Things to Do in Lille
Lille's Fine Arts Museum, or Palais des Beaux-Arts, is a giant - only the Louvre tops it for size among France's museums, and its collection is suitably illustrious. It was instituted in 1801 as part of Napoleon's push to bring art to the masses. It's housed in a splendid Belle Époque building dating from the late 1890s.
Stroll through the rooms and you'll find all the stars: Rubens and van Dyck, Picasso and Redon, Corot, Delacroix and David. There is also a wonderful decorative arts collection and a special curio: a selection of 18th-century models of fortified cities.
The Cathedrale Notre Dame de la Treille takes its name from a 12th-century figure of the Virgin that has been long revered in the city. The cathedral was built by wealthy inhabitants of the city, starting in the late 19th century; building didn't finish until the 1990s! Sadly, the Virgin is no longer inhabiting the cathedral - she was stolen in 1959, and her church now gets by with a replica.
The cathedral features eight chapels in the neo-Gothic style featuring scenes from the lives of Christ, the Virgin and the saints. There's also a towering organ and, unusually, a great deal of 20th-century stained glass, including an asymmetric rose window.
The center of Lille, the Grand Place (or, as it's officially called, the Place du Général de Gaulle) is a magnet for tourists and a meeting point for locals. Celebrations, ceremonies, Christmas markets - it all happens here.
The plaza is surrounded by grand buildings in the Belgian style, including the La Vieille Bourse (once the stock exchange, now a peaceful enclave for booksellers and chess players) with its riotous fruit and flower ornamentation.
The focal point of the square is a monument depicting Deesse, the goddess particularly associated with Lille. Her statue commemorates the siege of the city by Austrian troops in the 18th century, and the bravery of the Lillois in refusing to yield their town to the invaders.
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