Cambrai, formerly Cambray and historically in English Camerick or Camericke, is a commune in the Nord department and in the Hauts-de-France region of France on the Scheldt river, which is known locally as the Escaut river.
Cambrai today is a lively city and, despite the past destruction, maintains a rich monumental heritage. Cambrai is affirmed as the urban centre of Cambrésis. Its economic life is strengthened by its position on the main local highway and river.
|Mayor (2020–2026)||François-Xavier Villain|
|Area1||18.12 km2 (7.00 sq mi)|
|Time zone||UTC+01:00 (CET)|
|Summer (DST)||UTC+02:00 (CEST)|
The town of Cambrai is located in the south of the Nord Department, of which it is chef-lieu of the arrondissement. It belongs to the dense network of the cities of the area which are separated by a few tens of kilometres. Cambrai is not very far from several European capitals: Brussels is 108 kilometres (67 mi), Paris is 160 kilometres (99 mi) and London is 280 kilometres (170 mi).
The city was born and developed on the right bank of the Scheldt river. Locally known as the Escaut, the river has its source in the department of Aisne, which is barely any more than 20 kilometres (12 mi) away.
Cambrai railway station is connected by direct trains (TER) to Lille, Douai, Valenciennes, Saint-Quentin, Reims. Direct connections on weekdays are fifteen trains per day, with a journey time of about 30 minutes between Douai and Cambrai; eight trains, with a journey time often less than an hour, to Lille-Flandres station; ten trains, with a time of little more than 40 minutes on average to Valenciennes and a dozen trains, with a journey time of around 50 minutes, to Saint-Quentin.
Cambrai is directly connected by rail to any European city, but links to Paris (Gare du Nord) are mediocre if compared to those of the neighbouring cities.
The city is located at the junction of the Saint-Quentin canal to the Oise and Paris and the Canal de l’Escaut, which leads to the Dunkerque-Escaut canal. Commercial traffic on these canals is low, of the order of 250,000 tonnes upstream of Cambrai and 420,000 tonnes downstream. A marina is located at the junction of the two canals, at Cambrai-Cantimpré.
Cambrai is in close proximity to two airfields: Cambrai-Epinoy, to the north-west, whose use was booked at the Airbase 103 until its closure in 2012, and Cambrai Niergnies, 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) to the southeast, opened to recreational aviation.
Within an approximate radius of 1 hr 30 mins by road are five major airports: Lille-Lesquin, Brussels South Charleroi, Brussels National, Paris Beauvais-Tillé and Paris Charles-de-Gaulle.
Cambrai is the seat of a pool of training divided into three districts (Cambrai-North, Cambrai-South and Cambrai-Le Cateau) and dependent on the Education Authorities of Nord and the Academy of Lille.
The city administers twelve nursery schools, and eleven elementary schools. The department manages four colleges: Jules-Ferry, Fénelon, Lamartine and Paul-Duez.
The Nord-Pas-de-Calais region operates four high schools: Fénelon, Paul-Duez and the vocational Louise de Bettignies and Louis-Blériot. Cambrai also has a private institution, the ensemble of Saint-Luc, bringing together three former private schools merged in September 2009.
Cambrai hosts two branches of the University of Valenciennes and Hainaut-Cambresis (UVHC), and Lille-2.
UVHC antenna prepares eleven diplomas, which include of DUT, IUP, Master Pro, professional licenses (including “Cultural Actions and Promotion of Heritage” and “Trades of Archaeology”) and licenses.
The branch of Lille-2 prepares to obtain a license “mention droit” or “mention economic and social administration”, as well as three professional licenses: For management of small-medium businesses, for transportation of goods and for security professions.
Other institutions of higher education in Cambrai are the Ecole Supérieure of Art of Cambrai and the Institute of Nursing Education.
The Saint-Julien hospital, which housed the poor and the sick, was founded in 1070. Today it remains as a chapel adjoining the municipal theatre. The Central Hospital of Cambrai has a capacity of 770 beds and 108 seats. It employs a staff of 150 officers and has a non-medical staff of 1,200. Three annex buildings are reserved for medium and long stay, maternity (1982) and Psychiatry (1983–1884) patients. A Nursing Training Institute was opened in 1967.
Cambrai has three private clinics: The Sainte-Marie Clinic, Saint-Roch clinic and the Cambrésis Clinic.
Cambrai is the seat of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Cambrésis. In April 2007, it decided to merge with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Arras, a decision which was called into question on 4 October 2007, by the Ministry of Supervision of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Business and shops
There are four zones and parks of activity in the agglomeration:
- The industrial zone of Cantimpré, to the south-west of the city.
- The Actipole Park, on the edge of the A2 autoroute 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) west of Cambrai.
- The zone of Fontaine-Notre-Dame.
- The zone of South Cambrai Proville, one kilometre to the south of Cambrai.
The economy of Cambrai is based on four pillars:
- The agri-food industry, which occupies an important place in the economy of the commune (confectionery, candy, dairy, etc.) due to strong agricultural activity (intensive farming of livestock and cereals) in the arrondissement.
- Logistics, benefitting from the situation of the commune of Cambrai in the heart of the triangle London–Paris–Benelux and the intersection of two motorways.
- Textile, found predominantly in the rest of the arrondissement (Caudry, Villers-Outréaux, etc.) is represented in Cambrai by clothing and linens.
