Nord-Pas de Calais

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Template:Nord-Pas-de-Calais infobox Nord-Pas de Calais is one of the 26 rgions of France. It combines the dpartements of Nord and Pas-de-Calais, in the far north of the country, bordering with Belgium. 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, Bthune, Dunkirk, Maubeuge, Calais, Boulogne-sur-Mer and Arras.

History

Inhabited since prehistoric times, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region has always been one of the most strategic (and hence one of the most fought-over) regions of France. 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 barbarian Franks and the Alamanni. It was bitterly contested by England, France and Burgundy in the Hundred Years War before finally becoming part of the Kingdom of France in the 15th century. It was annexed to the Spanish Netherlands in 1598, having been offered as part of a wedding dowry. The region was re-annexed to France in the 17th century, though not without considerable opposition on the part of the (mostly Flemish) population. It was divided into its present two dpartements 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.

Demographics

While the region is predominately French-speaking, it also has two significant minority language communities: the western Flemings, whose presence is evident in the many Flemish placenames in the area and who speak the West Flemish language, and the Picards, who speak the Picard language. In addition, the region's ethnic diversity has been affected by repeated waves of immigrant workers from abroad - Belgians before 1910, Poles and Italians in the 1920s and 1930s, and North Africans since 1945.

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.

Economy

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 did less well than other parts of France in the subsequent recoveries. In recent years, it experienced an economic slump 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, benefitted 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.


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