Cambrai history

Visitors are often surprised when they arrive at Cambrai: they don't usually expect such tumultuous past in this town. Come and see by yourself!

Cambrai has 33 500 inhabitants and is situated in the Escaut Valley, bordering on the regions of Hainaut and Artois.


Referred to as “City of Art and history”, Cambrai possesses a rich architectural abundance of exceptional interest accounted for by seventeen centuries of a rich and unique past.


Cambrai's origins can be traced back to the Gallo-Roman period. Cambrai becomes the capital of the Nerviens instead of Bavay in the IV century, but it is in the VI century that the town really soared thanks to the establishment of episcopal activity.


The Middle-Ages was the city's golden age. Cambrai occupied a strategic position, being the frontier between the Kingdom of France and the German Holy Empire.


The town continued to develop whilst sheltered by its fortifications. Governed by counts and bishops, Cambrai was powerful and wealthy. Cambrai became a city affluent in culture, art and intellect alike.


Cambrai has numerous religious buildings, one of which is its famed gothic cathedral referred as “marvel of the Netherlands”. In the middle of the XVI century, Charles Quint built in Cambrai a powerful citadel. The following century, Cambrai, under Spanish occupation, knew a new period of prosperity and became an important centre of the baroque art.


Louis XIV took over the citadel in 1677. The return of French influence is visible on houses and religious buildings alike. The French Revolution ended religious apogee of the town. However three remarkable churches still remain: the Jesuits’ Chapel, the St Gery Church and the former abbey-church nowadays named “Our lady of Grace Cathedral”.


In the XIX century, Cambrai stayed very much in the background of the industrialization of the region which focused intensely on mining.


Cambrai had traditional activities such as textile and farm produce industries.


During the First World War, Cambrai was invaded and heavily bombed, leaving it badly damaged. In reconstructing the city, many modifications were made, notably taking a more “Art Deco” style.


The Second World War gravely affected the town's outskirts. Subsequent reconstruction of houses affected the look of the suburbs.


Come and discover the history of the town through its streets. Remains of its fortifications, religious buildings, private hotels, Art Deco houses…

Witness the rich past and its tie to the city as it is now.

Office de Tourisme du Cambrésis
48,rue Henri de Lubac
Tél: +3 3( 0) 32 77 83 61 5



Whether they follow the Escaut, drive along country roads, discover the picturesque alleys of the old Cambrai, fortified farms, museums, learn about Matisse and Blériot, lace ang giants, tourists will understand why the inhabitants of this part of France are so happy to welcome them and will feel like coming back.

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