10 largest cities in France




Douai is a French commune located in the Nord department in the Hauts-de-France region, more precisely in the south of Romanesque Flanders.

Douai belongs to the Douaisis Agglomeration Community which brings together 35 municipalities, or 155,000 inhabitants in 2018. In addition, the city is located in the urban area of Douai-Lens, the fifteenth urban area in France, comprising 103 municipalities, with 542,918 inhabitants in 2010. Finally, with Lille and the cities of the former mining basin of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, it forms a metropolitan area of nearly 3.8 million inhabitants, called the “metropolitan area of Lille ”.

The inhabitants of Douai are the Douaisiens. The region is called Douaisis.


Douai has been an important town in the region since the Middle Ages, of which it was once the capital. Curiously, one of its claims to fame is its connection with the Douai Bible, one of the first English translations of the Bible.

Douaisis Tourist Office (Hôtel du Dauphin) 70, place d'Armes, +33 3 27 88 26 79, fax: +33 3 27 99 38 78, email: contact@douaitourisme.fr Open: Mon - Sun .: 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. 1418 min.

Like all of the nearby region, Douai is subject to a slightly degraded oceanic climate: the summers are cool and the winters mild and rainy.

Summer (June, July, August) is arguably the best time to visit the city. The weather is often fine, the sunshine is optimal (the day lasts 4:30 p.m.) and the temperature pleasant (rarely more than 30 ° C), even if a stormy downpour or disrupted cooler and humid weather are not excluded.

Autumn (September, October, November) is generally cooler. Beautiful days are still possible until early October, but after that date the weather cools quickly and turns gray and humid.

Winter (December, January, February) is generally cold and rainy. Frosts are frequent, although the temperature rarely drops below -5 ° C, and snow possible. As for the sunshine, it is only 8 a.m.

Spring (March, April, May) is more pleasant. If the days and especially the mornings are still cool or even cold, from the end of April, the temperatures rise to sometimes reach 25 ° C in May. The precipitation remains regular, however, although it tends to be less frequent in favor of good weather.



Origins of the city
Douai is a medieval creation resulting from singular natural conditions but above all from its pivotal position between the kingdom of France and the county of Flanders. On an island of the Scarpe, near the ford which allowed the crossing, two cores constituted the development points of the city.

The Middle Age
The medieval period was for Douai a period of great prosperity resulting from its commercial activities (the sale of grains) and artisanal (drapery) but also from the autonomy granted by the Count of Flanders who gave the city the power to manage itself. herself. The city had at its peak of 10 to 15,000 inhabitants.

In the eleventh century, a diversion of the Cours de la Sensée towards the Scarpe in Vitry-en-Artois shapes its physiognomy to this day. Gaining in speed, it was therefore possible to increase its traffic. In fact, located in the heart of a very rich agricultural land, Douai has from 1301, by concession of King Philippe le Bel, a right of step, i.e. the privilege of the grain trade in the region. , from places of production in the south to places of consumption in the north. This privilege, which over time became the town's main resource, was a vital right that Douai fiercely defended until the 17th century.

Less remunerative for the city than the grain trade, the drapery is nevertheless emblematic of the golden age of Douai which, in the thirteenth century, with Bruges, Ghent, Ypres and Lille, will be counted among the five “good ones” as such. cities ”of Flanders. According to Georges Espinas. Employing a large number of craftsmen, mobilizing large amounts of capital, Douaisian drapery spread throughout Europe, sometimes very far, in Russia (Novgorod market), on the borders of the Baltic but also in Italy and in the Peninsula. Iberian.

Another medieval feature which made the fame of the city, the communal liberties sanctioned by Philippe d'Alsace, count from 1157 to 1191. “The liberty and the law of Douai”, perhaps transforming the custom into a charter, was granted by Ferrand of Portugal in 1228. Local power originally depended on sixteen aldermen, all equal, co-opted according to a system of designation with several degrees. It concerns only the bourgeoisie. The peasants. as the showmen are excluded from power by definition.

