Throughout the years, the city that we now call Lille has belonged to various different countries: Spain, the Netherlands, France, etc. Because of this constant change, the regional culture became very developed and was cherished by all of the residents. Today, speaking French, drinking beer and devouring Welshes, the Lillois are a fun mix between the French and Flemish culture. If you want to spend some time around fun and relaxed people, Lille is the place to be !
Lille City Tour Charles de Gaulle Birth Home Théâtre Sebastopol Citadelle Bank of France (Lille) Roubaix (Lille Metro Area) Villa Carvrois
Located between the bus and train station, one of the first things that you will see upon your arrival in Lille is this large glass monstrosity. While at first sight it lay look rather industrial and unappealing, it takes on a certain charm when you step back; this building has been designed in the shape of a boat in memory of Lille's past.
In French, Lille (spelled properly: “l’île”) actually means island. The city was founded on land that was initially a marsh with many different islands. Over the years, the waterways between the islands were filled in order to provide more livable space. Nonetheless, people would initially get around by boat in Lille, hence the boat-shaped building.
Currently, the building is home to a mall, a gym studio and the Lille campus of Science Po.
Closer towards the city center, the train station stands proud. This building was initially built in Paris. However, the builders took so long to build it that Paris outgrew the train station even before it was finished. During the same time, a train station needed to be built in Lille. Since the train companies owned the trains, they decided that it would actually be cheaper of the Paris train station is dismantled and brought to Lille piece by piece to be rebuilt. Then, in Paris, they can get around to building a larger train station to accommodate the fast growing needs.
Built between 1910 and 1921, the (new) Chamber of Commerce was designed by Louis Marie Cordonnier. He was a renowned architect who had designed many buildings in the North, such as the Town Hall of Dunkirk and the Memorial of Notre-Dame de Lorette. Cordonnier had also won many international architectural contests and built the Peace Palace in the Hague.
Right next to the Chamber of Commerce stands the Opera of Lille. The architect for this building was chosen through an anonymous architectural contest. Knowing that several people on the judges panel did not like him and that the city did not particularly like the idea of one architect building two iconic buildings of Lille, Louis Marie Cordonnier entered two designs in the contest: one in his style (similar to the Chamber of Commerce design) and another in a neo-classical style. His aim was to trick the board into throwing out the design that would immediately be recognized as his and to prove that he was capable of designing in a completely different style.
The facade of the building truly explains its purpose. The group of statues on the right side of the windows represent tragedy while the group of statues on the left side represent comedy. At the top is Apollo, the god of song, music and dance, with his nine muses and instrument playing angels.
If you look carefully at the buildings on the Place du Théâtre, you will notice black cannon balls jammed into the facade of one of the buildings. These cannon balls serve to remind the Lillois of their courage in the face of the 1792 attack of the Austrians. (Bonus: You will notice that one of the cannon balls is colored in pink and made to look like a breast. This was because the store that used to occupy this building sold lingerie.)
Fun fact: The restaurant scene from
Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis was filmed here.
Another very interesting aspect of the Flemish-styled facades in Lille are the angles on top. Whenever the angels are hugging each other, it means that it is the same house. When they are back to back, it signifies that those are two neighboring houses.
At the entrance of Rue de la Grande Chaussée, a statue of a golden hand decorates one of the balconies. There are many theories that have emerged to explain this mysterious statue; one of those theories is that the hand is showing the way towards the most expensive shopping street where you will need to have a golden hand to be able to afford anything. While it is uncertain if that story is the truth, what is certain is that this is in fact the most expensive shopping street in Lille, featuring stores like Louis Vuitton and Gérard Darel.
Being in a swampy area, Lille followed a similar approach to that of many Dutch cities; it built canals to control and drain the water. During the Middle Ages though, the canals became very polluted and hazardous to the health of the residents. As a result, most of the canals were filled in. This is one example of a canal that was filled in and is now a lawn (with a parking underneath).
P.S. One of the best streets to taste the local Welsh is in the far corner of this image: Rue de Gand.
The Hospice Comtesse was created by Comtesse Jeanne de Flandre in 1237. In operation until 1939, it was first a hospice, then a hospital and finally an orphanage. The hospice has retained its original name even after Lille was no longer under Flemish rule because the citizens were very pleased with all of the good deeds that Comtesse Jeanne de Flandre did for the city. The building is now a museum, paying respects to the ancient ruler.
Inspired by Belgian desserts, Frédéric Vaucamps perfected his
famous Merveilleux pastry
. Two meringues glued by whipped cream and covered in chocolate, the Merveilleux is often on visitors' must-see list. Only 20 years old, the bakery has expanded to 6 locations in Belgium, 10 locations in Paris and even one location in New York.
