The Cathedrale Notre Dame de la Treille takes its name from a 12th-century figure of the Virgin that has been long revered in the city. The cathedral was built by wealthy inhabitants of the city, starting in the late 19th century; building didn't finish until the 1990s! Sadly, the Virgin is no longer inhabiting the cathedral - she was stolen in 1959, and her church now gets by with a replica.
The cathedral features eight chapels in the neo-Gothic style featuring scenes from the lives of Christ, the Virgin and the saints. There's also a towering organ and, unusually, a great deal of 20th-century stained glass, including an asymmetric rose window.
Lille's Fine Arts Museum, or Palais des Beaux-Arts, is a giant - only the Louvre tops it for size among France's museums, and its collection is suitably illustrious. It was instituted in 1801 as part of Napoleon's push to bring art to the masses. It's housed in a splendid Belle Époque building dating from the late 1890s.
Stroll through the rooms and you'll find all the stars: Rubens and van Dyck, Picasso and Redon, Corot, Delacroix and David. There is also a wonderful decorative arts collection and a special curio: a selection of 18th-century models of fortified cities.
The center of Lille, the Grand Place (or, as it's officially called, the Place du Général de Gaulle) is a magnet for tourists and a meeting point for locals. Celebrations, ceremonies, Christmas markets - it all happens here.
The plaza is surrounded by grand buildings in the Belgian style, including the La Vieille Bourse (once the stock exchange, now a peaceful enclave for booksellers and chess players) with its riotous fruit and flower ornamentation.
The focal point of the square is a monument depicting Deesse, the goddess particularly associated with Lille. Her statue commemorates the siege of the city by Austrian troops in the 18th century, and the bravery of the Lillois in refusing to yield their town to the invaders.
As a farming village located 8 miles north of Arras in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Ablain-St-Nazaire was almost completely destroyed during World War I. But the horrors of the war did not spare this tranquil village; one of the most striking monuments to have fallen under gunfire (with front lines only two kilometers away) was the Ablain-St-Nazaire Church, a 16th-century flamboyant Gothic masterpiece built upon the request of local lord Charles de Bourbon-Carency to honor Saint Nazarius and the role he played in the healing of the lord’s sick daughter.
The Ancient Monuments Commission of France listed the church in 1908, right before the war started, while the same committee opted against rebuilding the magnificent church 10 years later. The committee wanted to preserve the poignant ruins as a testament to the German brutality and ruthlessness — a bone-chilling sight scarred by the war, and where time seems to have stood still for the past century.
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