As of 2009, Lille had a population of 226,827 within its administrative limits, and an urban population of 1,015,744, making it the fifth largest urban area in France after Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse.
Archeological digs seem to show the area as inhabited by as early as 2000 BC, most notably in the modern-day quartiers of Fives, Wazemmes, and Vieux Lille. The original inhabitants of this region were the Gauls, such as the Menapians, the Morins, the Atrebates, and the Nervians, who were followed by Germanic peoples: the Saxons, the Frisians and the Franks.
The legend of "Lydéric and Phinaert" puts the foundation of the city of Lille at 640. In the 8th century, the language of Old Low Franconian was spoken here, as attested by toponymic research. Lille's Dutch name is Rijsel, which comes from ter ijsel (at the island). The French equivalent has the same meaning: Lille comes from l'île (the island).
From 830 until around 910, the Vikings invaded Flanders. After the destruction caused by Norman and Magyar invasion, the eastern part of the region was ruled by various local princes.
The first mention of the town dates from 1066: apud Insulam (Latin for "at the island"). At the time, it was controlled by the County of Flanders, as were the regional cities (the Roman cities Boulogne, Arras, Cambrai as well as the Carolingian cities Valenciennes, Saint-Omer, Ghent and Bruges). The County of Flanders thus extended to the left bank of the Scheldt, one of the richest and most prosperous regions of Europe.
A notable local in this period was Évrard, who lived in the 9th century and participated in many of the day's political and military affairs. There was an important Battle of Lille in 1054.
From the 12th century, the fame of the Lille cloth fair began to grow. In 1144 Saint-Sauveur parish was formed, which would give its name to the modern-day quartier Saint-Sauveur.
The counts of Flanders, Boulogne, and Hainaut came together with England and East Frankia and tried to regain territory taken by Philip II of France following Henry II of England's death, a war that ended with the French victory at Bouvines in 1214. Infante Ferdinand, Count of Flanders was imprisoned and the county fell into dispute: it would be his wife, Jeanne, Countess of Flanders and Constantinople, who ruled the city. She was said to be well loved by the residents of Lille, who by that time numbered 10,000.
In 1225, the street performer and juggler Bertrand Cordel, doubtlessly encouraged by local lords, tried to pass himself off as Baldwin I of Constantinople (the father of Jeanne of Flanders), who had disappeared at the battle of Adrianople. He pushed the kingdoms of Flanders and Hainaut towards sedition against Jeanne in order to recover his land. She called her cousin, Louis VIII ("The Lion"). He unmasked the imposter, whom Countess Jeanne quickly had hanged. In 1226 the King agreed to free Infante Ferdinand, Count of Flanders. Count Ferrand died in 1233, and his daughter Marie soon after. In 1235, Jeanne granted a city charter by which city governors would be chosen each All Saint's Day by four commissioners chosen by the ruler. On 6 February 1236, she founded the Countess's Hospital (Hospice Comtesse), which remains one of the most beautiful buildings in Old Lille. It was in her honour that the hospital of the Regional Medical University of Lille was named "Jeanne of Flanders Hospital" in the 20th century.
The Countess died in 1244 in the Abbey of Marquette, leaving no heirs. The rule of Flanders and Hainaut thus fell to her sister, Margaret II, Countess of Flanders, then to Margaret's son, Guy of Dampierre. Lille fell under the rule of France from 1304 to 1369, after the Franco-Flemish War (1297-1305).
The county of Flanders fell to the Duchy of Burgundy next, after the 1369 marriage of Margaret III, Countess of Flanders, and Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Lille thus became one of the three capitals of said Duchy, along with Brussels and Dijon. By 1445, Lille counted some 25,000 residents. Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, was even more powerful than the King of France, and made Lille an administrative and financial capital.
On 17 February 1454, one year after the taking of Constantinople by the Turks, Philip the Good organised a Pantagruelian banquet at his Lille palace, the still-celebrated "Feast of the Pheasant". There the Duke and his court undertook an oath to Christianity.
In 1477, at the death of the last duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, Mary of Burgundy married Maximilian of Austria, who thus became Count of Flanders.
The 16th and 17th centuries were marked by a boom in the regional textile industry, the Protestant revolts, and outbreaks of the Plague.
Lille came under the rule of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1519. The Low Countries fell to his eldest son Philip II of Spain in 1555. The city remained under Spanish Habsburg rule until 1668. Calvinism first appeared in the area in 1542; by 1555 the authorities were taking steps to suppress this form of Protestantism. In 1566 the countryside around Lille was affected by the Iconoclastic Fury. In 1578, the Hurlus, a group of Protestant rebels, stormed the castle of the Counts of Mouscron. They were removed four months later by a Catholic Wallon regiment, after which they tried several times between 1581 and 1582 to take the city of Lille, all in vain. The Hurlus were notably held back by the legendary Jeanne Maillotte. At the same time (1581), at the call of Elizabeth I of England, the north of the Seventeen Provinces, having gained a Protestant majority, successfully revolted and formed the United Provinces. The war brought or exacerbated periods of famine and plague (the last in 1667–69).
