Let's go for a dander

The Lille citadelle Prey in sight Go away ! I am tired Porcupine and Mongeese I'm the lookout man Do not try this on the clothes' line Debs being brave Run away!
Click on the thumbnails for a larger picture Do the bump Stopping for a refill The hospice chapel The refectory Pressing the linen The hospice courtyard Page 1

The citadelle and zoo

11 August 2008

It was a bit grey first thing in the morning but we decided to risk staying in town and going for a walk over to the citadelle and zoo. Anton and Debs had already been once but had enjoyed the zoo enough to want to go again.

The story of Lille is as bound up with the Burgundians, Charles Quint and Louis XIV as that of Arras. In effect L'isle (The island) was the home of the Count of Flanders; set up on a dry patch of ground in the middle of the marsh.

The counts were a powerful force to be reckoned with and in the 13th Century sided with Boulogne and England against Philippe II of France. Not as powerful as they thought they were; they lost the war to the French and the count was captured leaving his wife to run the county. She was called Jeanne and would found a hospice which still stands to this day.

Time passed and the county came, by marriage, into the hands of the Duke of Burgundy. Under Duke Philippe the Good Lille became the administrative centre of a duchy more prosperous than France herself - to which in theory the Duke owed his allegiance.

In 1477 Louis XI of France finally had it out with Charles the Bold, the last Duke of Burgundy. Louis won the war and Charles was killed, but by very quick sleight of hand Charles's daughter was married off to Maximilian the Holy Roman Emperor.

He in turn left his empire to Charles Quint (Soon also to become Charles V: King of Spain). Whilst all this was going on, the French King: Louis XIII (he of the musketeers) decided that it was high time that Flanders returned to France and with Cardinal Richlieu set about slowly taking the province. In fact it would be Louis XIV who would finally besiege and take Lille in 1667.

To keep the Austrians of the Empire at bay he had his architect Vauban create a citadelle which is still used today as a military barracks.

The second governor of Lille (1672) would be Charles D'Artagnan, the celebrated hero of Dumas's novels, but an unpopular governor nonetheless.

The outer perimeter walk is almost two kilometres and as we walked our way around we were passed by numerous joggers making the most of the flat circuit. Part of the moat still exists and we spotted fish and wee turtles swimming about. We also watched as one of the military dogs (A British one at that) take a rabbit in full flight, much to the embarrassment of its trainer, and a small falcon diving off the walls in search of prey.

We asked the security man on the gate why the citadelle was called the Boufflers Barracks but he hadn't a clue. Just in case he ever reads this: Boufflers was one of Louis XIV's marshals and most highly regarded generals. He was responsible for the taking of Mons in 1691 and became the governor of Lille and French Flanders in 1694. He held out in Lille against Marlborough for three months in 1707 before being allowed to dictate his own terms of surrender. Recalled to service he commanded the French retreat from the battle of Malplaquet in 1709 neither losing a man nor a gun in the process.


Immediately outside the citadelle is a memorial to the homing pigeons of World War 1 and the small city zoo.

The zoo is free and whilst you might think that it would consist of little apart from farm animals, you would be wrong for there is a reasonable collection of birds, monkeys, fluffy things like meercats and llamas, as well as zebra and two rhinos.

On their first visit Debs had been attacked by a peacock and this time Anton and I encouraged her to approach a pelican which was quite contentedly sitting on the footpath. It ignored her so we don't have any funny photos of Debbie.

Just at that moment though one of the keepers came along and ushered it back to one of the paddocks, much to the horror of a group of tots who were standing nearby. I suppose that when you are the same height as a pelican it can be pretty frightening (Which is of course why Anton and I stood with our cameras egging Debbie on! ).

Having watched the rhinos bashing each others heads, the apes swinging about on their ropes and the emu trying to take our toes off we set off back towards the old town.

We had considered going to see Charles de Gaulle's home but it was closed on Mondays so we settled on the hospice set up by Countess Jeanne in 1236. It has gone through many transformations including two serious fires in the 15th and 17th centuries.

We had hoped to see how the nuns had lived and something about how they cared for their patients, but in effect it is now more of a mini art gallery than a museum.

The chapel adjoining the old hospital ward was interesting with a carved wooden roof painted in the coats of arms of those houses that had helped maintain the hospice. There is a list of the officers who had died of wounds inflicted during the French victory over the English at Fontenoy in 1745.

The building itself is quite interesting and some of the old furniture beautifully preserved. The bench and tables reminded us a bit of old schools and I loved the linen press.

Anton was very bad and forgot to turn the flash off on his camera. He was all but followed for the rest of the visit by one of the stewards who obviously had nothing better to do.

Thus Debs's birthday trip came to an end and we had to have a last beer before collecting their bags and walking the few minutes to the train station. By and large the weather had been kind and apart from Le Quesnoy we hadn't really needed our brollies.

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See also

Simon's Birthday

The Dubliners: July 2008