August 7, 2018
Lens is the quintessential urban ugly duckling of northern France, a town whose reason for existence in the modern era was industry that brought tremendous wealth in its time, but with the shuttering of its industries, was reduced to the image of urban blight and decay. And yet Lens is also a showcase for turn-of-the-century modernism and Art Deco, visible in an ample range of its modest but charming kaleidoscope of architecture.
In terms of its history, Lens dates to the times of the Norman invasions, having initially been equipped with fortifications against the Normans. In 1180, it was owned by the Count of Flanders, and sovereignty was exercised by the Crown of France. Then in the 13th century, Lens received a charter from Louis VIII of France, allowing it to become a city. In 1526, Lens was made part of the Spanish Netherlands under the ownership of the French monarchy, then passed back to France on 7 November 1659 with the Treaty of the Pyrenees.
In 1849, coal was discovered in Lens after surveys were carried out at Annay, Courrières and Loos-en-Gohelle, leading to the foundation of the lucrative Lens Mining Company in 1852. Lens was largely destroyed in the First World War, and half of the population perished. The last coal mine in Lens closed in 1986.
Prime attractions in the town of Lens include the Louvre-Lens, a modernist construction of glass that presents a selection of the Louvre’s most prestigious pieces, the Bollaert-Delelis Stadium, a remnant of the city’s mining past, and proud home of the Racing-Club de Lens, a stronghold of French football, and the twin slag heaps that are icons of the town’s mining history.
The railway station is another historic modernist structure in Lens, and was built in 1926-1927 to resemble a steam locomotive with a 23 metre high tower as the chimney. Lens also acts as springboard for visits to nearby World War I memorials of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, France’s largest military cemetery and the Canadian Vimy Ridge memorial.
(Narrative excerpted from Wikipedia and france.fr).