Visiting Valenciennes, France and its remarkable City Hall: an unforgettable, ornate frontage

Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
City Hall frontage, Valenciennes, France
City Hall frontage, Valenciennes, France | Source
Valenciennes City Hall frontage (detail)
Valenciennes City Hall frontage (detail) | Source
Map location of Valenciennes 'arrondissement'
Map location of Valenciennes 'arrondissement' | Source

Amazingly intricate craftwork

I think the frontage of the City Hall (Hôtel de ville ) at Valenciennes, France, is among the most remarkable that I have seen.

Situated in the Nord department of France, which runs adjacent to the Belgian border, its location provides a clue as to the reason for the degree of destruction that the city experienced in both World War One and World War Two. Known as the Cockpit of Europe, because of the amount of foreign armies which have marched through its borders, Belgium and its border close to Valenciennes was the direction from which the German invaders arrived in these wars, thus altering the face of this city and many others also in the aftermath. In 1918, British and Canadian troops took Valenciennes from the occupiers, while on September 2, 1944, American troops liberated the city.

One of the surviving buildings in Valenciennes is the City Hall in Renaissance style, which dates from 1867, during the later period of Napoleon III's Second Empire. The ornate frontage, with its enormous clock face, is dated 1868. The architect Henri Lemaire and the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux were responsible for this fine work. After war damage, the sculptor Albert-Marius Patrisse worked to restore parts of the ornate frontage to their former splendour.

The central square in Valenciennes known as the Place d'Armes is a good location from which to view this remarkable building. I think many visitors will simply want to gaze in wonderment at the gracious quality and breadth of this fine, ornate architectural creation.

A mayor of Valenciennes, Jean-Louis Borloo (1951-) who served in that capacity with this fine buidling as his office, was noted for initiatives in the cultural life and in local transportation facilties; he subsequently served for many years as a government minister. (His predecessor as mayor of the city for over 40 years, Pierre Carous, unfortunately committed suicide.)

Also worth seeing

In Valenciennes itself, a well-appointed Fine Arts museum (musée des Beaux-Arts ) has long been a visitor attraction. The Saint-Cordon church's tower is a prominent landmark. The Spanish House (Maison espagnole ), dating from the 16th century, serves as the tourist information centre.

Saint-Amand-les-Eaux , France (distance: 15 kilometres) has an ornate Abbey tower, within which is housed a museum of ceramics and religious art.

Maubeuge , France (distance: 37 kilometres) contains the Porte de Mons (Mons Gate), as part of the extensive fortifications substantially built in the 17th century by Vauban , the leading military engineer.

Lille, France (distance: 52 kilometres), has cultural attractions which are too numerous to mention; however, a few of these include the photogenic place du Général de Gaulle , with its Old Stock Exchange (la vieille Bourse ) and the Chamber of Commerce belfry nearby; and a museum situated in General Charles de Gaulle's birthplace.

Tournai , Belgium (distance: 36 kilometres), has a cathedral which includes magnificent 12th century towers, and much other ecclesiastical architecture of note.

Antoing , Belgium (distance: 33 kilometres); situated on the Scheldt River (Escaut ), it possesses a fine castle which has belonged for centuries to the de Ligne Princes.

Montignies-Saint-Christophe , Belgium (distance: 56 kilometres) has a well-preserved bridge, dating from Gallo-Roman times, which was built on an ancient road between Trier and Bavay.

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How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Valenciennes: 182 kilometres). Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National), from where car rental is available. Brussels is the nearest large airport to Valenciennes (distance: 114 kilometres). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada

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