The Central Hospital of Cambrai, the commune of Cambrai, Auchan, Les Papillons blancs, Cora, TANIS (chemistry, rubber, plastic), the Compagnie des Engrenages et Réducteurs Messiaen Durand (mechanical equipment) and the departmental fire and rescue service were, in order, the eight major employers in the town, in 2008.
Local culture and heritage
Sites and monuments
A large part of the monumental heritage of Cambrai has disappeared over the centuries. It was firstly Charles V, in order to build a citadel at the Mont-des-Bœufs, who ordered the destruction of the Abbey Saint-Gery of Gothic style in 1543. During the French Revolution all of the religious buildings of the town were sold as national property and destroyed, including the old cathedral. Only four churches, a converted attic, a hospital, a Temple of reason and a prison, were spared.
Despite this considerable destruction, the city kept an important monumental heritage. Cambrai has been classified as a City of Art and History since 1992, the first town of the Nord department to obtain this prestigious label.
The Our Lady of Grace Cathedral was completed in 1703, in the classical style of the time, as the abbey church of the Holy Sepulchre. The church survived the turbulence of the French Revolution as a Temple of Reason from 1794. The admirable Gothic Cathedral from the 12th century was destroyed in the aftermath the Revolution of 1789. There is no trace on the present Place Fénelon of the former building. Bishop Louis Belmas adopted the former abbey church as the new cathedral in 1801.
The Grand Seminary Chapel
The Grand Seminary Chapel most commonly called the College of the Jesuits’ Chapel, completed in 1692, is a unique example of Baroque art in France, to the north of Paris. The chapel served as a prison to the nearby Revolutionary Court in 1794, and it was classified in the inventory of Historic Monuments on 30 April 1920.
Other buildings of Cambrai are also classified or listed as Historic Monuments. The former Convent of the Recollects, the Béguinages Saint-Vaast and Saint-Nicolas and The Church of Saint-Géry.
- The Citadel
- The Château de Selles
- The Portes de Paris
- Notre Dame
- the Tours des Sottes
- the Caudron
- The Belfry of Cambrai, formerly the bell tower of the Church of Saint-Martin.
- The city hall, renovated in 1932, opens onto the Grand’Place by a majestic Greek-style façade, surmounted by a bell tower where two bronze bell ringers, giant and Moorish type, strike the hours on a big bell above the big clock.
- The Hotel de Francqueville (18th century) houses the rich collections of the Museum of Cambrai.
- The Maison Espagnole [Spanish House], headquarters of the Tourist Office, dates from 1595 and is the last house which is half-timbered and gabled on regional-style street.
- The covered market, built after World War II, is home to lively Les Halles market days.
The current public garden dates from the 19th century, which saw the creation of green spaces in the middle to encourage hygienics and which were liberated in addition to the areas occupied by the fortifications. This garden, divided into three distinct but contiguous parts, is located on the site of the old fortifications that surrounded the citadel built under Charles V:
- The “flower garden”, designed by the landscape architect Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps.
- The “Monstrelet Garden” designed “in English”, was soon added to the previous. It is so called because it houses a statue of Enguerrand de Monstrelet, chronicler of the Middle Ages who was the Provost of Cambrai.
- The “garden of caves”. The “caves”, decorated with a waterfall, were the main attraction and gave their name to this part of the garden.
These gardens, and in particular their statues, were damaged by the two world wars. In 1972, a modern hall, named as the Palais des Grottes [Mansion of Caves] and hosting exhibitions, trade fairs and concerts, was built in the middle of the garden of the same name.
- The Musée des beaux-arts of Cambrai.
- The Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art still officially retains its label “Musée de France”, although it was closed to the public in 1975. This private museum is managed by the diocese, which is looking for ways to reopen the collections to the public.
- The Théâtre de Cambrai was built in 1924 by the architect Pierre Leprince-Ringuet, on the site of a chapel of the 16th century which was destroyed during World War I.
- The Palais des grottes [Mansion of Caves] situated in the public garden, is a large multi-purpose hall with a capacity of 1,500 people and which can accommodate concerts.
- The media library is a classified municipal library.
- Cambrai has a national school of music and dramatic arts which obtained the Conservatoire à rayonnement départemental label in 2007.
The two best-known gastronomic specialties of Cambrai are the Andouillette de Cambrai, a sausage traditionally made of ground veal , which associated gastronomic society is one of the most representative in the region, and the Bêtise de Cambrai, a coated mint confection which is one of the most emblematic gourmet specialties of France.
The gastronomy of Cambrai also accounts for other less known specialities: Tripe, liver pâté with plums, hare with grapes, hochepot of partridge with puréed lentils, but also the Boulette de Cambrai, fromage blanc with fine herbs, and also a cheese trademarked as “Tome de Cambrai”, or even crackers and pain crotté (a type of French toast).
Cambrai has over a hundred clubs or sporting associations, including the Cambrai Hockey Club [playing in the Women’s field hockey Championship of France, as well as the team of Cambrai Volley Élan du Cambrésis which plays in the League (2nd division) and is the only professional club of le Cambrésis.
Facilities include six gymnasiums, two swimming pools, of which the Liberty Swimming Centre, the Arsenal de Balagny, abandoned by the army in 1967 and then rehabilitated as a gym, a leisure centre, a hockey stadium, a rugby stadium and many football pitches, including the Liberty Stadium, home of AC Cambrai. Cambrai has a rowing club that goes under the name of Union Nautique de Cambrai. The club is regularly present to the Rowing French Championships. I
The game of billon is practiced traditionally in regions of Cambrai and Douai.