LILLE (Département du Nord): Lille is an ancient city built on a dry space in marshland (alongside the river Deule) for defensive reasons. Today the Lille Métropole is the fourth most-populated metropolitan area in France (over a million persons), sitting on the border of Belgium (which adds another 800,000 people to the complex). The legend of Lydéric and Phinaert puts the foundation of the city of L'Isle at 640AD. The first written mention of the town does not appear until 1066. Some archæological findings show the area inhabited by as early as 2000 BC, most notably in the modern-day sections of Fives, Wazemmes and the olde-towne. In 1144 Saint Sauveur parish formed, which would give its name to the modern-day city-quarter Saint-Sauveur. The term Walloon includes the French-speaking population of the Prince-Bishopric of Liège and hence the whole population of the Romanic sprachraum within the medieval Low Countries.
The Counts of Flanders, whose castle stood in old Lille, had a number of Roman-era cities (Boulogne, Arras & Cambrai) as well as some founded later by the Carolingians (Valenciennes, Saint-Omer, Ghent & Brugge). The region was the stage for many migrations and invasions before the Counts of Flanders took control. During Lille's stormy history thereafter, the town has been besieged 11 times. Burgundy, Spain (Hapsburgs) and the Netherlands also held sway at various times; and, it was not until rather late that Lille became a part of France (1667). Louis' premier contribution was a huge triumphal arch similar to that in Paris to mark his victory. Shortly afterwards, he sent his military engineer Vauban to build strong fortifications, including the Citadelle, making the city a showplace for French power. see generally http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09251a.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lille
Before the Revolution, the Cathédral of St-Pierre in the middle of Lille's Old Town was home to the shrine of Notre Dame de Treille. This statue of the Virgin Mary, credited with many miracles (in medieval times) by order of the Countess of Flanders, was paraded through the streets of Lille in an annual festival. During the Revolution in 1793, the church was destroyed but the sacred image was hidden. It reappeared when Napoléon I made his agreement permitting the practice of the Roman Catholic Faith in 1802. A contest for the design of the new Cathédral Notre-Dame de la Treille took place in 1854. The structure was completed in 1999. http://www.theotherside.co.uk/tm-heritage/visit/visit-lille-oldtown.htm
Just a few years earlier, in 1993, the TGV (high-speed train) line was opened, connecting Paris with Lille in a one hour journey. This event, followed by the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 and the arrival of the Eurostar train, put Lille in the center of a triangle connecting Paris, London and Brussels. see these other links: Churches in Lille today; Day Trip to Lille; Musee des Beaux-Arts, Lille, France (an example) & The La Marseillaise a Hymn or March, depending on your view, is by Captain Claude Joseph Rouget de Lille (L'isle) -- (April 25, 1792). Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle (Général de Gaulle) was born in Lille, France on November 22, 1890. A veteran of the Great War (largely fought in his region of birth and the nearby Ardennes to the south-east), he would become one of the great French heros of the last World War, leading the new Fifth Republic, charting an independent French course as its President (1959-69).
Borinage / Mons: The Borinage is the name of an industrial region in the Belgian province of Hainaut, surrounding Mons and extending to the French border. In 1248 a treaty organized the coal-mining in the Boringage; but in this traditional a coal-mining district, most of the mines have closed. Glass-making and metallurgy are the now the region’s primary industries. Coal is found in several basins: the Borinage, the Central, the Charleroi and the Liege basins, which are all located in the Sambre-Meuse valleys. The coal in the Campine Basin sits near the Netherlands border. Of all the coal mined today in Belgium, 85% now comes from the Campine. http://www.trabel.com/mons/mons-borinage.htm
The name of the city clearly indicates its geographic location among one of the five hills in the valley of the Haine river. Archæological digs in the flint-stone quarries in the nearby village Spiennes, show that the area has occupants in the Paleolithic, the Neolithic and the early Iron Age. During the Roman Age, the town was a military camp alongside the road from Bavay to Utrecht. A noble woman, called Wautru (Waldetrudis) founded a monastery here. http://www.trabel.com/mons/mons-waudru.htm Building on an earlier structure, the Duke of Hainaut, had a fortified castle constructed on the top of the highest hill. A defensive wall was added to the city in the 12th century. During the different foreign occupations (Burgundy, Spain, Austria, France) military fortifications were added to this wall. It was only after 1815, during the Dutch era, that the medieval walls were demolished so that the city could expand, and Mons absorbed 18 neighboring villages into its territory.
