A merchant city since the Middle Ages and a manufacturing town since the 16th century, Lille was also the scene of the industrial revolution, which had a strong impact on its urban planning. Today, it is a city with several faces, where old fortifications and industrial buildings stand side by side. During a run, you will also discover magnificent rehabilitated districts, which have earned it the title of "World Design Capital" in 2020.
"While it was besieged by the Duke of Marlborough, comedy was played there every day, and the actors earned a hundred thousand francs; admit, sire, that this is a nation born for pleasure and for war," said Voltaire of Lille in his letter to the King of Prussia.
Indeed, Lille, in the heart of Romanesque Flanders, since its legendary creation by the giants of the North, Lyderic and Phinaert, has lived through a history of conquests and multiple national affiliations. It has a rich tradition of armed resistance, as it is the city in the current French territory that has been the most besieged in history, and its gunners were a highly respected brotherhood. Lille belonged successively to the kingdom of France, the Burgundian state, the Holy Roman Empire and the Spanish Netherlands. After the War of the Spanish Succession, it was definitively attached to the France of Louis XIV, along with the whole of French Flanders.
The urban fabric of the present-day town was therefore initially marked by the successive extensions of the stronghold. Subsequently, the destruction that occurred during the main conflicts in its history, particularly the two world wars, profoundly modified the town. Finally, the restructuring linked to industrialisation, and then to post-industrial rehabilitation, have completed the design of a city that is interesting to discover, while running or walking.
Lille the fortified city
Your run will take you around the remains of Lille's fortified wall. This wall has been extended several times, increasing the size of the city from 10 to 1,000 hectares over a period of 800 years.
As a result, you will admire the Noble Tower, dating from the 100 years war, as well as the citadel or the Réduit fort. These were built by Vauban, who wanted Lille to become "the most finished place in the kingdom", after its capture by Louis XIV. At the same time, the king's engineers rebuilt the "Porte de Paris", on the basis of one of the old city gates, which dated from the 13th century. This real triumphal arch, that you will undoubtedly discover during your visit of Lille, stands not far from the belfry.
The belfry of Lille is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the highest civil belfry in Europe (104 metres!). It was built during the reconstruction of the Town Hall, which was destroyed during the First World War, and is adjacent to it. You can visit it and, from its belvedere, contemplate Lille and its surroundings, but also, in good weather, the Lys valley and even the Flanders mountains. All this while learning about the urban development of Lille !
City of industry and design
Regularly damaged by the many sieges it has suffered throughout its history, Lille has always been rebuilt. Since the Revolution, successive conflicts ravaged the city, especially following the occupation and bombings during the First World War. At the same time, the industrial revolution oriented Lille around the textile and mechanical industries. However, their decline, from the 1960s onwards, left some districts in a state of disrepair, which were not renovated until the late 1980s.
Walking through Wazemmes, a district attached to Lille during the 20th century, you can see the old industrial buildings. The most famous of them is the current Maison folie, based on the site of a linen spinning mill. A little further on, you may arrive in Euralille, France's third largest business district, which houses the Henri Matisse Park between its towers.
In 2020, the European Metropolis of Lille was named "World Design Capital". This distinction is accompanied by a number of "Proof of Concept" (POC) projects, some of which may be reflected in the city's urban planning. Like the renovation of the Place Maurice Schumann, in the Vieux Lille district. In the meantime, the metropolis has no shortage of projects. You will discover the renovated Fives-Cail-Babcock industrial site, where locomotives and tunnel boring machines were manufactured until 2001. Or the renovation project of the old Saint-Sauveur freight station...
The "vIEUX lILLE" and its monuments
In the heart of the city, the restored Vieux-Lille has a specific architecture, dating back to the 17th century, and boasts magnificent coloured facades. Its mixture of brick and stone is characteristic of the district. Several major buildings are located in this district.
One of them is the Rihour Palace, built in the 15th century by Philippe Le Bon, Duke of Burgundy. It is one of the few buildings in Lille in the flamboyant Gothic style. Not far away, the old stock exchange from the 17th century is reputed to be the most beautiful monument in the city. It hosts bookshops and tango demonstrations in the summer. If you take a closer look, you will discover brightly coloured cartouches above the second floor windows. These display the initials of current companies, sponsors of the work that made the restoration of the building possible.
As you can see, Lille, which has belonged to the national network of Cities and Towns of Art and History since 2004, has many architectural and cultural treasures.
Discover them with us during your cultural run!