Top Historic Sights in Arras, France

Explore the historic highlights of Arras

Arras Town Hall

The Gothic town hall of Arras and its belfry were constructed between 1463 and 1554 and had to be rebuilt in a slightly less grandiose style after World War I. The belfry is 75 meters high and used to serve as a watchtower. Nowadays tourists can enjoy ascending the belfry. The belfry of the town hall is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of The Belfries of Belgium and France (the group of 56 historical buildings).
Founded: 1463-1554 | Location: Arras, France

Arras Citadel

Built by Vauban between 1667 and 1672, the purpose of Citadel of Arras was to protect the city from the attacks (Spanish troops coming from the Netherlands). It has been nicknamed La belle inutile (the beautiful useless one) by residents as it has never been directly involved in heavy fighting and didn"t keep the Germans form occupying the city in either Word War. Since 7 July 2008 it is part of the UNESCO World Heri ...
Founded: 1667-1672 | Location: Arras, France

Abbey of St. Vaast

The Abbey of St. Vaast was founded in 667. Saint Vedast, or Vaast (c. 453–540) was the first bishop of Arras and later also bishop of Cambrai, and was buried in the old cathedral at Arras. In 667 Saint Auburt, seventh bishop of Arras, began to build an abbey for Benedictine monks on the site of a little chapel which Saint Vedast had erected in honour of Saint Peter. Vedast"s relics were transferred to the new a ...
Founded: 667 AD | Location: Arras, France

Arras Cathedral

The original cathedral of Arras, constructed between 1030 and 1396, was one of the most beautiful Gothic structures in northern France, until it was destroyed in the French Revolution. The cathedral was the resting place of Louis de Bourbon, Légitimé de France, illegitimate son of Louis XIV and Louise de La Vallière. In 1833 the church of the former St. Vaast"s Abbey was rebuilt in classical sty ...
Founded: 1833 | Location: Arras, France

Faubourg d'Amiens Cemetery

The French handed over Arras to Commonwealth forces in the spring of 1916 during the World War I and the system of tunnels upon which the town is built were used and developed in preparation for the major offensive planned for April 1917. The Commonwealth section of the Faubourg d"Amiens Cemetery was begun in March 1916, behind the French military cemetery established earlier. It continued to be used by field ambulan ...
Founded: 1916 | Location: Arras, France

Wellington Quarry

20 metres below the pavements of Arras is the Wellington Quarry, a site immersed in memory and emotion. In November 1916, the British started preparing for the 1917 spring offensive. Their stroke of genius: to have the New Zealand tunnellers connect up the town’s chalk extraction tunnels to create a real network of underground barracks large enough to accommodate up to 24,000 soldiers. After a 20-metre descent in a ...
Founded: 1916 | Location: Arras, France

Nemetacum

Arras was founded on the hill of Baudimont by the Celtic tribe of the Atrebates, who named it Nemetacum or Nemetocena in reference to a nemeton (sacred grove) that probably existed there. It was later renamed Atrebatum by the Romans, under whom it became an important garrison town. The archaeological site Nemetacum in Arras is one of the rare sanctuaries devoted to the oriental god Attis in France.
Founded: 15 BC | Location: Arras, France

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.