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Nord-Pas-de-Calais (Dutch: Noord-Nauw van Kales) is one of the 26 regions of Francemarker. It consists of the departments of Nordmarker and Pas-de-Calais, in the north and has a border with Belgiummarker. Most of the region was once part of the Southern Netherlands, within the Low Countries, and gradually became part of France between 1477 and 1678. The historical provinces now included in Nord-Pas-de-Calais are Artoismarker, Boulonnaismarker, Cambraisismarker, Flanders, and Hainaut, and portions of northern Picardy. These provincial designations are still frequently used by the inhabitants, which offers a sense of civic pride.

It is an extremely densely populated region with some four million inhabitants - seven percent of France's total population, making it the fourth most populous region in the country - 83% of whom live in urban communities. Its administrative centre is the city of Lillemarker. The second largest city is Calaismarker, which serves as a major continental economic hub with Dover, Englandmarker of Great Britainmarker 26 miles away; the white cliffs of Dovermarker are visible from Calais on a clear day. Other major towns include Valenciennesmarker, Lensmarker, Douaimarker, Béthunemarker, Dunkirkmarker, Maubeugemarker, Boulogne-sur-Mermarker, Arrasmarker, Cambraimarker and Saint-Omermarker.

Name

The name Nord-Pas-de-Calais combines the names of the constituent departments of Nord (literally 'North', the northernmost department of France) and Pas-de-Calais ('Strait of Calais', the French name of the Strait of Dovermarker).

The northern part of the region was historically a part of Flanders, with Douai ( ) as its capital. The minority who wish to reunite this region with Belgium and/or the Netherlands prefer to call this region the French Netherlands (French: Pays-Bas français; Dutch: Franse Nederlanden). Various petitions, which have no impact on the population , are currently taking place in favour of renaming and making Douai the capital once more.

Other alternative names are Hauts-de-l'Artois ('Upper Artoismarker') and Picardie-du-Nord ('Northern Picardy').

History

Inhabited since prehistoric times, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region has always been a strategic (and hence one of the most fought-over) region in Europe. French President Charles de Gaulle, who was born in Lille, called the region a "fatal avenue" through which invading armies repeatedly passed. Over the centuries, it was conquered in turn by the Celtic Belgae, the Romans, the Germanic Franks, Englandmarker, the Spanish and Austrian Netherlands, and the United Provinces of Holland, until the final French annexation in the late 17th century.

During the 4th and 5th centuries, the Roman practice of coopting Germanic tribes to provide military and defense services along the route from Boulogne to Cologne created a Germanic-Romance linguistic border in the region that persisted until the 8th century. By the 9th century most inhabitants north of Lille spoke a dialect of Middle Dutch, while the inhabitants to the south spoke a variety of Romance dialects. This linguistic border is still evident today in the place names of the region. Beginning in the 9th century, the linguistic border began a steady move to north and the east. By the end of the 13th century the linguistic border had shifted to the river Lys in the south and Cap-Griz-Nez in the west.

During the Middle Ages, the Pas-de-Calais department comprised County of Boulogne and the County of Artoismarker, while Nord department is mostly made up of the southern portions of the County of Flanders and the County of Hainautmarker. Boulogne, Artois, and Flanders were fiefs of the French crown, while Hainaut was within the Holy Roman Empire. Calaismarker, from 1347 to 1558, when it was recovered by the French throne, was an English possession. In the 15th century all of the territories, except Calais, were united under the rule of the Dukes of Burgundy, along with other territories in northern France and areas in what is now Belgiummarker, Luxembourgmarker, and the Netherlandsmarker. With the death of the Burgundian duke Charles the Bold in 1477, the Boulonnais and Artois were seized by the French crown, while Flanders and Hainaut were inherited by Charles's daughter Marie. Shortly thereafter, in 1492, Artois was ceded back to Marie's son Philip the Handsome, as part of an attempt to keep Philip's father, Emperor Maximilian I, neutral in French King Charles VIII's prospective invasion of Italy.

Thus, most of the territories of what is now Nord-Pas-de-Calais were reunited to the Burgundian inheritance, which had passed through Marie's marriage to the House of Habsburg. These territories formed an integral part of the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands as they were defined during the reign of Philip's son, Emperor Charles V, and passed to Charles's son, Philip II of Spain. When the Netherlands revolted against Spanish rule, beginning in 1566, the territories in what is now Nord-Pas-de-Calais were those most loyal to the throne, and proved the base from which the Duke of Parma was able to bring the whole southern part of the Netherlands back under Spanish control.

During the wars between France and Spain in the 17th century (1635-1659, 1667-1668, 1672-1678, 1688-1697), these territories became the principal seat of conflict between the two states. French control over the area was gradually established - Artois was annexed in 1659, and most of the current Nord department had been acquired by the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678. The current borders were mostly established by the time of the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697.

The area, previously divided among the French provinces of Flanders, Artoismarker, and Picardy, was divided into its present two departments following the French Revolution of 1789. Under Napoleon I the French boundary was extended to include all of Flanders and present-day Belgiummarker until the Treaty of Waterloo in 1815 restored the original French boundary.

