From the Middle Ages until the late twentieth century, great Flemish cities like Lille, Roubaix, Douai and Cambrai flourished, mainly thanks to their textile industries. The other dominating – but now virtually extinct – presence in this part of northern France was the coalfields and related industries, which, at their nineteenth-century peak stretched from Béthune in the west to Valenciennes in the east. At Lewarde you can visit one of the pits, while in the region’s big industrial cities you can see what the masters built with their profits: noble townhouses, magnificent city halls, ornate churches and some of the country’s finest art collections.

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