In 1515, Charles V took an oath in Mons as Count of Hainaut. In this period of its history, the city became the target of various occupations, starting in May 1572 with the Protestant takeover by Louis of Nassau, who had hoped to clear the way for the French Protestant leader Gaspard de Coligny to oppose Spanish rule. After the murder of de Coligny during the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, the Duke of Alba took control of Mons in September of 1572 in the name of the catholic King of Spain. This spelled the ruin of the city and the arrest of many of its inhabitants; from 1580 to 1584, Mons became the capital of the Southern Netherlands. On April 8, 1691, after a nine-month siege, Louis XIV’s army stormed the city, which again suffered heavy casualties. From 1697 to 1701, Mons was alternately French or Austrian. After being under French control from 1701 to 1709, the Dutch army gained the upper hand in the Battle of Malplaquet. In 1715, Mons returned to Austria under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). But the French did not give up easily; Louis XV besieged the city again in 1746. After the Battle of Jemappes (1792), the Hainaut area was annexed to France and Mons became the capital of the Jemappes district.
In 1830, however, Belgium gained its independence and the decision was made to dismantle fortified cities such as Mons, Charleroi, and Namur. The actual removal of fortifications only happened in the 1860's. On August 23 and 24, 1914, Mons was the site of the first battle fought by the British Army in World War I. The British were forced to retreat and the town was occupied by the Germans, until its liberation by the Canadian Corps during the final days of the war. The collegiate church of Saint Waltrude reflects the Gothic architecture of Brabant. The nearby belfry, classified as a World Heritage Site, dates from the 17th century, the only Baroque-style tower in Belgium. The so-called Spanish House dates from the 16th century.
Charleroi sits astride the river Sambre, in an area that is marked by industrial activities (coal mining and steel industry), the so-called Pays Noir, part of the larger sillon industriel. The Charleroi area was already settled in prehistoric times, with traces of metallurgical and commercial activities. Scattered ruins of several public buildings, temples and villas date from the Roman occupation. The first written mention of a place called Charnoy dates from a 9th-century reference (Lobbes abbey), the town having no more than about 50 inhabitants, part of the County of Namur. In September of 1666, the name Charnoy was officially replaced by that of the newly-minted (and soon-to-be-fortified) city of Charles-Roy (King Charles), so named in honor of Charles II of Spain, who controlled the area. A year later, Louis XIV’s armies besieged the unfinished fortress. Vauban completed the fortifications for the French; the future city was granted its privileges; a bridge was built over the river; and free land was distributed to the inhabitants. Voila, a new beginning for a city that continued to be bounced around until the Belgian Revolution of 1830.
Public transport is run by TEC (Transport En Commun), the Walloon public transport company. The greater Charleroi region is served by bus lines and a light rail system (Métro Léger de Charleroi). The TEC Light Rail Métro is famous for the parts of it which were never built, partially built, or fully completed but not opened because of the decline in Charleroi's traditional industries. Pittsburgh is Charleroi's sister city, possibly because of the US city's coal and steel connections, or possibly because Charleroi, PA is a suburb. Pittsburgh's lightrail system is run by PAT, just in case you were wondering.
Namur is both the capital of the province of Namur and (since 1986) of the Walloon Region (Nameur in Walloon, Namurcum in Latin) The town began as an important trading settlement in Celtic times, straddling east-west and north-south trade routes across the Ardennes. The Romans, too, established a presence after Julius Cæsar defeated the local Aduatuci tribe. During the early Middle Ages, the Merovingians built a castle on the rocky outcrop overlooking the town at the confluence of the town's two rivers (Sambre and Meuse). The town developed somewhat unevenly, as the counts of Namur could only build on the north bank of the Meuse. The south bank was owned by the bishops of Liège and developed more slowly.
