If you ask a French person from outside of the two most northern regions what is in the north of France, they will tell you nothing besides mines and rain. And they would be correct to some extent. Yet, while the north is famous for its mines and rainy weather, it is also famous for the part that it played in the First World War. The two most notable locations are Notre-Dame-de-Lorette and Vimy.
That being said, Lille has plenty to offer in terms of events and festivals, so be sure to come visit, especially in September!
Our Lady of Lorette (or
Notre-Dame-de-Lorette in French) is the largest military cemetery in France. It is the location of the first major struggle in the north of France during the Great War. The struggle took place from October 1914 until the end of 1915. Securing this region was essential in order to secure the power supply that came from the nearby mines. The Basilica and the accompanying tower were designed by Louis-Marie Cordonnier (who also designed the Opera and the Chamber of Commerce buildings in Lille) and were inaugurated in 1925.
The Tower sits right in front of the Basilica and houses the eternal flame of remembrance.
This building is guarded by retired veterans of the military who fought in the First World War since 1920.
The Ring of Remembrance (or
l'Anneau de la mémoire in French) is the first war memorial to ignore the sides on which the soldiers fought. Instead, this memorial features all of the names of the 579,606 soldiers who died in northern France during World War I in alphabetical order. The memorial cost eight million euros and took nine months to build. It was inaugurated on November 11th 2014.
The Vimy memorial is located on those lands and is in memory of the 60,000 Canadian lives lost in the war. At the base of the monument are inscribed the names of the 11,285 soldiers whose bodies were never found.
One of the most striking and symbolic figures on the monument is of a young woman with her head down overlooking the lands. This woman is said to be the young Canadian nation grieving over the lost lives of its young men.
The Vimy Memorial museum is brand new and definitely worth a visit. It is full of interesting facts and personal stories of the people involved in the war without inundating the visitor with information.
Finally, behind the museum is a reconstruction of the trenches during the First World War.
Many of the neighboring towns were completely flattened as a result of the war and a lot has several men lost to the war. Thus, the cities had to be rebuilt and memorials were erected to remember those townspeople who had perished in the war. In the town of Bethune, the Church of Saint Vaast was rebuilt between 1924 and 1927 following the design of Louis-Marie Cordonnier--yes, basically the architect of the north--under the orders of King Charles V and can be seen towering over all of the other buildings. Additionally, this white memorial was built slightly off of the main square to remember the fallen soldiers.
During the day of All Saints on November 1st, loved ones come leave flowers and gifts on the graves of relatives. This grave houses almost exclusively miners and their families. In the distance, you can even see the hill of one of the mines in the region.