Last modified: 2003-05-31 by ivan sache
Keywords: nord | douai | letter: d (yellow) |
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by Pascal Vagnat
Douai is a city of 50,000 inhabitants (more than 250,000 when including outskirts), sous-préfecture of the department of Nord.
The first mention of Douai, as the Castellum Duacum owned
by the Count of Flanders, dates back to
year 930. The city was granted its first charter before 1188 and was
ruled by a council of échevins (this word is still used
for the municipal councillors in the French-speaking part of
Belgium) until 1789.
In 1562, King of Spain Philip II founded in Douai a University in order to fight the Reformation and Douai became a Roman Catholic fortress. Douai was a very rich city known for cloth industry. In 1667, King of France Louis XVI decided to invade Flanders. Douai was besieged on 2 August and surrendered on 6 August. By the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668), Flanders was incorporated definitively to France. In 1716, the Parliament of Flanders, which had essentially judicial power, was established in Douai. The collegiate church, built in 1740, was the largest church in the north of France.
After the French Revolution, the Parliament and the University were suppressed but the préfecture of the new department of Nord was established in Douai (1790, later moved to Lille). The industrial revolution started with the opening of the railway line Paris-Lille (1846), on which Douai was an important station. In 1895, the Scarpe Canal was opened and Douai became the second canal transport center in France after Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. Douai was severely destroyed during the two World Wars.
Famous people were borne in Douai, including Robert de Douai (XIIIth century), a physicist who founded with Robert de Sorbon the Sorbonne University in Paris; Charles Alexandre de Calonne (1704-1802), Contrôleur général des Finances from 1783 to 1787, who attempted to reform the tax system of the Ancient Regime; the elegiac poetess Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (1786-1859); the engineer Charles Bourseul (1829-1912), inventor of the telephone in France; the painter Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910), member of Seurat and Signac's divisionist movement; the aircraft manufacturers Jacques (1883-1929) and Louis (1880-1955) Bréguet, whose gyroplane is considered as the first helicopter; and the conducer Georges Prêtre, who was one of Maria Callas' prefered accompanists.
However, Douai most famous child is undoubtly Gayant, born in 1530. Gayant is 7.5 m high and weights 370 kgs. Gayant is the oldest of the giants (the name Gayant is a local variation of the French géant) of the North of France. Gayant was offered by the guild of manneliers (wickerworkers) for the procession of St. Maurand, the saint patron of Douai. One year later, the guild of fruiterers offered him a wife, Marie Cajenon, only 6.5 m high. They got three children named Jacquot, Fillon and Binbin in 1720. The Gayant festival was suppressed in 1770 by the Bishop of Arras and resumed in 1801. The current design of the giants dates back to 1821. The festival starts every year the next Sunday after the 5th of July and lasts three days. Douai is nicknamed "the City of the Giants" and its inhabitants "Gayant's childrens".
Ivan Sache, 22 August 2002
The flag of Douai is yellow with the municipal coat of arms placed in the middle of the flag. The Cross of the Légion d'Honneur and two War Crosses are appended below the municipal arms.
Ivan Sache, 22 August 2002