After Namur became part of the Spanish Netherlands in the 1640s, its citadel was considerably strengthened. The King Louis XIV of France invaded in 1692, capturing the town and annexing it to France. His renowned military engineer Vauban rebuilt the citadel. French control was short-lived, as William III of Orange-Nassau captured Namur only three years later in 1695 during the War of the Grand Alliance. Under the Barrier Treaty of 1709, the Dutch gained the right to garrison Namur, although the subsequent Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 gave control of the formerly Spanish Netherlands to the Austrian House of Habsburg. Thus, although the Austrians ruled the town, the citadel was controlled by the Dutch. Same story second verse vis French Revolution, Napoléon, Netherlands and Belgium -- The town suffered heavy damage in both wars, as it was besieged, occupied, then liberated.
Besides its citidel, Namur also has a distinctive 18th structure dedicated to Saint Aubain (Cathédrale Saint Aubin). UNESCO has classified Namur's belfry as a World Heritage Site. see http://www.trabel.com/namur/namen.htm -- http://www.fortified-places.com/sieges/namur1695.html
Liège is situated in the valley of the river Meuse ("Maas" in Flemish), where the Meuse meets the Ourthe, near Belgium's eastern borders with the Netherlands and Germany -- in the former sillon industriel, once the industrial backbone of Wallonia. In the past, Liège was one of the most important steel-making areas in Europe. The city possesses the third largest river port in Europe, directly connected to Antwerp, Rotterdam and Germany via the Meuse river and the Albert Canal. Until 1949, the city's name was written Liége, with the acute accent instead of a grave accent.
Although settlements already existed in Roman times, the first references to Liège date to 558, with the name Vicus Leudicus (from a germanic word meaning people). Around 705, Lambert of Maastricht completed the conversion of the pagans in the region; however, once martyred in Liège, was thereafter popularly regarded as a Saint. To enshrine Saint Lambert's relics, his successor, Saint Hubert, built a basilica near the bishop's residence that became the true nucleus of the current city. The first prince-bishop, Notger, transformed the city into a major intellectual and ecclesiastical center, which maintained its cultural importance during the Middle Ages. Although nominally part of the Holy Roman Empire, in practice it possessed a large degree of independence.
The Duke of Marlborough captured the city from the Bavarian prince-bishop and his French allies in 1704 (during the War of the Spanish Succession-Queen Anne's War). In the course of the 1794 campaigns of the French Revolution, the French army took the city, demolishing the great cathedral of Saint Lambert. Transfer was confirmed in 1801 by the Concordat co-signed by Napoléon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII. France lost the city in 1815 when the Congress of Vienna awarded it to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Dutch rule lasted only until 1830, when the Belgian Revolution led to the establishment of an independent, Catholic and neutral Belgium that incorporated Liège. Moving on, Belgian resistance was shorter than had been intended, but the twelve days of delay caused by the siege of Liège precipitated an eventual failure of the German invasion of France. The city was subsequently occupied by the Germans until the end of the Great War. Liège received the Légion d'Honneur for its resistance in 1914. World War II saw even more damage, the town receiving intense ærial bombardment, with more than 1,500 V1 and V2 missiles landing in Liège between its liberation (USA-September 1944) and the end of the conflict.
The 16th century palace of the Prince-Bishops of Liège is built near spot where the old St-Lambert Cathedral once stood (before the French Revolution). An archæological display, the Archeoforum, can be visited under the Place St-Lambert. The perron on the nearby Place du Marché was once the symbol of justice in the prince-bishopry and is now the symbol of the city. It stands in front of the 17th century city hall. The cathedral of Saint-Paul contains a treasury and St. Lambert’s tomb. It is one of the original seven collegiate churches, which include the German-Romanesque St-Bartholomew church (Saint Barthélémy) and the church dedicated to Saint Martin. St-Martin's dates from 682. The church of Saint-James (Saint-Jacques) is probably the most beautiful medieval church in Liège. It is built in the so-called Flamboyant-Gothic style, yet the porch remains early-Renaissance. The statues are by local sculptor Jean DelCour. Église St-Jacques also contains 29, spectacular, 14th century misericords The earliest remaining portions of the church of Saint Jacques date from 1015. See Liège Province Website -- The city is once more a Tour de France 2010 Host site.
Soissons -- Compiègne -- Beauvais -- Senlis -- Lens, Arras & Cambrai -- Amiens, Albert and Abbeville -- Saint-Quentin and Laon -- Boulogne-sur-Mer, Calais, Bourbourg & Dunkerque -- Brugge, Gent, Antwerpen & Bruxelles -- Mainz -- Trier and Aachen -- Reims