ARRAS, a city of northern France, chief town of the department of Pas-de-Calais, 38 m. N.N.E. of Amiens on the Northern railway between that city and Lille. Pop (1906) 20,738. Arras is situated in a fertile plain on the right and southern bank of the Scarpe, at its junction with the Crinchon which skirts the town on the south and east. Of the fortifications erected by Vauban in the 17th century, only a gateway and the partially dismantled citadel, nicknamed la Belle Inutile, are left. The most interesting quarter lies in the east of the town, where the lofty houses which border the spacious squares known as the Grande and the Petite Place are in the Flemish style. They are built with their upper storeys projecting over the footway and supported on columns so as to form arcades; beneath these are deep cellars extending under the squares themselves. The celebrated hôtel de ville of the 16th century overlooks the Petite Place; its belfry, which contains a fine peal of bells, rises to a height of 240 ft. The decoration is in the richest Gothic style, and is especially admirable in the case of the windows. Of the numerous ecclesiastical buildings the cathedral, a church of the 18th century possessing some good pictures, is the most important. It occupies the site of the church of the abbey of St Vaast, the buildings of which adjoin it and contain the bishop's palace, the ecclesiastical seminary, a museum of antiquities, paintings and sculptures, and a rich library.
Arras is the seat of a prefect and of a bishop. It has tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a chamber of commerce, a branch of the Bank of France, a communal college, training colleges, and a school of military engineering. Its industrial establishments include oil-works, dye-works and breweries, and manufactories of hosiery, railings and other iron-work, and of oil-cake. For the tapestry manufacture formerly flourishing at Arras see Tapestry. It has a very important market for cereals and oleaginous grains. The trade of the town is facilitated by the canalization of the Scarpe, the basin of which forms the port.
Before the opening of the Christian era Arras was known as Nemetacum, or Nemetocenna, and was the chief town of the Atrebates, from which the word Arras is derived. Passing under the rule of the Romans, it became a place of some importance, and traces of the Roman occupation have been found. In 407 it was destroyed by the Vandals, and having been partially rebuilt, came into the hands of the Franks. Christianity was introduced by St Vedast (Vaast), who founded a bishopric at Arras about 500. This was soon transferred to Cambrai, but brought back to its original seat about 1100. As the chief town of the province of Artois, Arras passed to Baldwin I., count of Flanders, in 863, and about 880 was ravaged by the Normans. During this troubled period it retained some vestiges of its former trade, and the woollen manufacture was established here at an early date. Early in the 12th century a commune was established here, but the earliest known charter only dates from about 1180; owing to the importance of Arras, this soon became a model for many neighbouring communes. At this time the city appears to have been divided into two parts, one dependent upon the bishop, and the other upon the count. When Philip Augustus, king of France, married Isabella, niece of Philip, count of Flanders, Arras came under the rule of the French king, who confirmed its privileges in 1194. As part of Artois it came in 1237 to Robert, son of Louis VIII., king of France, and in 1384 to Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy, who promised to respect its privileges. Anxious to recover the city for France, Louis XI. placed a garrison therein after the death of Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy, in 1477. This was driven out by the inhabitants, and Louis then stormed Arras, razed the walls, deported the citizens, whose places were taken by Frenchmen, and changed the name to Franchise. The successor of Louis, Charles VIII., restored the city to its former name and position, and as part of the inheritance of Mary, daughter and heiress of Charles the Bold, it was contended for by the French king, and his rival, the German king, Maximilian I. The peace of Senlis in 1493 gave Arras to Maximilian, and in spite of attacks by the French, it remained under the rule of the Habsburgs until 1640. Taken in this year by the French, this capture was ratified by the peace of the Pyrenees in 1659, and henceforward it remained part of France. It suffered severely during the French Revolution, especially from Joseph Lebon, who, like the brothers Maximilien and Augustin Robespierre, was a native of the town. Owing to its position and importance, Arras has been the scene of various treaties. In 1414 the peace between the Armagnacs and the Burgundians was made here, and in 1435 a congress met here to make peace between the English and their Burgundian allies on the one side, and the French on the other, and after the English representatives had withdrawn, a treaty was signed on the 20th of September between France and Burgundy. In 1482 Louis XI. made a treaty here with the estates and towns of Flanders about the inheritance of Mary of Burgundy, wife of the German king Maximilian I.
See E. Lecesne, Histoire d'Arras jusqu'en 1789 (Arras, 1880); Arras sous la Révolution (Arras, 1882-1883).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)