‘Cambrai – The Cathedral’
The medieval cathedral at Cambrai in Northern France was regarded as one of the ‘wonders of the Low Countries’. It was sold off after the French Revolution and used as a quarry. Arras Cathedral suffered a similar fate as did the monumental cathedral in French-speaking Liege. No trace of Cambrai’s Gothic cathedral survives today. The city’s ecclesiastical status was restored in 1802 and the abbey church of St. Sulpice was used as the seat of the bishop (later the archbishop). The building was constructed between 1696 and 1703. It was damaged by fire in 1854 but subsequently restored. The cathedral was damaged yet again during World War One, as shown in the stereograph, but was restored for a second time.
The medieval cathedral Arras, believed to have been one of the most beautiful in France, was completely demolished after the French Revolution. By the 1830s it was decided that Arras once again needed a cathedral and so the old church belonging to St. Vaast’s Abbey was used. The abbey church had itself been rebuilt starting in 1778, although progress was interrupted during the Revolution. Work on the site began again in 1815 and in 1833 the church, now designated a cathedral, was completed. The building was severely damaged by artillery fire in 1914 which destroyed most of the roof, the vaults and part of the exterior. Following the end of hostilities the cathedral was reconstructed to its pre-war appearance.
Market Day in Arras
Hotel de Ville, Arras
The first stereoview shows the Place des Héros in Arras c.1900. In the background is the city’s stupendous town hall, the Hotel de Ville. Construction on the hall started in 1463 and was completed in 1554 with the addition of a 77m-high belfry. Built in the Flamboyant Gothic style, the Hotel de Ville and its belfry were destroyed by the German bombardment of Arras in 1914. The town hall was gutted by fire on 07 October. The famous belfry collapsed at around 11.20am on the morning of 21 October after suffering artillery strikes. The cathedral had already been destroyed in July. Most of the Flemish Baroque houses surrounding the Place des Héros were also destroyed along with 75% of the historic city centre. After the war the town hall and the belfry were reconstructed in reinforced concrete. Externally at least the reconstructed building was very similar to the late medieval original with only small changes made to some of the tracery and a few of the window openings. The belfry at Arras is now part of the ‘Belfries of Belgium and France’ World Heritage Site.
‘The Lower Town, Verdun’
The stereograph shows the shattered remains of Verdun in France c.1918. The city found itself on the front line during World War One and the Battle of Verdun took place in the vicinity during most of 1916. It was to be one of the bloodiest and longest battles in world history. There were around 450,000 German casualties and a similar number of French casualties. Almost one million men were either killed or injured in this one battle alone, many as a result of artillery shells. The German assault along the line was eventually rebuffed and much of the city was left in ruins.
‘The Church – Foucaucourt’
Other than the fact that the stereograph shows a medieval church destroyed during World War One, I don’t know much else about it. There are several small communes called Foucaucourt in north-west France and the church could’ve belonged to any of them.
‘Northern France – Arras – La Grande Place’
‘Arras – La Grande Place’
‘Arras – La Grande Place’
‘Les Arcades de la Grande Place’
Arras is known primarily for four things: its tapestries, its two vast public squares, its late Gothic town hall and belfry and the fact that it was severely damaged during World War One. The stereoviews show houses on the Grande Place, the largest of the squares, before and after the war. Together the two squares were lined with 155 merchant houses, all with their upper stories elevated on stone pillars to create a continuous arcade around the perimeters of the squares. The oldest house on the Grande Place dated to 1467 but most of the others dated to the 17th and 18th centuries. They were constructed in a beautiful Flemish Baroque style, the facades adorned with statuary, carvings, scrolls and pilasters. Nearly all of them were either destroyed completely or badly damaged by the German bombardment of the city in October 1914. The medieval town hall with its colossal Renaissance belfry was obliterated. Fortunately, in an act for which we should be forever thankful, France’s Historic Monuments Commission restored most of France’s war-damaged cities and towns back to their pre-war state, including the houses on the Grande Place. The work on the ruined squares and town hall at Arras was completed by 1924 and the city remains one of the most lovely in Europe.