10 largest cities in France




Arras is a French commune located in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Hauts-de-France region. Historical and administrative capital of the Pas-de-Calais department, at the heart of the most extensive agro-food economic zone north of Paris, capital of Pas-de-Calais, Arras is not, however, with its 41,000 inhabitants, as the second most populous city in the department after Calais. It is the seat of the urban community of Arras, which brings together 108,000 inhabitants in 46 municipalities. With the towns of the former mining basin located a little further north, it is directly under the influence of the “Lille metropolitan area”, a metropolitan area of ​​nearly 3.8 million inhabitants, the center of which, the city ​​of Lille, is only 45 km away.

Historically, under the Ancien Régime, Arras was the capital of the province of Artois, a large religious center and a prosperous city known for its fabrications. A university town, Arras is now characterized by its great youth: 33% of the inhabitants of the agglomeration are under 25 years old. It is also famous for its Main Square Festival which is held every year in July and which has become a major musical event in France.

Arras is famous for its two magnificent baroque squares which form an architectural ensemble unique in the world, its belfry and its Citadel, both classified as World Heritage by UNESCO. With 225 buildings protected as historical monuments, Arras is the city with the highest density of monuments in France.



The region was conquered by the Romans in 56 BC. AD, during the Gallic Wars. Around 15 BC AD was born the village of Nemetacum on the hill of Baudimont, which the Romans chose as the capital of the Atrébates. It becomes a town of medium importance, covering about 30 ha, which was fortified during the first incursions of Germanic peoples in the third century.

In the 4th century, Nemetacum was a center of craftsmanship and commerce renowned for its textiles exported throughout the empire.

In 406-407, the Germans destroyed the city.

In 428, the Salian Franks led by Clodion le Chevelu conquered the whole region as far as the Somme. The Roman general Aetius preferred to negotiate peace and concluded with Clodion a treaty (fœdus) which made of the Franks, "federates" fighting for Rome.

During their invasion of Gaul in 451, Attila and the Huns devastated Arras and several towns in the region, Thérouanne, Tournai, etc., before heading towards Amiens and Paris.

After the conversion of Clovis, a bishopric was created in Arras in 499, and entrusted to Saint Vaast; but it was quickly attached to that of Cambrai.

Middle Ages
Development in the High Middle Ages
Saint Aubert, bishop of Cambrai, transferred the body of Saint Vaast to the banks of the Crinchon and founded the Saint-Vaast abbey in 667.

In the ninth century, Arras became the privileged residence of the Counts of Flanders who established a hereditary chatellenie there.

In 1025, the bishop of Arras, Gérard de Cambrai, united a synod in the Sainte ‑ Marie church to fight against a heresy, which would be repressed.

In 1105, an epidemic caused by a fungus on wheat affected the city, then ceased. Some speak of the "miracle of the Saint Candle".

The miracle of the holy candle in Arras
On the night of May 24 to 25, 1105, a woman dressed in white appears to two founders, Itier and Norman. These two musicians maintain a deep hatred since Norman killed Itier's brother. The mysterious woman invited them to go to Arras Cathedral, where 144 people were dying of burning sickness (rye ergot poisoning), a fatal disease that struck Northern Europe. As in many towns in France, ardent sickness rages at the end of spring, when the last cereals that have passed the winter may have been infected by mold.

A few hours later, a new appearance. The woman, this time, is holding a candle which she is about to give them. Mixed with water, its wax will cure sick people who drink this beverage. She orders the two founders to join forces with each other to accomplish her mission. The two men must be reconciled. After many changes, the two minstrels accept. The miraculous candle is given to them and the sick are saved.

A radiant city from around 1150 to 1250
Water-related activities are possible thanks to the location of the city: boats can dock in the place of the old shore, and the water of the Crinchon is used in the manufacture of fabrics In the 12th century, the significant development of institutions and economy thanks to the Saint-Vaast abbey allows the city to have eleven churches. The prosperity of the city is reflected in the reconstruction of its great cathedral in 1161, the Notre-Dame-en-Cité cathedral, which has now completely disappeared because it was destroyed during the Revolution. In 1163, the city adopted a charter for the affairs of the city, which served as an example for the cities of Flanders.

Arras has about 35,000 inhabitants who develop a trade as far as the Orient thanks to the cloth industry: the Arras tapestries are known as far as Italy under the name of arazzi and in England quite simply under the name of arras. In Poland, in Krakow, the Wawel Royal Castle houses more than one hundred rooms, the largest and most valuable collection of Arras tapestries from the Renaissance period.

