The legend says of Lille that it was founded in 640 by the giants Lydéric and Phinaert. But we find the first trace of Lille in a writing of 1066. Lille will be in turn Flemish, Burgundian, Spanish before becoming French in 1667 during the conquest of the city by Louis XIV. Its successive expansions over the centuries have made it the fourth largest metropolis in France today and indeed the capital of the Hauts-de-France region. A cultural hub and bustling university city, it was once an important merchant centre of French Flanders, and many Flemish influences remain. The historic centre, Vieux Lille, is characterized by 17th-century brick town houses, cobbled pedestrian streets and the large central square, Grand Place.
The Grand Place (Main Square) is the Lillois’ favourite meeting place and offers an interesting view of the architecture from the 17th to the 20th century. Standing in the centre of the squares stands the Goddess commemorates Lille’s resistance to the Austrian siege in 1792. In front of the Old Stock Exchange built from 1652 to 1653, is undoubtedly the town’s finest building. This building is made up of 24 little houses around an arched courtyard. A second-hand book market as well as chess players can be seen inside. On this square is situated the Grand Garde. The building was used to house soldiers from the sentry guard. It is now the Théâtre du Nord.
Remarkably restored, Vieux Lille (the Old Town) enchants the eye with its flamboyant architecture. The extraordinary diversity of the 17th century architecture is an invitation to saunter and appreciate the perfect harmony of brick and stone.
The Belfry was built from 1924 to 1932 by the architect Emile Dubuisson who was inspired by the triangular-gabled Flemish houses. It’s 104 metres-high and listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The Rihour Palace is one of the rare reminders of the flamboyant gothic style in Lille. On the ground floor, the Salle des Gardes (Guards room). Upstairs, the Salle du Conclave (Conclave chamber) and the sacristy with the stained glass windows welcome events.
The Cathederal de Notre Dame de la Treille commenced in1854, when the idea of building an imposing basilica on this site dedicated to the Virgin Mary was born. Lille had been known for its miraculous statue of the Virgin protected by an iron trellis (hence the name “Notre-Dame de la Treille”) since the Middle Ages. The 13th century Gothic style, with the cathedrals of Reims, Amiens and Chartres used as examples, was imposed on the architects. The initial project was massive: 132 metres long, with spires reaching up to over 115 metres. However, wars and financial difficulties soon put an end to these plans. With the creation of the bishopric of Lille in 1913, the basilica became a cathedral, but the project, although reduced to more modest proportions, began to drag on and the cathedral remained unfinished. It was not until the 1990s that public funding allowed for the completion of the main facade, which was inaugurated in 1999. Designed by the Lille architect Pierre-Louis Carlier, it is the product of great technical prowess and was made possible by the collaboration of Peter Rice (engineer for the Sydney Opera House and the Pompidou Centre in Paris). The central section is composed of a 30 metres high ogive covered with 110 sheets of white marble 28 millimetres thick, and supported by a metal structure. From the inside, this translucent veil reveals a surprising orange-pink colour.At the top, the glass rose window based on the theme of the Resurrection is the work of the painter Ladislas Kijno. The iron doorway is by the Jewish sculptor Georges Jeanclos.
Due to the size of its permanent collections, the Palais des Beaux-Arts is one of the richest French museums. The building, completed between 1885 and 1892, is typical of the monumental architecture of the late 19th century.
Fully renovated in 1997, its 22,000 m² houses prestigious collections of European paintings (Rubens, Van Dyck, Goya, Delacroix…), a few key examples of 19th century French painting (David’s Belisarius, Courbet’s L’après-dînée à Ornans, Puvis de Chavannes’ The Slumber, …), a large collection of drawings (including 40 sheets by Raphaël), a sculpture gallery (Carpeaux, Rodin, Claudel, Bartholdi…) and 17th and 18th centuries ceramics. Also worthy of note is the presentation of relief maps of fifteen fortified towns in Northern France and Belgium (18th century models used by the French Kings during wars).
The museum is open on Monday from 2pm to 6pm, Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm. Closed on Tuesday. The museum is closed on November 1st and open on 11th November.
The Vieille Bourse (old stock exchange), built from 1652 to 1653, is undoubtedly the town’s finest building. This building is made up of 24 little houses around an arched courtyard. A second-hand book market as well as chess players can be seen inside. The Vielle Bourse is the base of the annual Lille Flea Market – the largest of its kind in Europe and one of the most famous events in France and beyond its boarders. It is held every year on the first weekend of September covering over 100km of streets.
Lille Tourist Office www.lilletourism.com Palais Rihour, Place Rihour, Lille
+33 (0) 891 56 20 04