The scabinal action is expressed first through the bans, which were very numerous in the thirteenth century, governing, in addition to artisanal activities, all the city council, the ditches and ramparts, the condition of the streets and houses. The aldermen were very early concerned with inscribing their power in symbolic acts and places, facing the bailiff who embodied a count's presence always competing with the seal of the city created in 1201, the hall - municipal palace surmounted by the belfry in the following century - in 1205, the first chirograph in 1224, the first ban in 1229.

In 1330, Robert de Douai founded the Confrérie des Clercs Parisiens which made Douai a literary city nicknamed the Athens of the North.

Until 1369, Douai, like Arras, was a border town between the King of France and the Count of Flanders. Before this date, which marked the definitive return to Flanders until the 17th century, the city changed hands several times.

An imperial city in the sixteenth century
In 1369, Charles V, who married his brother Philippe le Bold, Duke of Burgundy, to the daughter of the Count of Flanders Louis de Male, gave the latter back the city of Douai. Having passed into the orbit of an increasingly powerful Duchy of Burgundy, the stakes of its position as a border town peaked during the wars between Louis XI and Charles the Bold. The marriage of Mary of Burgundy to Maximilian of Austria makes Douai a possession of the Habsburgs. It knows under Charles V but especially Philippe II a new dynamism as an administrative and military city.


Religion, inseparable from Douai, is organized for the secular in six parish churches as well as many religious congregations including shelters installed in the city by the monasteries of the flat country, always anxious to have a place of safety in the event of war . Thus the "Constantine" of the Benedictines of Marchiennes Abbey, which became the Parliament of Flanders. In the Catholic Counter-Reformation, Douai expressed his fidelity, like his orthodoxy, as evidenced by the foundations of convents which appeared in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This "conventual invasion" is also expressed through the support given to the Catholic missionary movement intended for States passed to Protestantism, German principalities, United Provinces but above all the Kingdom of England as well as the foundation - in 1568 and at the initiative of the cardinal Allen - from the English college in Douai where the English translation of the Bible, known as the “Douai bible” was completed in 1609. Many English missionaries were trained in Douai in this college. Many of them die victims of anti-Catholic persecutions in England. 19 of them were canonized by the Catholic Church. Douai is mentioned much later in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Aeterni Patris (1879) as having been one of the great centers of theological studies of previous centuries.


In 1562, Philippe II, with the support of Popes Paul IV then Pius IV, founded the University of Douai, an establishment inspired by the Tridentine reform, a vast seminary instilling in priests a faith as solid as it was proselyte. The university brought together from its foundation five faculties (theology, canon law, civil law, medicine and liberal arts), eight colleges, fourteen abbey refuges, twenty-two seminaries.

Douai's attachment to Flanders, which had to a certain extent protected the city from the destruction of the Hundred Years' War, turned around when conflicts engulfed Northern Europe from 1618. In 1635, the declaration of war of Richelieu to Spain plunges the region into ruin.

French Douai
In 1667, the King of France Louis XIV invaded Flanders. Douai is besieged and taken by Vauban. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668) confirms the possession of France.

Douai, map of an engineer of Louis XIV.
From then on, Douai will be integrated into the kingdom's defense curtain. Vauban improved the existing fortifications and created the infrastructure that was missing instead, as well as barracks (former college of Marchiennes), an arsenal (former priory of Saint Sulpice) and a cannon foundry, built on the site of the old castle. of the Counts of Flanders.

In April 1710, during the War of the Spanish Succession, the Allies besieged Douai defended by Count of Albergotti. The fierce resistance lasted until June 26 when, with the honors of war, the royal troops surrendered. After his victory at Denain in July 1712, Marshal Villars retook the city on September 8. This reconquest, confirmed by the Peace of Utrecht, will no longer be threatened before 1914.

