Souterraines Homesick Bleus

AnElephantCant stop growing restless
He just doesn’t like being harassed
So he heads to Artois
And visits it star
A fascinating town called Arras

AnElephantCant claim to be useful
When it comes to digging tunnels and such
Through this amazing place
He stumbles with grace
He is seeing and learning so much

 Arras is a town of some history
With tunnels a thousand years old
In the First World War
Men came from afar
To crawl and dig in the dark and the cold

 AnElephant sends a few post cards
To family and friends way back home
And to one special femme
Who knows who she am
She understands that AnElephant must roam

 Now Arras has an unusual feature
It has 3 thriving central main squares
For parking and space
For events to take place
And weekly markets where les fermiers sell their wares

And so to our tale.

Arras is a strange but rather wonderful town.
It is the capital of the Department of Pas-de-Calais, and the historic centre of the Artois region, with a population of around 45,000 people.
It lies about 70 miles south-east of Calais and almost 100 miles due north of Paris.

It has a fascinating lay-out comprising 3 main linked squares, the larger 2 of which are bounded by arcaded walkways.
This is perhaps an indication of the weather in the area, where rainfall can be fairly severe.

All 3 squares are used on main market days; at other times they are used for specialist markets, other events or town centre parking.

The arcaded terraces along the east side of the Grande Place (the largest) can be seen in the centre of the picture below:

The most central and busiest is the Place des Heros, with cafes and restaurants on the pavements on 3 sides. The square is dominated by the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) with its spectacular belfry on the west side. 

The smallest square is the delightful Place de la Vacquerie which lies directly behind the Town Hall, and is the site of the market of locally grown fruit and vegetables every Saturday.

The Hotel de Ville, which  houses the Tourist Office, is an amazing building with its vaulted ceilings, towering Belfry and subterranean tunnels.
These festival giants who appear to just hang out there stand around 16 feet (5 metres) tall, are on wheels, and have a little flap in the front to allow their ‘drivers’ to see

The Belfry allows panoramic views across the town and surrounding countryside, with viewfinders to provide easy identification of the sights, such as the Cathedral and Abbey St Vaast, founded in the 7th century and giving birth to the medieval town.

But underground is where the real story lies.
Les Boves, as they are known, are a network of underground tunnels and chambers, originally created back in the 10th century as limestone quarries for building materials to reduce the outbreaks of fires in the predominantly wooden houses of the time.
They lie underneath the Place des Heros and the surrounding buildings, and have been used over the years as cellars, warehouses for the market traders, and bomb shelters during the Second World War.
Les souterraines are at 3 different levels, at 4, 8 and 12 metres below ground.

And now for the most extraordinary tale. Arras was in the frontline during the First World War.

It was largely destroyed in 1914.
But in 1916 the Allies devised a cunning plan.
New Zealand tunnellers linked the quarries together creating a vast underground network that billeted 24,000 men.
Yes, in preparation for a surprise attack on the German frontline, twenty four thousand men lived in these tunnels, which had kitchen, toilet and medical facilities and a small railroad!

The attack, sadly, was only a limited success, but the feelings of the local populace towards the British and Commonwealth soldiers is clearly reflected in the Arras press at the time.

Arras is also the birthplace of Robespierre, central figure in the French Revolution and driving force behind the subsequent Reign of Terror. And, according to sa mère, an all-round nice guy.

So all in all not your typical tourist trap, but if, like your favourite Elephant, you just want to visit French towns, meet French people and eat French food, then this is a great place.

Bon voyage!

About AnElephantCant

An artist/writer/poet combination whose blogs reflect an approach to life that celebrates nature and takes a tongue-in-cheek view of most issues. So you get rhymes and doodles, photographs and comment. Irreverent and irrelevant. Occasionally funny, sometimes serious, mostly pointless.
This entry was posted in Daft Rhymes, france and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Souterraines Homesick Bleus

  1. LuAnn says:

    Great photography and history lesson. I continue to add to my bucket list, thanks to these wonderful blogs. 🙂


  2. pennycoho says:

    Sigh, it does look excellent from my point of view. The photographs are magnificent and the tour, while not as good as it might be if I were there in person, non-the-less I really enjoyed this pictorial narrative very much. I didn’t know the history of Arras at all so this is fascinating to me as well. Thank you very much! My friend! Penny


  3. Sally Smith says:

    This was a fascinating post that has made me want to visit Arras. It looks beautiful and the history even more interesting than I had thought. Thank you Anelephant who can paint pictures with words as well as take photos! 🙂


  4. Alastair says:

    AnElephant certainly gave a history lesson there.

    With those giants; one of the towns near here that I used to live in is linked to Calais, and they have the Giants come through every year. I think I may have some photos somewhere that I may be able to dig out. From a long time ago when digital cameras cost about £600 for a 1.2mp

    Thanks for the post, very informative.


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