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The Region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais - France Region 15
Is composed of the two Départements of Nord [59] and Pas-de-Calais [62]

Introduction to Nord-Pas-de-Calais - France Region 15 of 22
The Location of Nord-Pas-de-Calais
Nord-Pas-de-Calais is the northern most of the 22 French regions.  It lies directly south of England, and is bounded by the North Sea to the north and northwest, Belgium to the northeast, and Picardy to the south.  Nord-Pas-de-Calais is composed of the départements of Nord and Pas-de-Calais.  Its capital is Lille.

The History of Nord-Pas-de-Calais
Nord-Pas-de-Calais was originally a part of the historic provinces of Artois, French Flanders [Flandre] and Picardie.  The old French province of Artois has been redesignated the Département of Pas-de-Calais. 

  • Artois
    The name Artois, as was the name of its capital Arras, was derived from the appellation of the Atrebates tribe, an ancient Gallic tribe that inhabited the area during the time of Julius Caesar.  During the Middle Ages, from the 9th to the 12th century, Artois was ruled by the counts of Flanders.  This was a period that saw the province as a prosperous manufacturing and trading center. 

    In 1180, the province passed to the French king, Philip II Augustus.  In 1237, Louis IX made Artois a country.  But, it remained under the influence of the French until, in 1329, it came under the domination of the Burgundians.  From 1500 to 1648, when it was conquered by the French king Louis XIII, it was ruled by the Habsburgs.  The Treaty of the Pyrénées, in 1659, the treaties of Nijmegen, in 1678 and 1679, and the Treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, all confirmed French sovereignty over Artois.

    World War I spelled disaster for the former Artois.  It was the scene of both Allied and German offences, especially near Arras and Lens.  These assaults resulted in numerous towns being extensively damaged.  They were rebuilt after the war, but a lasting economic injury had been wrought upon the area. 
  • Flanders
    The medieval principality of French Flanders, in what used to be the southwestern part of the low countries, is now the département of Nord.  Flanders now makes up the northeastern section of Nord-Pas-de-Calais and continues to have much in common with the neighboring low countries in terms of terrain and the Flemish language.

    In the 1st century BC, Flanders was inhabited by the Celts.  Over the course of the next several centuries it was conquered and peopled by Germanic tribes. 

    Pagus Flandrensis predated French Flanders.  It was originally an inconspicuous district administered by the Frankish empire.  Commencing in the 9th century, a quasi-independent state was erected, between the French and German kingdoms, by a line of Flemish counts.

    While Charemagne’s empire was being broken up by the Treaty of Verdun, the year 843 marked the rise of Flanders.  In 862, the administrator of the pagus, Baldwin I [Iron-Arm], married the daughter of the Western Frankish king, Charles II [the Bald] and was appointed Count of Flanders.  His successors expanded the domains, between 879 and 1067, to encompass the towns of Douai and Arras to the south.  They also expanded eastward, across the Schelde River, to Ghent and Antwerp.  During this period, the counts had made Flanders secure against Viking incursions.

    The counts were vassals of the German kings, with respect to their holdings east of the Schelde, and vassals of the French kings for their domains west of the river.  The western part of the realm, which was known as Kroonvlaanderen [Crown Flanders], was the most important.  Rijksvlaanderen [Imperial Flanders], to the east, was also a part of the Holy Roman Empire.

    The counts of Flanders had united a very diverse population into a single nation.  The southern most area of Flanders was inhabited by mainly Romance-speaking people.  To the north, the inhabitants were principally Germanic speaking.  Along the coast were peoples of Frisian and Saxon origin.
    By the 10th century, Baldwin III had laid the basis for an economically strong Flanders.  In 1119, the first dynasty of counts had died out.  Under Thierry of Alsace [1128 to 1168] and his son, Philip [1168 to 1191], a later line of counts, the heterogeneous population of Flanders began to attain the height of its wealth and power. 

    From the 12th century, the counts brought about a restructuring of the social order.  The old feudal structure was abandoned for a more modern and orderly fiscal and administrative organization.  They implemented a centralized judicial system, based upon Roman law, and began extensive legislation.  The granting of charters to towns, together with the independently developing commune movement, led to municipalities with considerable independence.

