Arras is one of the most architecturally striking towns in northern France, the cobblestoned squares of its old centre surrounded by ornate Baroque townhouses that hark back to its Flemish past. It was renowned for its tapestries in the Middle Ages, giving its name to the hangings behind which Shakespeare’s Polonius was killed by Hamlet. During World War I, British and New Zealand miners dug tunnels under the town to surprise the Germans to the northeast, while the Germans bombarded the town. Only a handful of the famous medieval Arras tapestries survived the conflict, including The Annunciation, now on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Reconstruction after the war was meticulous, and the townhouses lining the grand arcaded Flemish- and Dutch-style squares in the central Grand’Place and the smaller place des Héros preserve the historic character.