The city, like its flat country, is emerging devastated from a conflict of almost half a century. Anxious to avoid anarchy in the reconstruction that was to come, the aldermen enacted the famous "Regulation of 1718". In addition to the alignment with the street and the limitation of heights, the facade of the houses must be homogeneous. This reconstruction, which has so far given the center of Douai remarkable architectural unity, expresses a "French taste" that flourished throughout the century. The reconquered city, as shown on the Douai relief map of 1709, was of a very Flemish appearance. The "turning over of the roofs" - the small side no longer on the street - made it disappear in a few decades.

Learning from the mistakes made after the conquest of 1667, the king responded to the aspirations of the Douaisiens by installing the Parliament of Flanders in the city in 1714. La Cour is located at the foot of the Scarpe, at the "Grand Constantin", refuge of the Abbey of Marchiennes. With the installation of the Parliament of Flanders, the city benefited during the eighteenth century from undeniable prosperity to which two other institutions contributed, which in turn shaped its urban, if not social, profile in the long term: the university and the army. In 1744, the 2,000 students of Douais were divided for three quarters in the faculty of arts and the other quarter in theology or law.

Fortified all around, Douai is endowed with numerous barracks, arsenals, military schools and is a place of prime importance. At the beginning of the 18th century, nearly 5,000 men and 1,500 horses could lodge there (out of a total population estimated at 12,000 inhabitants).

The revolution
Judicial city, Douai supports the new course and the most famous of its lawyers, Merlin said of Douai. The notebooks remain measured in their grievances which focus on maintaining provincial freedoms while however proposing the suppression of the most glaring abuses of feudalism.

Several reforms of the Constituent Assembly have had major effects in Douai. At the end of 1790, the profession of lawyer was abolished, as were all the old courts. Then, the refusal to recognize the civil constitution of the clergy pushes some notables either to withdraw or to emigrate. The sale of national assets represents a huge change in Douai, the consequences of which on buildings are still noticeable today. In an instant, the centuries-old fruit of donations, inheritances and purchases from religious orders is dispersed.


The war declared by the king against Austria in April 1792 put Douai at the forefront of the conflict and then of the Terror. However, Douai remains very measured in his revolutionary manifestations, no doubt thanks to the attitude of the conventional Florent-Guiot who remains in post from November 1793 to September 1794. Much more moderate than his neighbor Arras Le Bon, he hits the mark. extremists or counter-revolutionaries by choosing the exclusion rather than the death penalty.

In the city, the revolutionary turmoil will be shorter in duration than the war. However, Fleurus' victory on July 5, 1794 definitively repelled the foreign threat. Set back from the Lille-Valenciennes line, Douai becomes an essential rear base in the defense of the borders. Under the Directory then the Empire, it is an important military depot.

The creation of the Nord department in November 1789 made Douai a capital. But in 1803, the latter moved to Lille, the city becomes sub-prefecture but receives in compensation several departmental institutions: the court of appeal, the military command of the North, the imperial high school in 1802 and finally in 1808, when education higher is reorganized, a university (faculties of letters and sciences).

The nineteenth century
After the revolutionary events, Douai, transformed, however retains its old logic, in particular a Catholic and conservative elite, which partly accompanies the industrialization of the end of the century.

The university installed under the First Empire having been abolished as of the Restoration, it was not until the Second Empire to see the reappearance of the faculties in the city. Jules Maurice, mayor since 1852, was the architect of this hard-won victory in 1854 when, on that date, the Faculty of Letters was established. Relying on the Court of Appeal and all the related professions, the Faculty of Law was added in 1865.

If the first half of the nineteenth century saw no significant development, the end of the July Monarchy, but especially the Second Empire, however saw the appearance in the city of several large-scale works. Thus, the construction of the Paris-North line in 1846 gave Douai station an important staging post between Arras and Lille. Likewise, not forgetting the major role of the Scarpe in the vitality of the city, the city councilors built the bypass canal from 1893. Its inauguration, two years later, increased traffic by making Douai the second river port in France after Conflans-Sainte-Honorine.

But it is above all, after the downgrading of the square in 1889, the dismantling of the city walls - started in 1891 and closed in 1902 - which, freeing up space on the boulevards surrounding the city, allows expansion towards the suburbs. (eg Frais-Marais or Dorignies).