In the North, restaurants that serve typical northern food are called
. The two typical foods served in all estaminets are
. I suggest trying the carbonnade flamande at
Au Vieux de la Vieille
, one of the most famous estaminet in Lille is located here on Place aux Oignons, i.e. Onion Square. (Be sure to either book a table or to arrive at least 5 minutes before the restaurant opens because it is always overbooked.)
While some people believe that this square is named so because there was a market for onions here, it is more likely just a deformation of Place Donjons (which sounds strikingly similar in French). During Medieval Times, this area used to be the city walls and everything to the north was just fields. When King Louis XIV took control of the city in 1667, he ordered his military architect Vauban to build a fortress. To finance this fortress, the lands north of this area were sold by the state to individuals.
P.S. To try good Welsh's I would suggest going to Rue de Gand.
Lille's cathedral, Notre Dame de la Treille, is located in the middle of Old Town. You might notice the three different styles of the church and the facade. The building of this church began in 1854 and was completed in 1999. Many reasons contributed to the many delays of the church, the main ones being the lack of finances and the two world wars. Consequently, by the time that it came to build the facade, the style had drastically changed, resulting in a Gothic church with a modern facade. The church was actually supposed to extend all the way out to the street. Yet, due to the many difficulties in the building process, it was decided to just finish the church as is. (To me this is a plus rather than a minus because it allows for a lot more space for restaurant terraces!)
Because the church was never finished as originally intended, the two bell towers that would have been at the front of the church were never built. As a result, the hastily built brick campanile (not pictured here) was never replaced or connected to the church.
The church is called Notre Dame de la Treille because this region used to grow grapes for wine. (Treille = climbing vine)
This organ, built in 1976, was purchased for the Notre Dame de la Treille in 2008 from the Radio France concert hall. Radio France was planning on throwing it out because it was in very bad shape. As a result, the Church was able to purchase it for a symbolic Euro. It took more than 1 million Euros however to restore the 40 ton organ and to lift it up in its current position.
Rue Royale is the main bars street for non-students in the city. [Beer marker]
While France is known for its pastry shops, Lille is know for its Meert pastry shop. The most iconic product sold are the Meert waffles. These are flat waffles and likely have nothing to do with what you have in mind;
take a look
The Meert building was built during the 18th century. Inside the decor has not been changed since 1839.
Entering Grand Place (i.e. the Main Square) from the Old town, you get a perfect view of la Vieille Bourse (i.e. the Old Stock Exchange) on the left, the Statue of the Goddess in the middle and the Old Regional Prefecture and the Theater of the North.
The Colonne de la Déesse (i.e. Column of the Goddess) was originally not intended for this square. It was originally intended to be one of the statues representing the various departments in France, which would all be featured at the top of the Arc de Triomphe. In any case, when the Arc de Triomphe project fell through, the sculptor Théophile Bra offered it to the city. The statue was adapted for the 50th anniversary of the 1792 siege.
In 1789, France became a republic (for the first time). The neighboring countries being monarchies were starting to feel threatened. So, they attacked the new republic to submit it to the status quo. Lille managed to stand up to the Hapsburg monarchy and to remain an independent monarchy. Thus, this statue commemorates Lille’s resistance. Circling the statue, we can see that, with her left hand, the Goddess is pointing to the inscription of the encouraging words uttered by General Charles de Gaulle during the siege.
Notice the crown on her head; it represents the fortifications of Lille. The stick held in her right hand is a stick used to light cannons, again alluding to the siege of 1792. (For the juicy little tidbit about this statue: the sculpture is said to look strikingly like the mayor's wife, which has led many to suspect infidelity.)
There is a line of white buildings located behind the Column of the Goddess. This is where the original Church of St. Etienne used to be. This Church was the one that originally asked for a charter to make Lille a city in the 11th century. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the siege of 1792. Now the small road that runs under the taller building with the arch is called
Rue des Debris Saint-Etienne, meaning the road of the debris of church St. Etienne.
The building to the right, now the Theater of the North, was originally built in 1717 by local architect Thomas Joseph Gombert as the
. It was a military building used to ensure that, 50 years after they have officially become French, the local residents remain loyal to their new monarchy. The building still tells this story with the sun at the top representing Louis the XIV (i.e. the sun king), the Lille coat of arms to the right and the French coat of arms to the left.