During the 19th century, the region underwent major industrialisation and became one of the leading industrial regions of France, second only to Alsace-Lorrainemarker. Nord-Pas-de-Calais was barely touched by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870; indeed, the war actually helped it to cement its leading role in French industry due to the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germanymarker. However, it suffered catastrophic damage in the two World Wars of the 20th century. In the First World War, much of the region was occupied by Germanymarker. Many of its towns and hundreds of square miles of land were wrecked in four years of trench warfare, with the region suffering more damage than any other part of France.

German occupation of France during World War II
The Nord-Pas-de-Calais region was used for Vengeance weapon installations, including extensive V-1 "ski sites" that launched attacks on Englandmarker and massive bunkers for the V-2 rocket and V-3 cannon. Operation Crossbow counteroffensive bombing devastated many of the region's towns. Although most of the region was liberated in September 1944, Dunkirk was the last French town to be freed from German occupation (9 May 1945). The region's numerous war cemeteries and memorials include Canada'smarker Vimy Memorialmarker.

Post-World War II
Since the war, the region has suffered from severe economic difficulties (see Economy below) but has benefitted from the opening of the Channel Tunnelmarker and the growth in cross-Channel traffic in general.



Demographics

While the region is predominantly French-speaking, it also has two significant minority language communities: the western Flemings, whose presence is evident in the many Dutch placenames in the area and who speak French Flemish, a variety of the West Flemish dialect of Dutch (perhaps 20,000 inhabitants of Nord-Pas-de-Calais use Flemish daily and an estimated 40,000 use it occasionally, both, primarily in and around the arrondissement of Dunkirk ); and the Picards, who speak the Picard language, or Ch'ti (speakers, "chitimi", have been working to revive the nearly-extinct regional speech since the 1980s). Although neighbouring Belgium currently recognizes and fosters both Picard and Dutch, and a few city-level governments within Nord-Pas-de-Calais have introduced initiatives to encourage both languages , the national French government maintains a policy of linguistic unity and generally ignores both languages, as it does with other regional languages in France.

The region's ethnic diversity has been affected by repeated waves of immigrant workers from abroad: Belgiansmarker, and Welsh from Britain, before 1910; Poles, Czechs, Italians, and Portuguese in the 1920s and 1930s; North Africans, Greeks, and Yugoslavs since 1945; several thousand descendants of Chinese and Vietnamese ditch diggers and railroad crews hired by French government contractors in World War I; some Turks have settled in the region, beginning in the 1960s; and large cities like Lille, Calais, and Boulogne-sur-Mermarker are home to sizable communities of British, Scandinavian, Sub-Saharan African, and Latin American immigrants and their descendants.

The French state has sought to boost the region's relatively neglected culture. In 2004, it was announced that a branch of the Louvremarker would be opened in the city of Lens. For decades, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais has been viewed as culturally conservative, but recently the region has at times displayed left-wing tendencies. In the early 2000s, the leftist Green Party won the largest number of votes to nearly carry a majority in regional and local representation. The Greens managed to attract many conservative voters from small towns and farmers.

The region's religious profile is representative of France as a whole, with the majority (85%) being Roman Catholic, but not all members regularly attend church or practice every element of Roman Catholicism. Other Christian groups are found in the region: Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, and Mormons have a few churches. North Africans have introduced Islam to the region, and small but growing communities of Buddhists and Hindus have been established in recent years. In World War II, 18,000 of the region's French Jews were victims of the Nazi occupation, but a small Jewish community remains active as it has been for hundreds of years.

Economy

Nord-Pas-de-Calais became a major centre of heavy industry in the 19th century with coal mines, steel mills and traditional textile manufacture. It suffered badly in both World Wars and recovered less quickly than did other parts of France. In recent years, it has experienced economic slumps as the mines closed, the steel industry declined and the textile industry ran into problems. Between 1975-1984, the region lost over 130,000 jobs and unemployment rose to 14% of the working population, well above the national average. The region has, however, benefited from major government and European Union investment over the past 20 years. The opening of the Channel Tunnelmarker in 1994 was welcomed in the region as a means of boosting its prosperity. Tourism, particularly in Lillemarker at the apex of the London-Brussels-Paris railway lines, has grown considerably, to the extent that in 2004, 7 million passengers used the Eurostar, as well as 2 million vehicles on the Eurotunnel (formerly Le Shuttle). In addition to the trains, in 2002, there were about 15 million passengers from the three major ferry ports of the region (Calaismarker, Dunkirkmarker and Boulogne-sur-Mermarker).

Major communities

  • Lillemarker and surrounding area is home to over 1.5 million inhabitants.



The regional educational system of the académie de Lille includes 1 million pupils and students. Higher education and research are supported within the Université Lille Nord de France.

Notes and references

  1. Streek Verbond Vlaanderen-Artesië-Henegouwen : Voor de Franse-Nederlanden
  2. Comité pour les Pays-Bas français - Pétition pour le changement de nom de la région Nord-Pas-de-Calais
  3. Article 2 of the Constitution of France states that "French is the language of the Republic"; see the article on French linguistic policy for more information.


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