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Lille & the greater Lille metropolitan area

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Grand'Place & Voix du Nord-Lille
1. Grand' Place in the centre of Lille - now an attractive pedestrian area overlooked by the “Voix du Nord” building (home of the North's leading newspaper, once the journal of the French Resistance in WW2). The Old Exchange is on the left. The Column commemorates the siege of Lille by the Austrians in 1792, after the Revolution.

Metropolitan Lille
Today, LILLE is an exciting major city of Europe. The vibrant economy of the million-strong city-region is symbolised by the brand new business centre of EURALILLE, built right next to the new High-Speed Train Station of LILLE-EUROPE - where passengers arrive by Eurostar through the Channel Tunnel from the UK, and by other high-speed trains from Paris and all over Europe.

Lille was once known as "the Manchester of France" - but the old textile mills and dirty heavy industry has largely gone, driven out of business in the second half of the 20th century (as in Britain) by lower cost foreign producers. But with much help from the French government and Europe, Lille has found alternative jobs in prosperous new industries - computers, food production, universities, mail order...

Re-discovered heritage
Lille has also rediscovered its own past. Old Lille has been cleaned up and restored. Under the layers of grime, they have brought to light characterful buildings that evoke different eras of Lille's history. Lille only became definitely part of France just over 300 years ago. Before that, centuries of Spanish rule, and the glittering medieval court of the Dukes of Burgundy. When Louis XIV conquered Lille, he made it a showplace of French power and glory....

Lively atmosphere
The town takes pride in its colourful past, and enjoys its markets, carnivals, and everyday life on the streets. You can join the residents of Lille - called “Ch’ti”s after the local dialect.

Vieille Bourse - Lille Lille Braderie Lille Christmas market
The "Old Bourse" overlooks the Grand' Place - built by the Spanish king for his empire in the Spanish Netherlands, it was a centre where Flemish merchants traded their famous high-quality cloth
2. Every September, the Grand' Place and the central streets round about are closed for a giant street market called the "Braderie".
3. ...and each Christmas, there is a lively funfair and Christmas market in the square.

A lively city
Euralille shopping Old Lille VAL - Lille's driverless train
1. Euralille - huge modern shopping complex in the space between Lille's two main railway stations
2. Old buildings, pedestrian streets and shops in Old Lille
3. Lille's modern Metro has automatic driverless trains - the "VAL"

Old Lille is rich in interesting old streets and museums. The central area also has attractive and popular "green areas", fine riverside walks. and a riverside tramway.

Visitors find the many street markets particularly exciting - especially about the famous 'braderies' when miles of streets are lined with second-hand stalls, flea markets - something for everybody! (Often called “foires brocantes” or “marchés aux puces”.)

Lille giants
Lille's new giants "Phineart" and "Lydéric" were "born" in 1999

Stormy history
During Lille's stormy history, the town has been besieged 11 times. It has been sometimes Flemish - often under Austrian or Spanish rule, and sometimes French. For centuries Lille was the home of the Counts of Flanders, who had a château on a river island round which the town grew up.

In the 14th century, Flanders came under the Dukes of Bergundy when Marguerite of Flanders married Philip the Bold of Bergundy. Other marriages brought the different parts of Bergundy including Flanders under Spanish control. During this period, the tradition started of "giants" as a centrepiece of festive carnivals and processions.

See the background page on "carnivals and giants" for more information about this colourful tradition.

Part of France
In 1667 Louis XIV of France besieged and captured Lille, erecting a huge triumphal arch similar to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris to mark his victory. Shortly afterwards he sent his military engineer Vauban to build strong fortifications, including the Citadelle which you can tour today.

Textile industry
In the 18th century many cotton and linen mills were opened in the Lille area. Tourcoing just north of Lille specialised in wool. Oil was milled from seed crops such as linseed grown in the north. By the early 19th century, it was like the Manchester of northern France - with equally appalling and unhealthy slums. A large coalfield running from south of Lille into Belgium was opened up with many mines and slag-heaps scarring the landscape. Coal and other bulk goods were transported by barges using the area's network of canals - and later railways.

Lille in the 1st World War
First world war: household goods requisitioned  First World war: textile factory stripped
Houses shelled in the brief siege before occupation 1914. Mattresses and household linen were requisitioned by the occupying troops. Textile mills were stripped of machinery that was transported to Germany.
In 1914 the French at first withdrew the army from Lille and declared it an "open city", because they felt its flat site made it too difficult to defend against the invading Germans. The occupying forces systematically looted the North and subjected those inhabitants who did not flee to a harsh regime for the duration of the war. [see First World War]


Web links and more information
Tourist Information:

Palais Rihour, BP 205, 5900 LILLE
Tel: 00 33 3 20 21 94 21
Fax: 00 33 3 20 21 94 20

Local area map:

Click on places for more information, and

Where to eat in Lille - we recommend:
L'Huîtrière - seafood restaurant
L'Ecume des Mers - seafood restaurant
Aux Pêcheurs d'Etaples - seafood restaurant

Places to visit in central Lille
Lille City Pass 1-,2- or 3-day pass to museums, attractions, the City Tour & public transport
Lille City Tour - daily 1-hour tour of the key sites
Lille Old Town - the city's Cathedral, lively shops, cafes, bars & markets - great for a stroll!
The Citadelle - huge 17th century fort surrounded by woods and a park, with a good (FREE) Zoo.
Musée Regional des Télécommunications - museum of telephones
General de Gaulle Museum - his birthplace in Lille
Lille's markets - colourful places to browse and find the unusual
Musée de l'Hospice Comtesse - fine art collection
Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille - fine art collection
Natural History Museum - in central Lille

Places to visit in greater Lille area
Tourcoing Fine Arts Museum - mix of old masters, contemporary art & performance
Mills Museum - at Villeneuve d'Ascq (on outskirts of Lille)
Musée d'Art Moderne - at Villeneuve d'Ascq
Riverside trips - by old trams on the bank, or by boat
Riverside gin distillery - at Wambrechies

Link to the Tourist Board website for:
Accommodation: hotels, B&Bs, gites, campsites
Discovery: list of places to visit
Diary of events
Rambles in the area - maps & notes

Click for TOURIST BOARD information
at [in English]

Why not try this newfeature?
clipboard helper
QUICK TOUR round Greater Lille, starting with the Palais des Beaux-Arts...

Background Information
Belfries - medieval bell towers
Giants and carnivals
History of Flanders




St.Amand-les-Eaux Last updated 11th November 2003 © Copyright Invicta Media 1999 - 2003