The building to the left was once a regional administrative building. While French, the region has remained proud of its Flemish roots. As a result, the building is in a Flemish style, with its jagged roof. All of the current large cities of the region are inscribed into the facade of the building. Additionally, it is topped with the three original provinces that made up the regoin: Flandre (now the region from Lille to Dunkirk), Artois (now the Pas-de-Calais department) and Hainaut (now the lower east side of the Nord department). The statue representing Flandre is in the middle holding wheat straws to represent the importance of agriculture in the region. The statue on the left is Artois, holding a boat to represent the strength of trade for the region. Finally, the statue on the right represents Hainaut; she holds a pigeon to represent the long heritage of pigeon training in the region. Currently, the building houses a local newspaper
The Vieille Bourse was built in 1653, during the time when Lille was under Spanish rule. During this time, the Spanish had control of all of Flandres (today Belgium and the Netherlands). Consequently ,the Vieille Bourse is designed in Flemish architectural style and painted with the colors of the Spanish flag.
In order to pay for the building of the Vieille Bourse, companies could pay to have their name and logo featured in one of the coat of arms above the third-story windows.
The galleries of the Vieille Bourse are lined with scholars of the time, such as Pasteur. In the middle of the square, there used to be a statue of Napoleon to thank him for all that he had done for the city. The first reason why the Lillois liked Napoleon is political: he moved the capital of the north from Douai to Lille (which was rather logical given that Lille was the largest city of the north). The second reason why the locals loved him is economic: there was an embargo on sugar. This impacted various things including necessities such as bread, which tripled in price. Napoleon knew that economic unrest could have political consequences for him so he thought of a way to solve the problem. Napoleon urged scientists to find another way to create sugar. The searched and came up with making sugar from beets. Thus, on March 29th 1811, Napoleon decreed that 4 000 hectares of land in the north will be reserved to producing beet sugar. He also gave out loans to those who would set up farms to grow beets for sugar and did not tax the sale of beet sugar over the first four years.
Today, the statue can be viewed in the Palais de Beaux-Arts in Lille. The courtyard is instead used for tango lessons on Sundays during the summer and as a second hand book market.
Facing the Colonne de la Déesse and the Vieille Bourse is the Furet du Nord. Built in 1959, the Furet du Nord was the largest bookstore in the world until 1999. It is now the fourth largest bookstore in Europe.
Built between 1453 and 1473, the
was commissioned by Philippe le Bon, the Duke of Bourgogne. This palace was used as the city's town hall from 1664 until 1847, when the entire building except the chapel burned down. A new building was built to house town hall, only to burn down again in 1916. At that point, town hall was moved to the Saint Sauveur neighborhood.
On the facade of the remains of the
, a monument was erected in 1927 for those who perished in the First World War. The building itself houses the Office of Tourism on the ground floor and hosts exhibitions in the chapel on the first floor.
L'escalier d'honneur (i.e. the stairway of honor) leads from the main entrance to the chapel on the first floor.
The chapel (in the midst of preparations for an upcoming exhibit)
Ancient door to Hôtel de Marchiennes
Hôtel de Marchiennes was built in the 17th century and served as a refuge inside the city walls to monks during times of conflict.
L'Hermitage Gantois, now a 5-star hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant, was originally a hospice. It was built in 1462 by Jean "Gantois" de Le Cambe, a wealthy merchant looking to do his good deed to get into heaven. The hospice turned into a fully functioning hospital and remained a hospital until 1995. Eight years later, it was transformed into a luxury hotel. This building was classified as a historic monument in 1923.
One of the four remaining city gates : the Gate of Paris. While this gate was always in existence in the city wall of Lille, it was embellished to how we know it today by Louis XIV.
The belfry of Town Hall is visible in the background.
The sculptures on top of the wall represent a coronation of the king's portrait. To show his power and strength, there is a statue of Neptune on the left and Hercules on the right. Moreover, there is a subtle representation of local vs national power: the French coat of arms (in blue) hangs above Lille's coat of arms in red. This shows that why the residents may have some loyalty to their city, their loyalty to their country should supersede this local loyalty.
Town hall was moved to the St Sauveur neighborhood after the second time that it burned down at its old location near the Rihour Palace. Originally, being so close to the city walls, this was a rather poor neighborhood. It was the city's goal to improve the image of the neighborhood by setting up their offices in that location.
In Flemish towns, there is only one belfry that belongs to the community. The purpose of the belfry is to spot the enemy approaching or to spot a fire. In Lille, though, there are two: one on the new Chamber of Commerce and one on Town Hall. This Town Hall was built in 1932, 11 years after the Chamber of Commerce. As a result, the city asked the architect to build the belfry just slightly taller than that of the Chamber of Commerce in order to show that they have the 'real' belfry.
