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  The Region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais Dépt Information

The Départements of Nord-Pas-de-Calais


The Département of Nord is the northeastern most of all the French départements.  It was created, in 1790, from the provinces of French Flanders [Flandre] and Hainaut plus the district of Cambrai.  It is bounded, in the north, by the Strait of Dover, for a length of 20 miles, by a 200 mile border with Belgium in the northeast, by the region of Picardy in the south and by the Département of Pas-de-Calais to the west.

Nord is divided into six arrondissements:  Avesnes-sur-Helpe, Cambrai, Douai, Dunkerque, Lille and Valenciennes.  Its capital is at Lille.

Most of Nord’s land is below sea level, with much of its coastal plain having been reclaimed from the sea.  The land is fertile and is one of the most agriculturally productive lands in France. 

Many battles have been fought on Nord’s plains during the past two thousand years, including the two World Wars of the 20th century.  During World War I, most of Nord was occupied by the Germans.  The British army was evacuated from the seaport of Dunkerque, during the German invasion of France, in June, 1940.  From May, 1940 to August, 1944, the Germans again occupied Nord.  The two World Wars resulted in the destruction of many of Nord’s historical buildings, but some of the more interesting hôtel-de-villes and churches survived.

Nord’s agriculture is important.  Farmers carry out intensive cultivation of cereals, flax, hops, potatoes and sugar beets.  Market gardening has been highly developed.  A high density of livestock is raised and dairy farming is extensive.

Textile production has been important, in the département, since the 12th century.  This cotton, flax and wool based industry is centered near Lille, Roubaix and Tourcoing, where synthetic fabrics are now also produced.  Denain, Dunkerque and Valenciennes have also been centers of steel production.  Valenciennes, which has been in steel production since 1834, is also famous for its lace.  Dunkerque’s steel producing capacity is the most modern of the three.

The Schelde River flows through the old coal basin near Denain, Douai and Valenciennes.  It was coal, from this area, that created economic might for Flanders in the early 19th century.  The nearby coking and distilling plants, that fueled the steel mills, have fallen upon hard times together with coal mining, since the end of World War II.

Nord’s other principal industries include electrical, engineering, food processing, glassworks, machinery fabrication, marble cutting and petrochemicals.  Dunkerque, which is one of France’s main seaports, has a large shipbuilding yard.  Nearby are mineral works and oil refineries. 

The Département of Pas-de-Calais is located in the western part of the Region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais.  It was formed from the historic province of Artois and part of Picardy.  It is bounded, to the north and to the west, by the Mer du Nord, to the east by the Département of Nord, and to the south by the Region of Picardy.  There are seven arrondissements in Pas-de-Calais.  They are Arras, Béthune, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Calais, Montreuil and Saint-Omer.  The département’s capital is Arras.

The département’s topography is generally flat to the north of the chain of low hills that traverses the département from the northwest to the southeast.  These hills form the watershed that drains into the North Sea. 

The southern coastal area is low with extensive marshes.  There are high chalk cliffs, in the northeast near Cap Blanc-Nez and Cap Gris-Nez, which are across the Channel from the white cliffs of Dover.  These chalk hills of Artois, which attain a height of 700 feet, extend inland from the Boulogne area and form a watershed that flows south to the Canche River and north to Flanders. 

Much of the area of the Département of Pas-de-Calais has long served as a frequent battleground.  In 1415, the English won the battle of Agincourt by their defeat of the French.  In 1871, it was the French that vanquished the Prussians at Bapaume.  During World War I, there was vicious fighting in, and about, Cambrai, Loos and Neuve-Chapelle.  In 1940, the German Blitz overran the département  and Pas-de-Calais remained in German hands until 1944.

An especially noteworthy départemental landmark is Arras’ Grande-Place [the center of town].  Others are the fortified medieval castle at Saint-Pol, Saint-Omer’s Gothic basilica of Notre-Dame and the fortified town of Petit-Fort-Philippe.

Agriculture thrives in Pas-de-Calais.  Much of the reclaimed coastal lowlands is used for dairy farming and there is intensive market gardening among the network of canals.  To the south of the lowlands, cereals, fodder and sugar beets are grown and cattle are raised.

A one-time rich coal basin extends across northern France into Belgium.  A part of this basin lays under the eastern part of Pas-de-Calais.  As a consequence, the coal richest parts of this area, which include Béthune, Liévin, Lens, Hénin, Beaumont and Liétard, are highly industrialized.  Here, in this densely populated region, there is a concentration of blast furnaces, chemical plants, coking plants, metal works and steel plants.

Calais is France’s major passenger harbor.  It is a Mecca for car ferries, both ships and hover craft, that transport passengers and cars from Dover to France. 

 Information Pages
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