Valenciennes (Valencijn in Dutch, pop. 43,000) is a town of the French Hainaut on the Escaut river, lying just next to the Belgian border. It is a subprefecture of the Département du Nord. The town could be architecturally interesting; it is a shame that so many buildings are in such a poor state of repair. This reflects the economic trouble that the Hainaut region has been experiencing in the last decades.
Despite its Latin name (from Valentinus, a Roman lord who owned a palace there), Valenciennes was only mentioned for the first times in 693, under Merovingian king Clovis II.
At the division of the Carolingian Empire in 843, the city remains neutral, at the border of the West Francia (the future Kingdom of France) and Lotharingia (later part of the Holy Roman Empire). From 923, Valenciennes becomes a Mark of the Holy Roman Empire. The margraves of Valenciennes will be succeeded in 1070 by the Counts of Hainault as the ruler of the city.
The city had its share of calamities. In 881, it was invaded by the Vikings, and in 1008, a terrible famine brought the Plague.
In 1369, the countess of Hainault, Margaret III of Flanders, marries Duke Philip II of Burgundy. In 1477, the Burgundian Netherlands pass to the Habsburg family. Valenciennes will only become part of France per se in 1678, after being occupied by the troops of Louis XIV.
In the 18th century, the economy of Valenciennes revolved mostly around coal mining and the porcelain industry.
In May 1940, the Nazis bomb Valenciennes, and a huge fire devastates most of the city.
Until the 1970's, Valenciennes lived mostly from the steel and textile industries. Since their decline, reconversion attempts focus mainly on automobile production. In 2001, Toyota built its Western European assembly line for the Toyota Yaris in Valenciennes. PSA Peugeot-Citroën and DaimlerChrysler also have assembly lines in the city. Let's also note the presence of Michelin since 2007, and other big industrial groups like Alstom, Bombardier, or the European Railway Agency.
Apart from the manufacturing industry, the city is renowned for its university, the Université de Valenciennes et du Hainaut-Cambrésis, which opened in 1964 as a branch of Lille University, and became independent in 1979.
Famous people from Valenciennes
The city was the birthplace of :
- medieval chronicler Jean Froissart (1337-1405)
- general Charles de Lannoy (1487-1527)
- musician Claude Le Jeune (1529-1600)
- numerous painters and sculptors, like Robert Campin, (1375-1442), Antoine Watteau, (1684-1721), François Milhomme, (1758-1823) or Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, (1827-1875)
- actor and comedian Pierre Richard (1934-)
- UMP politician and minister Jean-Louis Borloo (1951-)
Valenciennes having been entirely reconstructed after WWII, it lacks the charm and historical character of other cities in the region. The few places of interest include
- the Neo-Renaissance façade of the townhall (dating from 1867).
- Notre-Dame du Saint-Cordon Basilica; damages from WWI are still visible.
- the 16th-century Spanish House; located Rue Askievre, south-east of the townhall.
- the 14th-century Dodenne Tower, facing the delightful Parc de la Rhonelle (to visit in Spring when everything is blossoming).
- the Jesuit library (inside the 17th-century Jesuit college) and the adjacent Baroque church.
- the massive Hôpital du Hainaut, errected between 1752 and 1772, and still in use.
- the Fine Arts Museum; located on Watteau Boulevard.
The main shopping street is Rue Framars starting from the Place d'Armes (the square where the townhall stands).
How to get there
Valenciennes is about 50 km from Lille, on the E19 motorway between Paris (200km) and Brussels (100km).
It is about 35min by train from Lille and 50min from Arras. Trains to Belgium (e.g. Mons or Tournai) all require a change at Lille.
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