    The 12th century also marked the transition from a purely agricultural economy to one of international trade and industry.  The textile industry flourished through the manufacture of English wool into high quality cloth.  This attracted merchants of all nationalities to Flanders.

    The 13th century saw the emergence of a distinctly Flemish culture.  Its architecture, literature and paintings elevated it to a leading position in European civilization. 

    In the 14th century, king Philip IV, of France, invaded and subjugated Flanders, leaving the counts as vassals of the French kings.  The marriage of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, to Margaret of Flanders, the daughter of Louis II [Count of Flanders], made Flanders a domain of Burgundy.  The Habsburgs gained control of Flanders in 1477.

    During the latter part of the 16th century, Flanders witnessed the devastating uprising against the Spanish Habsburgs.  Spain finally ceded Flanders to the United Provinces of the Netherlands, in the early part of the 17th century.  During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, France gained control of the region known as French Flanders.  From 1795 to 1814, during the Napoleonic period, Flanders was incorporated into the French Empire.  

The Geography of Nord-Pas-de-Calais
Before the last Ice Age, the chalk-lands of northern France and southern England were uninterrupted by the English Channel that now cuts through the Straits of Dover.  At this point, a mere 19 miles now separates England from France.  In the north, the region is dominated by flat lowlands, much of which is below sea level.  To the south, the small hills of Avesnois and Cambrais, rarely exceeding 650 feet in height, cross the region from the southeast to the northwest.  Here, the landscape is primarily bocage.

The region is traversed by hundreds of rivers, including the Authie, Canche, Escaut, Lawe, Liane, Lys, Sambre and Scarpe, which are all navigable.  Some of these rivers are interconnected by networks of canals.

Most of the region’s population is urban, but the rural areas are also densely populated. 

The Languages of Nord-Pas-de-Calais
Since Nord-Pas-de-Calais is one of the 22 regions of France, French is taught and spoken everywhere in the region.  Throughout France, recognized, non-French languages, dialects and brogues are wide spread, and many Frenchmen tend to conserve their regional linguistic customs.  This is especially true in France’s territorial extremities of Brittany, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Alsace, Lorraine, Aquitaine, Midi-Pyénées, Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. 

Brittany’s non-French language, Breton, is similar to the Celtic languages, spoken in the western United Kingdom.  In Alsace and Lorraine dialects, with a distinctly Germanic flavor are in use, especially in the rural areas.

The Basque language is widely spoken in the southern portion of Aquitaine, and the Midi-Pyénées, close to the Spanish boarder.  In southern Languedoc-Roussillon, Catalan is widely spoken, again near the Spanish boarder.  To the east, in the western part of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Occitan [Provençal] is widely used.

Flemish, which is commonly spoken in the region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais’ Département of Nord, in what used to be French Flanders, is a Netherlandic dialect from the West Germanic language group.  Netherlandic [Dutch] is also the national language of The Netherlands and is one of the two official languages of Belgium.

Netherlandic is a structurally distinct branch of West Germanic, and is differentiated from West Germanic by an apparent anomalous development of the i-umlaut.  The 7th and 8th centuries saw this linguistic development, as a result of the expansion of the Merovingian and Carolingian Franks into the coastal areas.  The preexisting coastal North Sea Germanic speakers were unable to perfectly acquire the Frankish pronunciation. 

The Netherlandic language first took root in the economically and culturally strong Flemish cities, such as Ghent and Bruges, and spread rapidly through the low countries. 

The Economy of Nord-Pas-de-Calais

  • Agriculture
    Much of the region’s land is irrigated and is worked by modern agricultural machines, employing only a small percentage of the work force.  It produces a variety of crops, including barley, flax, hops, oats, potatoes, sugar beets, wheat and vegetables.  Local farms raise such livestock as cattle, hogs and horses.  The region is a leading producer of pork.
  • Industry
    Coal-mining once dominated the economy of the region, but declined precipitously after the Second World War.  Nord-Pas-de-Calais is highly industrialized and now depends upon imported natural gas instead of coal.  Its products include automobile parts, chemicals, machinery, processed food, textiles, and steel.  The highly automated textile industry, which produces the leading manufactured products of the region, is centered around the towns of Armentiè, Lille, Roubaix and Tourcoing. 

The Gastronomy of Nord-Pas-de-Calais



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