The two statues on Town Hall's belfry invoke the legend of Lille's founding. It is said that before this turned into the city that we know (and love) today, there were giants living in the swampy land. There was a giant named Phinaert who had a castle on the Deûle (i.e. the river that runs through Lille) and controlled the region around it. While fleeing a revolted, Salvaert and his pregnant wife, Ermengaert, passed through the land. Ambushed by Phinaert, Salvaert was killed while Ermengaert escaped to the nearby forest. A hermit helped Ermengaert give birth and took the child for protection. Ermengaert was found and imprisoned by Phinaert. Years later, when the baby, Lydéric, grew up and learned of the story, he decided to take revenge on Phinaert. Challenging him to a duel, Lydéric fought Phinaert and won. Since then, the King of France named Lydéric the first prince of L'Isla (i.e. "the island" in Latin). The two statues are thus of Lydéric and Phinaert.
Descendants of French nobility, it is no wonder that the De Gaulle family had a nice-sized
hotel particulier (aka house with an inner courtyard). The left side of the house served the family once as a textile factory. It is now an exhibition of Charles de Gaulle's life.
The living room shows that the family was well-educated and cultured.
While no Palais de Versailles, De Gaulle's birth home is rather ornate for a house in the industrial region of the north.
There are four circular paintings decorating the walls of the dining room. It was Charles de Gaulle's aunt, Noémie de Corbie (born Maillot), who made them.
Charles de Gaulle was the third of five children. While the middle child, he would always boss all of his siblings around. He loved playing war games and always played the role of general. He could sometimes be a little severe in his games that his siblings ended up crying by the end of the game.
His parents noticed his strong personality and would punish him by not giving him presents for St. Nicholas day (the French version of Christmas). The yellow horse in the corner is an example of a toy that was promised to him on St. Nicholas day if he could behave for a month.
Charles and all of his siblings; he had one sister and four brothers. Notice the hair of the youngest sibling. During that time period, it was customary not to cut a boy's hair until he turned 7 years old. At that point, the boy goes from being a child to being a man in a way.
The de Gaulle children and all of their maternal first cousins often came to play together in their grandmother's house.
Charles de Gaulle's first cousins; the children of his mother's sister, Noémie Julie Apolline de Corbie (born Maillot).
Charles de Gaulle's first cousins; the children of his mother's brother, Jules Marie Joseph Charles Maillot.
During rainy days, it became unbearable to have all of the children running around in the sunroom, where the adults were trying to talk.
The grandmother loved to watch the children play but did not love the noise so she had a play area built for them on the other side of the courtyard. (That building has been modernized and turned into a multimedia area.)
The wealth of the family is again displayed in the fact that the family house has an interior toilet, located midway up the stairs. Can you spot it ?
Charles was very close with his maternal grandmother, Julia Delannoy. Julia was a very devout Catholic and wrote many poems to express her praise for her faith. This is one of the reasons for Charles' strong faith.
Julia's faith is very evident in her bedroom, from the Mary and Child painting over the bed to the prayer chair next to the dresser to the cross next to the doorway.
This room is dedicated to displaying Charles' military ambition. The sword on the right is from the military academy St Cyr. Charles applied and was admitted to the academy in 1908.
Charles had a passion for writing, likely due to his grandmother's and his father's influence. He wrote plays and poems, mostly focused around war.
One of the poems he wrote, when he was about 17 years old, was of his dream to die on the battlefield. He viewed that as the most honorable and patriotic way to die.
Charles de Gaulle was born in this room on 22 November 1890 to Henri Charles Alexandre de Gaulle and Jeanne Caroline Marie Maillot.
Charles Alexandre (pictured to the right) was a literature and Latin teacher at a Jesuit school, like his father. Charles' father was adamant that his children receive a good education so he would expose them history and philosophy at a very young age, always adapting his lesson to their age. (Charles Alexandre and Jeanne were actually third cousins, sharing the same great-great-grandparents.)
The Theatre Sebastopol was built as a temporary theater in November 1903. Big fans of operas and musical performances, the Lillois could not imagine waiting several years or even decades to have their Grand Théâtre Lequeux, which burned down in April 1903, replaced. Very aware of this fact, the government ran an architectural contest to find the architect that could build a theater in under 3 months with only 300,000 francs. A couple dozen submitted their designs and the one of Léonce Hainez won. To everyone's surprise, the construction time and budget were respected and the theater was opened to the public in November 1903, less than four months after the original theater burnt down !
As you enter the theater, you will walk on the original mosaic that was created for the theater.
The walls of the theater's reception area were recently repainted to match the theme of the mosaic.
As you proceed up to the balcony, you will find a cozy cafe just above the reception. As this was a temporary theater that was never meant to take the place of the original Grand Theatre, the decor on the inside is more relaxed than what would typically be found at an opera house.
