Maubeuge (Malboden in Old Frankish, Malbodium in Latin ; pop. 33,500, with suburbs 100,000) is a city built on the Sambre River, a mere 7 kilometers from the Belgian border. It shares a common cultural policy with Mons, 20km to the North, in Belgium. However, Maubeuge does not share even a tenth of the beauty of Mons. All the city was rebuilt in soulless "HLM" (French acronym for "rent-controlled housing") blocks, typical of lower class districts of France.
The history of the city starts in 256 C.E., when the Franks arrived from what is now Belgium, following the course of the Sambre River. Once a year, they held their assizes (Mahal) in a place called "Boden", which consequently became known as "Malboden".
Around 661, Saint Aldegonde (633-684), daughter of Walbert, regent of king Chlothar II, founded a cloister in Malboden, and the village took the Latinised name of "Malbodium". Her sister, who became Saint Waltrude, founded her own convent, around which grew the city of Mons.
In the 9th century, Maubeuge became part of the County of Hainault. The city had a tumultuous history; it was devastated or plundered over 20 times until being annexed to France by Louis XIV in 1678. Vauban, Louis XIV's military architect, fortifies the city. After a century of relative peace, the French Revolution brings more upheaval.
In 1818, the Sambre is canalised, which facilitates the transport of coal from Charleroi. From 1837, blast furnaces and rolling mills start to appear along the river.
The First World War leaves Maubeuge relatively unscathed. However, in May 1940, the Germans burn the city, destroying 90% of the historical centre.
Modernist architect André Lurçat (1894-1970) will be commissioned with the reconstruction of the city after the war. He razed Vauban's fortifications, lowered the Upper Town and elevated the Lower Town, so as to build a more uniform city and get rid of the socio-economic disparities between the different quarters.
In 1971, Chausson opened a factory, which would become the Maubeuge construction automobile (MCA), a subsidiary of Renault. Nevertheless. the industrial region of the Sambre basin will undergo a steady decline from 1975 to 1990.
Most of the old city was destroyed in 1940. A handful of traditional houses have survived or were reconstructed, especially on the left bank of the Sambre, but nothing to fret about.
A few religious buildings have subsisted, like the 16th-century hospice des Cantuaines, the 15th-century chapelle des Soeurs Noires, and the Sthrau Hall, originally built by the Jesuits, then renovated in the Art Deco style in the 1930's, and finally converted into a church by Lurçat in 1958.
The only real reason to come to Maubeuge is for the remains of Vauban's fortifications, on the left bank. Although the biggest part of the structure has been dismantled after WWII, the main city gates are still standing.
We find Bavay Gate (Porte de Bavay, avenue Roosevelt ) to the west, Capuchins Gate (Porte des Capucins, rue Casimir Fournier) and Mons Gate (Porte de Mons, place Vauban) to the north, and Cross Gate(Porte de la Croix, rue de la Croix) to the east. Note also the Monier Ponds, used as a defensive moat, between Capuchins Gate and Cross Gate. It has earned the nickname of "False Sambre" by the locals.
The western section of the fortifications has been home to the Maubeuge Zoo since 1957.
How to get there
Maubeuge is located at the crossing of the N2 and N49 highways, about 60 km from Lille, 20km from Valenciennes (N49), 8km from Bavay (N49), and 20km from Mons (N2) or Binche (N49, N55).
Maubeuge is 40 min by train from Valenciennes and 1h20 min from Lille.
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