Douai was not, at the start of the 19th century, a town participating in the industrial revolution. Textile activity remains limited, but the city is, on the other hand, very active in the processing of agricultural products, as well as oil cake but above all in sugar production, the power of which will not be taken over by coal until the beginning of the Third Republic.

In fact, the coal industry is relatively late in Douai (the Anzin company was founded a century earlier). In 1854, the Gayant pit was opened in Waziers and then that of Dorignies in 1858. In 1878, in order to support this development, the school of master miners was founded, the future Ecole des Mines de Douai.

The two world wars
A prosperous city at the start of the Third Republic, Douai succeeded, under the impetus of dynamic city officials, such as Jules Maurice, Charles Merlin and Charles Bertin, in acquiring modern infrastructure that favored the emergence of industrial activities. However, the antagonism between Lille and Douai intensified in the nineteenth century. In 1887, the sudden departure of the faculties of Douais towards the capital will have an enormous impact in the city.

The turn of the century was for Douai that of vigorous economic development. Supported by the municipality (see the cessions of land released by the army), a few large companies are fueling this growth, such as the Cail (locomotives) and Breguet (airplanes) factories. But it is above all the Forges de Douai (future Arbel Group created by the family of the same name) that boost the local economy.


After a short phase of conflict, Douai fell into German hands in October 1914. It remained so throughout the war. For the imperial army, placed close to the front (about ten kilometers), the city is a depot for the troops coming up in line or coming back. Requisition, if not arbitrariness, is the rule for all Douaisiens subject to the finicky authority of the "Kommandantur" instead. In addition to the difficulty of supplying supplies, the Germans would not hesitate to deport personalities to Brunswick (Holzminden) or Lithuania where some died.

In October 1918, under pressure from the Allied offensive, German troops left Douai knowing that the previous month the entire population had been evacuated to Belgium in order to give free rein to the warring armies. During this period, the deserted city experienced rampant looting. It was a city 10% destroyed (concentrated in the center, as well as the Place d'Armes) that the British troops took over in October 1918.

From the armistice, the reconstruction of Douai was launched. The factories are raised, the houses rebuilt, through an urbanization plan of the municipality which remains modest. Apart from the station district (Place Carnot) which has been completely redesigned and replaced here and there from the Douaisian style by “art deco” facades, the appearance of the city changes little. The mines regained their pre-war results in 1925 while the large companies, rebuilt from scratch (Breguet and Arbel) experienced strong growth.

The Wehrmacht offensive in May 1940 put Douai at the heart of the fighting. The city was almost deserted when the enemy took possession on May 27. From then on, Douai is once again occupied with two notable differences with the Great War: if the supply is less difficult because there is no, as in 1914, a military front nearby, there is, beyond the military occupation, a desire to impose Nazi ideology on the population. During the war, a special court of justice was set up in Douai to try so-called "terrorist" crimes, it held its first session on September 11, 1941. Finally, a month before the Liberation, on August 11, 1944, an Allied bombardment took place. Once again cut down on the station district. In addition to significant destruction, there are nearly 300 dead in the city

The capital of the coal industry
With the Liberation, a new reconstruction after a conflict raises the ruins of the city. It will be heavier, with the active intervention of the state through the Ministry of Reconstruction (MRU). Alexandre Miniac, architect and town planner, defines the development plan which reshapes certain districts of the city.

The National Assembly resulting from the Liberation, following the wishes of the CNR, voted in April 1946 to nationalize the companies (i.e. for Douaisis the mines of Aniche, Escarpelle, Flines, Courcelles and Agincourt), while the headquarters of the Houillères in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais basin moved to the former Hôtel d'Aoust.

The end of coal mining in the region in 1990 severely affected the city of Douai. It has nevertheless managed to reconvert itself, by welcoming new activities (see below in the Economy section) and by focusing on culture and the enhancement of its rich heritage.

On February 4, 1957, the city was the scene of an unusual incident ː an empty coffin is buried ː the body of the dead baby was forgotten in the family home.