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Nord Pas de Calais
Nord-Pas de Calais is one of the 26 regions of France. It consists of the departments of Nord and Pas-de-Calais, in the north and has a border with Belgium. Until the end of the 20th century both the region and the department were called Nord. The region was once part of the Southern Netherlands, within the Low Countries, and permenantly became a part of France in 1713. The historical provinces now included in Nord-Pas de Calais are Artois and Flanders, designations which are still frequently used by the inhabitants.
It is an extremely densely populated region with some 4 million inhabitants - 7% 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 Lille. Other major towns include Valenciennes, Lens, Douai, Béthune, Dunkerque, Maubeuge, Calais, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Arras and Cambrai.
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. It was conquered in turn by the Celtic Belgae, the Romans, the germanic Franks.
During the 4th and 5th centuries, the Roman practice of coopting Germanic tribes to provide military and defense services along the 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 Artois, while Nord department is mostly made up of the southern portions of the County of Flanders and the County of Hainaut. Boulogne, Artois, and Flanders were fiefs of the French crown, while Hainaut was within the Holy Roman Empire. Calais, 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 Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. 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, Artois, and Picardy, was divided into its present two departments following the French Revolution of 1789.
During the 19th century, the region underwent major industrialisation and became one of the leading industrial regions of France, second only to Alsace-Lorraine. 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 Germany. 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 Germany. 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. Germany occupied it again in the Second World War and used the region as a launching base for attacks on England by the Luftwaffe and the V-1 and V-2 missile systems. Heavy Allied bombing and fighting on the ground again devastated many of the region's towns. Although most of the region was liberated in September 1944, Dunkirk was not liberated until 9 May 1945, making it the last French town to be freed from German occupation. The region's conflicted history is memorialised in numerous war cemeteries and memorials, such as the Vimy Memorial at Vimy Ridge, which is Canada's most important memorial to its fallen soldiers.
Since the war, the region has suffered from severe economic difficulties (see Economy below) but has benefitted from the opening of the Channel Tunnel and the growth in cross-Channel traffic in general.
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 the West Flemish dialect of the Dutch language, and the Picards, who speak the Picard language or ch, ti and chitimi are working to revive the nearly-extinct regional speech since the 1980s.
In addition, the region's ethnic diversity has been affected by repeated waves of immigrant workers from abroad - Belgians and Welsh from Britain before 1910; Poles, Czechs and Italians in the 1920s and 1930s; North Africans since 1945; some thousand descendants of Chinese ditch diggers and railroad crews hired by French government contractors in World War I; and a small population of Turks since the 1960s settled in the region.
The French state has also sought to boost the region's relatively neglected culture; in 2004, it was announced that a branch of the Louvre would be opened in the city of Lens. For decades, the Nord/Pas-de-Calais was thought of as culturally conservative, but the region currently has liberal tendencies. In the early 2000s, the leftist French Green Party won the largest number of votes to nearly carry a majority in regional and local representation.
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 recoveries 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 Tunnel in 1994 was welcomed in the region as a means of boosting its prosperity. Tourism, particularly in Lille 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 (Calais, Dunkerque and Boulogne-sur-Mer).
* Villeneuve d'Ascq
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