Let me begin by saying that Arras is stunning. Really beautiful. I was absolutely blown away by the Grand Place and the Belfry and I’m gobsmacked that it’s not swarming with tourists. It’s so close to Paris, why haven’t people clicked on?
My husband visits Arras on the Vimy Ridge tours his agency runs. We’d been meaning to head this way and finally got the chance over the long weekend.
During the Gaul era, Arras was called Nemetocena from the celt word ‘nemeton’, which meant ‘sacred place’. The name Arras only began to appear in the XII century. Arras was once part of the Spanish Netherlands, a portion of the Low Countries (coastal regions bounded by the North Sea or English Channel) that were controlled by Spain from 1556-1714.Arras suffered heavily during World War I as it was only around 10kms from the front line. Many heavy battles took place in the area including the Battle of Arras and the Battle of Vimy Ridge. By the end of the war Arras was so heavily damaged that 75% had to be rebuilt.
La Grand Place and La Place des Héros are thé two stunning large squares in the town. The Belfry (listed UNESCO World Heritage) stands 75m tall and was originally built between 1463 and 1554. Another interesting visit are The Boves, an underground network of tunnels dating back to the 10th century! During both WW1 and WW2, these tunnels were used as underground bunkers.
There are sadly many many memorials in this region to the fallen soldiers. La Nécropole Nationale de Notre Dame de Lorette is an important site but of course, heartbreaking to take in the number of lives lost. It is the world’s largest French military cemetery, holding the remains of more than 40,000 soldiers. It was the site of three battles between 1914 and 1915, part of the devastating Battle of Verdun.
Situated opposite the Nécropole is l’Anneau de la Mémoire (The Ring of Memory), which was inaugurated on November 11, 2014. This memorial honors the 579,606 soldiers of around 40 nationalities who lost their lives in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region. Their names are engraved alphabetically without making any distinction by nationality, gender or religion. It is an extremely powerful memorial.