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The Gate de Paris (1390), one of the few remaining parts of the medieval town fortifications (below).

Historic Textile Town
Cambrai has been a textile town since the 14th century. It was famous for its fine linen - "Cambric" - used for handkerchiefs and fine underwear. The area still has many textile factories, some with factory shops where you can pick up household linens, sheets and bedding, towels, bathrobes, socks and nightwear at bargain prices.

Medieval religious centre
In the Middle Ages Cambrai was ruled by its Bishop, rather like the Pope rules Vatican City. The Church was so wealthy from its lands around Cambrai that the town citizens paid no taxes - but they had no say in governing the city, so there was friction between townsfolk and clergy. Cambrai's 12th century Cathedral was completed in 1472, when it was said to be "the marvel of the Low Countries". The Cathedral was famous for its music, and gave high offices to celebrated composers like Guillaume Dufoy and Nicholas Grenon: both also served the Burgundian court.

 Cambrai Cathedral- organ 
1.16th century Spanish fortifications against the French (Cathedral circled in red)
2. Famous organ in Cambrai cathedral, rebuilt 1897 after a fire in 1859. Well-suited to the acoustics of the lofty stone Cathedral.
3. Archbishop Mothe Fenellon's tomb: he was Archbishop 1695-1715 whilst wars raged through the region.

Religious life in Cambrai: music, pilgrims, festivals

Guillaume Du Fay's music
Celebrated music composed by Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474) as Chapel Master for performing in Cambrai Cathedral included Masses chansons and hymns.
Guillaume Dufoy was born in Flanders, worked in Italy for years, and came back to Cambrai Cathedral at the height of his fame. He composed innovative choral works which are said to mark the dawn of the Renaissance in Western European music.

The Icon of Notre Dame de Grâce is one of the treasures of Cambrai's cathedral. It was brought from Rome and installed in Cambrai Cathedral in 1452.
This strikingly vivid representation of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus attracted famous pilgrims such as Dukes of Burgundy, Kings of France (Louis XI, François 1, Henri IV, Louis XIV), and Emperors Maximilien and Charles Quint - also many thousands of humble people.

Their donations made it a great source of wealth to the church.

The Icon still attracts thousands of pilgrims every year, and is shown in festivals on 15 May and 15 August every year (left).

TODAY: every 15 August, visitors flock to Cambrai to see the traditional Notre Dame de Grâce procession, with the town giants, Martin and Martine - part of a week-long carnival, with fairground, fireworks, concerts and competitions.
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The Bishopric of Cambrai was fought over by its powerful neighbours - France, Burgundy, and the Holy Roman Empire (Germany). Cambrai needed to be stongly fortified.

During the wars between Spain and France for possession of the Low Countries, Cambrai's Archbishop Fenellon: the "Swan of Cambrai" became known for his charity as people fled for safety to Cambrai. In 1677, the city itself was besieged and taken by Louis XIV; the Treaty of Nijmegen, signed in 1678, finally assigned Cambrai to France.

During the French Revolution, in 1793, the town's cathedral was destroyed.  The present Cathedral of Notre-Dame was built in the 19th century.

2. Cambrai's old cathedral ablaze during incendiary shelling 3. 1920 plan for post-war reconstruction of the town hall belfry and main square

War damage
Once a fortified town, Cambrai's town walls were mostly demolished at the end of the 19th century - but some of the gates and towers were saved.

The town was over-run and occupied by the German invasion in 1914, During the First World War, Hindenburg made his HQ in Cambrai, behind an immensely strong defence line along the St.Quentin Canal.

In 1917, the British army successfully used tanks in battle for the first time, achieving a breakthrough in the German lines at Cambrai. In 1918 the retreating Germans set fire to the town.

Above the Town Hall clock two 16th century wooden blacksmiths, Martin and Martine, move on the hour to strike bells with their hammers. The same characters also appear in parades as the town's "giants".

Town of Sugar
The area round Cambrai is fertile farmland - some of the richest in France, used for growing sugar-beet and cereals.

Cambrai's food specialities are small chitterling sausages (andouillettes), and mint-flavoured sweets, the Bêtises de Cambrai - sold all over France.

An annual Festival celebrates all the confectionary specialities of France, particularly the famous Bêtises - mint humbugs with a yellow stripe.

Festival of the Sugar Towns
Festival of the Sugar Towns
Symbol of the annual Friandises - the "Festival des Villes Sucrées" - held each March

Cambrai's history told in a 30 min. sound and light show, using the finely-detailed model of the town in the early 18th century - in
Cambrai Fine Arts Museum.
Cambrai carriages
1. Tour the town in a horse-drawn carriage

Weblinks and more information
Cambrai Tourist Office
Tel : 00 33 327.78.36.15 - Fax: 00 33 327.74.82.82
E-mail :

Local area map
Hainaut map
Click on places on map for more information

Guillaume Dufoy, church musician at Cambrai:

Places to visit
Museum of Fine Arts, Cambrai - 16th-18th cent,paintings, sculpture & local history/ archaeology
Archéosite - display of archaeology and reconstructed Gallo-Roman village
Bêtises de Cambrai - factory tours and tastings; factory shop
Boat trips - on the river Escaut and in the Val de la Sensée.
Caudry Lace museum - town near Cambrai where they make lace for top fashion designers
Matisse Museum - gallery in town where famous artist was born, Le Cateau-Cambresis
Vaucelles Abbey - Cistercian monastery, partly restored

Link to NORD TOURIST BOARD information [in English]

Background Information:
Religion in Nord Pas de Calais
Medieval cloth trade
First World War
Sugar, sweets and confectionary

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Valenciennes Last updated 1st July 2002 / 21st August 2000 © Copyright Invicta Media 1999-2002