History of Lille

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One day, the young Lydéric sees his family slaughtered by the evil Phinéart. He is then raised by a hermit who lets a deer give him her milk and gives him an axe as a toy. Years pass... and Lydéric, a true hero, can chop down a tree with a single blow of his axe! At last, the time for revenge comes - he challenges Phinéart to a duel and kills him. This happened on June 15th 640. King Dagobert rewards Lydéric by granting him Phinéart's possessions and naming him administrator of Flanders.

That is the legend of Lydéric and Phinéart, the founders of Lille - two great figures who now feature heavily in the city's festivities! The legend is part of Lille's folklore and the two heroes are depicted on the base of the Beffroi de Lille in the Hôtel de Ville.

Lille first appears in the history books in 1066. Its name is derived from the Latin word insula, meaning 'island'. At that time, the city rose up from the marshlands, crossed by many tributaries of the Deûle - a peaceful river diverted into canals, which exists to this day. A Castrum, the Comtesse island and a forum, which is now the Grand Place lie in the swamp.

Being a city of trade and commerce and a center for weaving, (like Bruges and Ypres), the majority of Lille's fortune came from its famous market, organised by one of its benefactors, Jeanne de Constantinople - better known as the 'Countess of Flanders', who also gave it the Hospice Comtesse.

Many battles were fought over its possession as it was always wanted by various kings of France. In 1214, Philippe Auguste defeated the Count of Flanders and the German emperor Otto IV at Bouvines. In the church of Bouvines, twenty one stained glass windows recount the battle.

As a result of the alliance of Dijon and Brussels, it remained part of the lands of Bourgogne for over a century: it became the administrative and financial capital of Phille le Bon, Duke of Burgundy and the most powerful king of France. The last duke of Burgundy, Charles le Téméraire, died in 1477. His daughter Marie wed Maximilien of Austria, and Lille was part of the dowry given to the Habsburgs.

Under Charles Quint and Phillipe IV, Lille became part of the Spanish Netherlands. This golden age for the city is symbolised in the splendid, Baroque Vieille Bourse.

On August 28th 1667 Louis XIV conquered the city. The treaties of Aix-la-Chapelle permanently confirmed the binding of Lille to France. Vauban's masterpiece, the Citadelle is a sign of this conquest.

After being occupied for a short period (three years) by the Dutch during the wars of Spanish succession (1708-1713), Lille was drawn into the excesses of the French Revolution. The citizens heroically faced the Austrian invaders and were undefeated. The Convention declared that Lille "deserves much from the country" and the Déesse on the Grand Place is testament to this.

Two of the most beautiful towns in the Lille area were also paid for with blood: Saint-Etienne and the Collégiale Saint Pierre.

The nineteenth century was calmer, and saw Lille become an industrial capital. The city grew, tripling in area and doubling in population by absorbing neighboring towns. In 1846, the first railway between Paris and Lille was built, Louis Pasteur became the first Dean of the Science Faculty from 1854 to 1857 and industrialisation continued to take hold, particularly in textiles. At the end of the century the "Internationale" was composed by the local Pierre Degeyter in 1888 and Charles de Gaule was born here in 1890!

Armies of weary souls haunted the plains of Flanders after the terrible battles of the two World Wars. The decline of the textile industry in the fifties threatened the economy of the city, which decided to focus on services (administration, banking, universities). In 1966 the Communauté Urbaine (CUDL) combined today's 180.000 inhabitants with those of the 26 nearby towns, creating the fourth largest city in France! Lille then returned to its traditional role as a business center and chose to open itself to Europe in 1993: thanks to the TGV, it is only an hour away from Paris. In 1994 a new business quarter ' Euralille - was opened and the north European TGV lines came into effect. After a successful conversion to the technologies of the next millenium a new page in history remains to be written.

Lille still lives up to its friendly reputation ' it is one of the few cities where no one can feel lonely for very long, thanks to the legendary northern welcome.