From the simple Art Nouveau stained glass windows to the simple bar, it's obvious that this theater is far from pretentious.
While it is evident that there was great care in putting together the decor of this cafe, there were also certain liberties that the architect could take that they would not have been able to take at a more official theater. For example, the high relief crown molding of the cafe includes some disguised violins. Can you spot one?
Originally made with 2000 seats, the theater can seat up to 1350 people today. The reason for this is increased comfort and security (thus bigger chairs and rows).
Heading up to the top floor, we can clearly see some hooks hanging from the ceiling. Initially, this theater was only intended to be a theater until a replacement for the Grand Théâtre Lequeux was completed. That replacement is the Opera near Grand Place, that came 20 years after the original theater burned down!
In any case, once that theater was created, the Sebastopol was supposed to be transformed into a zoo. Thus, the hook on the ceiling were for the acrobats that would be hanging from there.
Nevertheless, the desire for operas, operettas and concerts was so large that both theaters coexist today. The Opera takes the more serious works (i.e. the operas), while the Theater Sebastopol takes the more casual performances (i.e. the operettas and the concerts).
On the topic of security, while only a temporary museum, great consideration was taken to ensure that the theater does not burn down--like many others--and that if there was an emergency, there were enough exits to get all of the people out quickly and safely.
Due to the impressive efficiency of the construction, the companies who worked on the project wanted to get their name out there. So, they created some free publicity bu putting a sort of post card into their work.
This practice was not exclusive to the concrete items but was also found in the tiling.
Due to the more casual nature of the theater and performances, the dressing rooms are rather modest. The artists are not expected to spend a lot of time there anyway.
From the stage, the artists can see the entire audience. There is never anyone hidden who can't see or hear the entirety of the stage and its performers. Not only that but the room has such great acoustics that performers have admitted to coming back to perform in Lille more than expected simply because they enjoy performing in that room so much.
P.S. Note the chandelier. Don't you just love the starburst effect?
Even though the original reason for building the Citadelle was to protect the city, it was also to give the king the ability to squash a rebellion if one were to occur. King Louis XIV was very weary of the Lillois and did not trust them not to revolt and demand their previous monarchy. It is for this reason that the Citadelle is actually built
the city walls.
P.S. If you want to take a virtual tour of the Citadelle,
. follow this link
The main gate of the Citadelle depicts the context of this military base. Ordered by King Louis XIV, the Citadelle main entrance prominently features a sun to represent the Sun King and the French coat of arms with the crown on top to represent the monarchy.
Today, as the headquarters of the Rapid Reaction Corps, the flags represent the member countries.
This is an office building with the soldiers' barracks on the back. What's interesting is that each floor had its own separate entrance/exit. This allowed for lightning fast mobilization in case of urgency.
This is the oldest building in the Citadelle, built in 1673.
Citadelle means "little city". Sebastien Le Prestre Vauban had this "little city" built in just three years. The project was funded by the selling of lands that are now part of the neighborhood of Rue Royale.
The Citadelle even had a prison, though it was very rarely used.
The Citadelle is currently home to the Rapid Reaction Corps, which is deployed whenever there is an urgent need for backup anywhere in the country. This Rapid Reaction Corps is actually present in several countries; the flags of those countries hang in the center of the complex.
Notice the difference in construction style between the chapel (between the trees) and the rest of the buildings in the complex. While the other buildings are built in typical simple Flemish style with the brick bordered by stone, this one is built in the classic French style with the emphasis on the stone and the straight lines.
Virgin Mary and baby Jesus on the facade of the chapel.
The inside of the chapel. This building has been used for various purposes, from a stable to a storage facility. Today, it serves its originally intended use.
Notice the roof; it was built by shipmakers who simply took the boat design and flipped it on its head.
The powder rooms of the complex are located far from the other buildings, in case of explosion. Because the room is full of explosive material, there are many regulations in place whenever anyone goes in the building. Moreover, the building is made with very strong walls but a very weak roof. The idea is that if the building does explode, the explosion goes up instead of out.
The main idea of the Citadelle was simply to create the most amount of obstacles as possible. There is a flooding mechanism that is the first line of defense. After that, there are many layers of thick walls that the enemy needs to get through in order to breach the citadelle. Vauban decided to build those walls out of (20 meters of) dirt, as it is best at absorbing impact. This dirt wall was finished off by a layer of bricks. This allowed for tunnels to be dug up to the brick walls to serve two purposes. One of the purposes was to be able to crawl all the way up to the wall to be able to eavesdrop on the enemy without them seeing you. The other is to provide an easy escape route, should it come to that.