In 1191, the Treaty of Arras was signed: the current territory of the department entered the bosom of the royal domain.

A troubled Burgundy town at the end of the Middle Ages
The city is then Burgundian from the fourteenth century to the fifteenth century.

In 1415, Colart de Montbertaut, mayor of Arras, was killed during the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

In 1430, Joan of Arc, a prisoner, was locked up in the Arras region, perhaps at the Château de Bellemotte in Saint-Laurent-Blangy. The peace of Arras of 1435 reconciled the Valois of France and Burgundy, and put an end to the wars which had started in 1345.

In 1460, began in Arras one of the most famous witchcraft trials of the Inquisition, the great vauderie of Arras.


In the second half of the fifteenth century, the city of Arras underwent enormous upheavals. After having, in August 1463, bought the towns of the Somme including Arras, from his uncle Philippe III of Burgundy, Louis XI stayed there peacefully in January 1464. By his letters patent sent in February 1464, the king authorized a three-day fair. per year to this city, so that the currency leakage is reduced, due to the powerful fairs in Antwerp and Bruges. According to the Treaty of Conflans (1465) then that of Péronne (1468), the king had to return them to Charles the Bold. Following the latter's death, the royal army occupied Arras in May 1477, after several months of battles. Imposed then 43,000 ecus in compensation, the city quickly emptied.

Louis XI wanted to repopulate it with mechanical people from all estates, mestiers and vacations borrowed from the main cities of France. For example, Laval had to provide his contingent which left on July 2, 1477. They arrived in the desolate city, and very few remained there despite the extensive privileges offered to them there. Very few, however, returned to their hometown.

On July 4, 1479, Arras became Franchise47. The Treaty of Arras (1482), peace between France and Austria, concludes that Artois entered into the dowry of Marguerite of Austria, fiancee of the future Charles VIII. The former inhabitants of refuge as far as Lille and Roubaix began to return, notably the bourgeois. Finally, in 1491, the forced marriage of Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany, according to a delicate political situation, caused the city of Arras to be returned to the Habsburgs, with Marguerite of Austria who had grown up in Amboise, daughter of the late Marie de Burgundy.

Modern era
At the beginning of the 16th century, Artois was disputed during the wars between François I and Charles Quint. In 1525, there were only a hundred merchants in Arras. The textile activity hardly improves thereafter; conflicts drive artisans to Lille and Roubaix. The Treaty of Madrid of 1526 attached Arras to the Spanish Netherlands, but it was not respected by Francis I; the conflicts continued until the end of his reign.

During the Reformation which ignited the region, the city of Arras remained faithful to the Catholic camp, and signified its loyalty to the King of Spain during the Union of Arras in 1579.

It was conquered by Louis XIII in 1640 after a siege and then besieged by the Spaniards in 1654 (episode of the Arras rescue); Vauban participated in his defense without commanding and the city was taken over by Turenne. However, the attachment to France was not final and ratified only in 1659 by the Treaty of the Pyrenees.

In 1668, the city integrated the regional defensive project of Pré carré de Vauban with the construction of the citadel.

In 1750, the textile sector no longer had many manufacturers. The activity is oriented towards food (grocery stores, bakeries, butchers, wine merchants, etc.) and crafts (following the development of the building throughout the century).

Maximilien de Robespierre, a native of Arras, was elected on April 26, 1789 along with seven other deputies from the Third Estate of Artois. During the French Revolution, the municipality was first ruled by Dubois de Fosseux, scholar squire, secretary of the Academy of Arras and future president of Pas-de-Calais.

In competition with Aire-sur-la-Lys, Calais and Saint-Omer, Arras finally obtains the prefecture of Pas-de-Calais.

From November 1793 to August 1794, ten months of terror unfold: the city was then under the dictatorship of Joseph Lebon, mayor of Arras and deputy for Pas-de-Calais, who established food restrictions, ordered 400 executions and destroyed many religious buildings (the former Notre-Dame-en-Cité cathedral in particular (the Saint-Vaast abbey church has served as a cathedral since then)). He was himself guillotined for "... having tyrannized and degraded the constituted authorities, by declaring that the houses of the members of the general council of Achicourt would be razed, if the women, the donkeys, the provisions of this commune ceased to" arrive in abundance on the Arras market ... ”.

Arras sees its demography and its economic activity stagnate while Lille under the influence of the industrial revolution explodes. Under the leadership of Émile Legrelle, dynamic mayor, Arras dismantled part of its ramparts to establish vast peripheral boulevards, build a new sewer network, and set up a new railway station in 1898 (the previous one opened for the opening of the Paris - Lille line, dated 1846).