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Aire-sur-la Lys

Flemish architecture of the Baillage (1600)

Historic frontier town
Aire-sur-la-Lys prospered in the Middle Ages from trade on the River Lys. Though protected by the local castle and the Count of Artois, the town suffered from the wars and plagues of the 14th century, which hit its merchants, markets, watermills and workshops
(see '100 Years' War').

A Flemish town
Aire-sur-la-Lys flourished again in the 15th and 16th centuries - a "golden age" of foreign rule. As part of Flanders, Aire was governed first by the Dukes of Burgundy, then the Spanish (see
History of Flanders). The Baillage (now the tourist office) shows what fine buildings Aire then had.

1. Louis XIV's military engineer Vauban strengthened the town walls to withstand modern 18th century warfare.
2. The new Town Hall (1721) designed by an Arras architect in the French Classical style
3. In 1722 the town magistrates imposed uniform town-planning designs for the rest of the Grand'Place, to produce an overall impact of imposing French royal power and style.

Grand'Place today: a unique example of 18th century town planning

Recapture by the French
After sieges in 1641 and 1676, French king
Louis XIV brought Aire and Saint-Omer back into France. After this was confirmed in a treaty of 1678, Louis XIV set his military engineer Vauban to work strengthening the town defences as part of a strategic line of forts to protect France's new northern frontier. Around the walls, he put a series of sluicegates and ponds on the rivers, so that the surrounding area could be flooded.

Aire destroyed 1710
Vauban's work did not stop a coalition of English, Dutch and German armies recapturing the town in 1710, one of a series of French defeats in the War of Spanish succession. The siege destroyed much of the town, including the fine old collegiate church of St-Pierre.

The Collegiate Church of Saint-Pierre: badly damaged in the town's successive sieges, the 12th century church was slowly rebuilt to the original design - finally completed in the 19th century by English architect Edward Scott. It has a 17th century organ, taken from the abbey of Clairmarais (in the marshes near St-Omer). Concerts are sometimes held in the nave.

Aire: a unique 18th century town
Aire was returned to France in the treaty of Utrecht that ended the war. Within the walls, the town centre was rebuilt in the new French Classical style to make it a symbol of French power, grandeur and style. But artificial treaty boundaries cut off Aire's merchants from their natural trade routes down the river; new
canals from the river Scarpe to the River Aa took barges straight past Aire

In the 19th century, Aire developed industries along the banks of the Lys and its tributaries: watermills, breweries, tanneries...

The town
giant, "Lydéric"

Tourist information and Weblinks
Le Baillage, Grand'Place, BP43, 62921 AIRE-SUR-LA-LYS
Tel/Fax: 00 33 3 21 39 65 66

Local area map:
Click on towns for more information

Places to visit:
Thérouanne - archaeological remains of medieval cathedral
Loisinord ski resort, near Bethune - new use for an old coal-mine slag-heap
Azincourt Medieval History Centre - new exhibition by the battlefield
Glassworks - Arques' famous factory making crystal glass, factory shop
Dennlys Parc - family amusements near Fruges
Fressin Castle - ruins of medeival castle near Fruges
La Coupole - Museum of Second World War & Rockets
Les Fontinettes - spectacular barge lift on the Lys - Aa canal.

Background information:
Waterways & canals
Flanders - why the area was ruled by Spain
Making Flanders French - how the region adjusted
Giants - a colourful tradition

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QUICK TOUR round Audomarois district, starting with La Coupole...



Bethune Last updated 2nd May 2002 © Copyright Invicta Media 2002