The arsenal is easily distinguished by its high relief sculpture of two cannons and baskets of cannonball. Can you notice a motif in the sculpture that comes up quite often in Lille? You've got it! The coat of arms with the three fleur de lys and the crown on top are to remind the soldiers who they are working for: the King of France.
The Citadelle had everything that was needed for the little city to function independently of the outer city (i.e. Lille), including its own baker. It had food supplies that would feed the 1000 men for weeks in case of a siege on the complex.
To reduce the amount of work needed for upkeep (and to be kind to the environment), the Citadelle park uses goats to "mow" the lawn.
The Bank of France was definitely a worthwhile visit. It is normally a workplace though so do take advantage of the
Journées du patrimoine
and make reservations ahead of time !
Originally intended as a
(i.e. personal mansion), this building was never finished as a house and thus never lived in. Jules-Joseph Casteleyn, the Count of Hespel, acquired the buildings at 73 and 75 Rue Royal in 1876. He tore those buildings down and started this project, designed by Henri Meurillon, in around 1880. The Count became bankrupt however, and committed suicide before he could finish it. Left without a penny, his widow, Elisa Lebon, sold the unfinished building to the Bank of France in 1893. (It is said that the architect was so distraught that his vision for the house would never be realized that he committed suicide as well.)
Notice the two doors. The Count of Hespel was obsessed with showcasing his wealth (one of the reasons for his bankruptcy). The goal of the two doors was to show that carriages had enough space to enter from one door and exit from the other.
Another aspect highlighting the owner's wealth was the fact that the entire house was built from stone, instead of brick, which is much cheaper. The type of stone used for this house is the same type used for
le Chateau de la Loire.
While not particularly visible due to the early morning shadow, just under the balcony there is a coat of arms. On that coat of arms there is the letter 'H' for Hespel and a count's crown just on top. There are also two back to back 'L's in the coat of arms, which could be in reference to Hespel's mother Elizabeth.
To the left of the front door, on the first floor, is the billiards (and cigar) room. The ceiling of that room is made of an elaborate wood system. Made to look like a beautiful wood carving, the ceiling was actually a system that would remove the (cigar) smoke from the room. This ceiling system was made by the same craftsmen who made Meert's ceiling.
If the building was finished as intended, the entire first half of the second floor would have been the master bedroom, with the goal of displaying his wealth. The back half of the house would have been the rooms for their four children. What would have been the children's playroom is today the Regional Director's office. It still has the original parquet.
Once inside, there is a massive painted window on the right (that would have cost a fortune). Joseph Vantillard, a famous Parisian artist, painted a hunting scene from the Renaissance. It is unclear if the two noble figures are supposed to be depicting the count and his wife.
Facing the painted window are is the grand staircase. Originally, it would not have been open like this because at the end of the staircase began the neighbor's house. When the Bank bought the house though, it already had an office two doors down. So, when they neighbor died in WWI, the Bank decided to purchase the house between its two offices in order to be able to make one massive bureau.
At one point, the Bank had also purchased the building on the other side of this house. Those were the living quarters of the Bank's senior management. Today, the Bank is trying to reduce its redundancies. From 12,000 employees, the Bank is aiming at reducing the number to 9,800 in the coming years. (Only about 430 employees work in this building and the ones attached to this one though.)
The First World War for Lille was devastating, with the Germans throwing parties in many of the large buildings and stealing everything of value. Thus, in order to prevent the Germans from stealing the banister, it was painted in black to conceal the color of the bronze.
The two angels at the ends have since been uncovered.
Notice the marble floor. The entire first floor as well as the staircase (i.e. the public spaces) were made of marble to once more show his wealth.
The skylight at the top of the stairs was added by the bank to bring more light into the building. The white iron work at the top creates a nice illusion of a dome, when in reality, it is actually a flat skylight.
Roubaix is the second largest city in the Lille metropolitan area, with 96 thousand residents. It is preceded by Lille with 200 thousand residents and followed by Tourcoing with 90 thousand residents. What’s really great about Roubaix is its emphasis on maintaining its roots while at the same time modernizing its activities and buildings.
Built in 1888, the Roubaix train station was key to the city's industrial development. Due to its central location, Roubaix had a predisposition to become a booming commercial city. In the 15th century, the lord of the region, Pierre de Roubaix, earned the right to sell textiles for profit. Until recently, Roubaix was known as a leading textile city. With this industry having now moved to Asia, the city struggles to reinvent itself.
If you head out of the train station and head straight down Avenue Jean Lebas, you will reach
la Grande Place (i.e. the main square). This avenue was built quite wide to ensure that the first thing that visitors see is the imposing Town Hall in the distance.
