rubens, Gerard Seghers, Nicolas Maes, Jacob van Es, Jacopo Bassano, Giovanni Baglione, Claude Vignon, Philippe de Champaigne, Jean Jouvenet, Sébastien Bourdon, Laurent de La Hyre, Charles Le Brun, Nicolas de Largillière, Antoine Watteau, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Carle Van Loo, Joseph-Marie Vien, Camille Corot, Théodore Rousseau, Théodore Chassériau, and Eugène Delacroix.
  • Place Victor Hugo – The Victor-Hugo square is an octagonal square located in the basse ville, not too far from the Notre-Dame-des-Ardents church. In the middle of this square lies an obelisk with a fountain. Surrounding this square are many old stone houses.
  • Citadelle de Vauban – The Arras Citadel was constructed following Vauban’s plans at the instigation of Louis XIV between 1668 and 1672. Her primary task was to protect the kingdom from attacks by the armies of the Spanish Netherlands but the decreasing importance of Arras as a strategic site soon made her purpose redundant and she became known as La Belle Inutile – Pretty (but) useless. One of the reasons that Vauban chose this particular position is the proximity of the Crinchon river which could serve both as a source of water for the garrison but also in times of trouble as a method of filling the moat. During the battle of Arras in 1917 the moat was at one point used as a parking lot for tanks. Until July 2009 the citadel was still used as a military garrison and housed the Arrageois: 601e Régiment de Circulation Routière. Under the new military policies of President Sarkozy the regiment was disbanded in July 2009 and the citadel sold off. What Arras is going to be able to do with the complex has yet to be decided.
  • Cité Nature25, boulevard Schuman. Installed in the Art Deco buildings of an old miner’s lamp factory (transformed by the famous architect Jean Nouvel), Cité Nature is a cultural and scientific center dedicated to food, agriculture, nature and health. 2500 m² of permanent exhibitions are about the environment, food, technology, history, and 1500 m² of various gardens, there is also a hall for meetings and exchanges. At Cité Nature one can participate in wine tastings, discussions with artists, listen to music, and watch shows. Tel: +33 3 21 21 59 59
  • 49.92915022.93259641 Historial of the Great War Péronne (Historial de la Grande Guerre Péronne), Château de Péronne, Place André Audinot, Péronne, France, +33 3 22 83 14 18, e-mail: info@historial.org. Apr-Oct: daily 09:30-18:00; Nov-Mar: Th-Tu 09:30-17:00; closed 10 Dec- 22 Jan. Near the heart of the World War I Somme battlefields, it is housed within the Château de Péronne, a castle in the town of Péronne. It represents the everyday life of the soldiers at the front during that harsh time as well as the life of the civilians and the huge social changes. It has two major permanent specialist exhibits: (1) Prisoners of War – the exhibition deals with all aspects of captivity: the food, for example, was insufficient and of poor quality; illness was rife; and prisoners of war were required to work hard; and (2) Children in World War I – for some, World War I was seen as a means of defending civilisation against barbarism, to protect the future of children. The image of the child was thus frequently used in posters, notably for recruitment. Adult €9, veterans and seniors €7, children (7-15) and students €4.50. (updated Aug 2018)

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