Mid-way down the avenue Jean Lebas, there is a square. To the left is the ENSAIT and to the right is
La Piscine. On the left side of the square, there is a white statue. Sculpted by Lemaire and inaugurated in 1948 by then-mayor Victor Provo, the statue was built in remembrance to all of the sacrifices that were made to fight the barbarianism that was Nazi Germany.
The ENSAIT (
Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Industries Textiles
or State University for Textile Art and Industry) was built in the 19th century. The goal is to train students in design but also textile engineering, such as developing firefighter uniforms and space suits. Today, it trains almost half of the textile engineers in France.
The dog in the front is part of the six-month El Dorado festival in the greater Lille metro area.
Facing the ENSAIT is
(or the swimming pool). Now an art museum, the facade of the museum was originally part of a textile factory and the museum itself was a public bath. The public bath was built in 1932 by the mayor of the time for two reasons. The first reason was to encourage improved hygiene standards and the second was to give factory workers a place to relax (so they could ultimately be more productive at work). It remained a public bath until 1985. Then, it was redesigned to accommodate a museum, which opened in 2001. The museum boasts an upwards of 200 thousand visitors per year.
The great thing about this city is that it is very attached to its history. Whenever a building is no longer used, instead of demolishing it, it is re-purposed. Not only does this preserve older buildings that were built to last but it preserves the city's charm.
When the textile industry moved out of the city, Roubaix began a period of beautification. Being known as a grimy, industrial city, Roubaix looked for ways to improve its curb appeal to keep its residents and to draw in tourists. This colorful building is one of the ways that the city has attempted to beautify its streets.
The small building in the middle is to this day a fabric store. During the week, when the store is open and the shutters are raised, you can see large rolls of fabric resting against every wall. While the city aims to modernize and draw in newcomers, it is clear that it does not plan on abandoning its roots.
Inaugurated in 1911, Roubaix's Town Hall was designed by the same architect who designed Paris' Orsay train station (today the Musee d'Orsay), Victor Laloux. Given that the Town Hall was the first thing that visitors saw as they exited the train station, the mayor of the city at the time, Eugène Motte, decided that the small Town Hall needed to be replaced with something more grandiose. He wanted to display the city's wealth at the peak of its economic prosperity in the early 20th century. As a result, he commissioned this imposing building, ripe with motifs.
From the use of stone to the frieze depicting the various steps involved in the textile industry, the building is a symbol of the city's wealth and pride. In the middle of the building, above the clock, the city's coat of arms is displayed: the left side representing its textile origins of the Middle Age and the right displaying all the tools involved in the textile industry. Additionally, the symbol of the city's origins is referenced three times by the castle sculptures above the coat of arms and on the two corners of the roof. Finally, on the pediment of the left wing, we notice Hermes, the Greek god of travelers and merchants. He is there to protect all of the merchants that go abroad to buy raw materials for Roubaix's textile factories. Hermes is flanked by a woman representing industry on the left side and another representing raw materials on the right side.
On the other side of the Main Square is the St. Martin Church. The Church's clock tower is original to the 1511 Church and is one of the oldest aspects of the city. The area being the Church is one of the oldest of the city.
Behind Town Hall, there is a street named
Rue du Château, meaning Castle Street. It is named so as this was the location of Pierre de Roubaix's castle. Today, there is what is left of the Louis Richard (Marionette) Theater and a typical textile store (again in bright colors to liven up the city a little).
While Roubaix is no longer a textile city, it has kept its roots and has simply pivoted towards training its residents on skills needed further down the production stream, such as design skills. The city boats 10 thousand of the 110 thousand university students in the Lille metropolitan area.
Because many of the factory workers were uneducated, young mothers did not always have all the tools necessary to maintain their children's health. Consequently, in the 19th century, the mortality rate of children of the area was up to 25%. It is for this reason that the "Drop of Milk" association was created in 1901. Its purpose was to offer young mothers access to pasteurized milk as well as access to free pediatric consultations, to help mothers get the information that they needed.
In 1935, this monument was erected in memory of Eugene Motte, a well-respected politician who brought many socialist reforms to the city. During his time, the city was at its economic peak, with 120 thousand inhabitants (compared to the roughly 97 thousand today).
Today the National Work Archives, this building was once a large textile factory owned by the Motte Bossut family and employing one thousand workers. Notice the castle-like facade; factory owners at the time saw themselves of lords of their factories and employees. They visited Manchester to get the best practices for factory building and then displayed their wealth by building the most elaborate factories with the highest chimneys. During Roubaix's economic peak, the city had 267 factories with a total of more than 300 chimneys. Today, there are only about 30 chimneys left.
During its economic peak, the city was a postal service hub. At the time, this building served not only as the post office but also as a telephone operator.
Finally, in the spirit of preserving its history and boosting the economy during the economic transition, the McArthur Glenn shopping street was created. The stores in this area are in a tax haven where they sell last season's clothes at outlet (i.e. deeply discounted) prices. These businesses are housed in old workers' row-houses.
While many of the houses on the main boulevard connecting Lille and Roubaix have been modernized or replaced, the
rang des drapiers is a townhouse row of 18 houses that have been preserved in the same style. Paul Cavrois grew up in one of these houses. These traditional houses may have been part of the reason why he wanted a modern building as his own house. To learn more about Paul Cavrois' modern mansion, head over to the Villa Cavrois tab.
Measuring 34 hectares, the Park Barbieux is Roubaix's main park. It features over 60 different trees, some of which have come from different parts of the word.
Roubaix residents cherish the park as it is an ideal location to go for a run or to walk your pet. It is also surrounded by the richest neighborhood of Roubaix.
A cute little wood carving that I stumbled upon in the park.
Villa Cavrois is located between Lille and Roubaix in a town named Croix. Bordering Roubaix, Croix was set up by wealthy textile factory owners who wanted to get away from the busy industry atmosphere and to take advantage of some quiet and spacious land. Having grown up in a very traditional home, Paul Cavrois wanted something more innovative. He had this mansion built in 1932 by French modern architect Robert Mallet-Stevens. Paul Cavrois lived in this house with his four children, his three stepchildren (aka niece and nephews) and his wife, Lucie, (who was also Paul’s brother’s widow).
When Lucie Cavrois died, the family sold the house to a developer who planned to demolish it and build apartment buildings. In the end, it was abandoned (and looted) until 2001, when an organisation bought it, restored it back to its 1932 condition and turned it into the museum that it is today. (The renovation cost an upwards of 20 million Euros.)
Entering the yard, the visitor gets a 45° view of the building. This is intended to highlight the various different levels of the house.
As soon as you walk into the house, you are confronted with the sheer size of the house and the land, thanks to the vaulted ceilings and the massive windows.
On the left side of the living room, there is a dug out sitting area with a fireplace. The seating area shows off the owner's wealth through the use of marble and leather.
Speaking of wealth, in Paul Cavrois' office, the original safe is still in place.
Off the office, Paul Carvois had a private sitting area that was clearly stocked with cigars and whiskey back in the day.
In the same left wing of the house on the ground floor, there are two rooms that belonged to Paul Cavrois' stepsons/nephews. At the time that the mansion was built, the sons were in their twenties. Thus, they are isolated from the children's wing in the right wing on the first floor.
Back at the center of the house, next to the living room is the adult dining area. What is genius about this dining area is the fact that, thanks to the mirror, every person has a great view no matter where on the table they are.
The children's dining room is more playful. The same mirror technique is employed to ensure that everyone has a view of the games collage. There is also a separate access to the balcony and to the hallway from the children's dining in order to avoid disturbing the grown-ups in the main dining room.
On the first floor, there is a balcony overlooking the living room. This balcony separates the children's wing on the right from the parents' wing on the left.
On the parents' side, everything is very elegant. The same simplistic feel is kept in this room as in the rest of the house, showcasing the modern style.
Next to the master bedroom, Lucie Cavrois had a powder room with a powder bathroom. The couple's actual bathroom measured 50 square meters. Twice the size of my apartment!
On the children's wing, there are two bedrooms that have been restored and one that has been left in the condition in which it was when the government bought the house to restore.
Upstairs on the second floor, there is a game room where the children could play back in the day. Additionally, there were two study rooms on the mezzanine: one for the girls and one for the boys.
The coolest aspect of this room is that the banister is removable and the room can thus be transformed into a theater stage, if the children so desired.
Outside in the yard, there is a temporary exhibition of Eugène Dodeigne. This sculpture collection is called
the message. Dodeigne's goal for his sculptures was to share a state of mind by suggesting human figures but by ultimately staying true to the stone texture that he was given.
If you head towards the end of the yard, you will come to the end of the 72-meter reflecting pool.
The mansion also featured a pool at the time. (Today, it is more of a fountain.)
Another one of Dodeigne's sculpture compositions
On the front lawn, there are three of Dodeigne's sculptures.
I liked this one because it seemed happy, like it was a person stretching out in the morning.
Right next to the entrance to the mansion, there is a smaller twin of the building. It was once the house of the grounds keeper. Now, it is the museum's welcome desk.