The first printer to set up shop in Lille was Antoine Tack in 1594. The 17th century saw the building of new institutions: an Irish College in 1610, a Jesuit college in 1611, an Augustinian college in 1622, almshouses or hospitals such as the Maison des Vieux hommes in 1624 and the Bonne et Forte Maison des Pauvres in 1661, and of a Mont-de-piété in 1626.
Unsuccessful French attacks on the city were launched in 1641 and 1645. In 1667, Louis XIV of France (the Sun King) successfully laid siege to Lille, resulting in it becoming French in 1668 under the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, provoking discontent among the citizens of the prosperous city. A number of important public works undertaken between 1667 and 1670, such as the Citadel (erected by Vauban), or the creation of the quartiers of Saint-André and la Madeleine, enabled the King to gradually gain the confidence of his new subjects in Lille, some of whom continued to feel Flemish, though they had always spoken the Romance Picard language.
For five years, from 1708 to 1713, the city was occupied by the Dutch, during the War of the Spanish Succession. Throughout the 18th century, Lille remained profoundly Catholic. It took little part in the French Revolution, though there were riots and the destruction of churches. In 1790, the city held its first municipal elections.
In 1792, in the aftermath of the French Revolution, the Austrians, then in the United Provinces, laid siege to Lille. The "Column of the Goddess", erected in 1842 in the "Grand-Place" (officially named Place du Général-de-Gaulle), is a tribute to the city's resistance, led by Mayor François André-Bonte. Although Austrian artillery destroyed many houses and the main church of the city, the city did not surrender and the Austrian army left after eight days.
The city continued to grow, and by 1800 held some 53,000 residents, leading to Lille becoming the county seat of the Nord départment in 1804. In 1846, a rail line connecting Paris and Lille was built. At the beginning of the 19th century, Napoleon I's continental blockade against the United Kingdom led to Lille's textile industry developing even more fully. The city was known for its cotton while the nearby towns of Roubaix and Tourcoing worked wool. Leisure activities were thoroughly organized in 1858 for the 80,000 inhabitants. Cabarets or taverns for the working class numbered 1300, or one for every three houses. At that time the city counted 63 drinking and singing clubs, 37 clubs for card players, 23 for bowling, 13 for skittles, and 18 for archery. The churches likewise have their social organizations. Each club had a long roster of officers, and a busy schedule of banquets festivals and competitions. In 1853, Alexandre Desrousseaux composed his lullaby P'tit quinquin.
In 1858, Lille annexed the adjacent towns of Fives, Wazemmes, and Moulins. Lille's population was 158,000 in 1872, growing to over 200,000 by 1891. In 1896 Lille became the first city in France to be led by a socialist, Gustave Delory.
By 1912, Lille's population stood at 217,000. The city profited from the Industrial Revolution, particularly via coal and the steam engine. The entire region grew wealthy thanks to its mines and textile industry.
Lille's occupation by the Germans began on 13 October 1914 after a ten-day siege and heavy shelling which destroyed 882 apartment and office blocks and 1,500 houses, mostly around the railway station and in the town centre. By the end of October the town was being run by German authorities. Because Lille was only 20 km from the battlefield, German troops passed through the city regularly on their way to and from the front. As a result, occupied Lille became a place both for the hospitalisation and treatment of wounded soldiers as well as a place for soldiers' relaxation and entertainment. Many buildings, homes, and businesses were requisitioned to those ends.
Lille was liberated by the Allies on 17 October 1918, when General Sir William Birdwood and his troops were welcomed by joyous crowds. The general was made an honorary citizen of the city of Lille on 28 October of that year.
Lille was also the hunting ground of World War I German flying Ace Max Immelmann who was nicknamed "the Eagle of Lille".
In July 1921, at the Pasteur Institute in Lille, Albert Calmette and Camille Guérin discovered the first anti-tuberculosis vaccine, known as BCG ("Bacille de Calmette et Guérin"). The Opéra de Lille, designed by Lille architect Louis M. Cordonnier, was dedicated in 1923.
From 1931 Lille felt the repercussions of the Great Depression, and by 1935 a third of the city's population lived in poverty. In 1936, the city's mayor, Roger Salengro, became Minister of the Interior of the Popular Front, eventually killing himself after right-wing groups led a slanderous campaign against him.
During the Battle of France, Lille was besieged by German forces for several days. When Belgium was invaded, the citizens of Lille, still haunted by the events of the First World War, began to flee the city in large numbers. Lille was part of the zone under control of the German commander in Brussels, and was never controlled by the Vichy government in France. Lille was instead controlled under the military administration in Northern France. The départments of Nord and Pas-de-Calais (with the exception of the coast, notably Dunkirk) were, for the most part, liberated in five days, from 1–5 September 1944, by British, American, Canadian, and Polish troops. On 3 September, the German troops began to leave Lille, fearing the British, who were on their way from Brussels. The city was retaken with little resistance when the British tanks arrived. Rationing came to an end in 1947, and by 1948 normality had returned to Lille.
In 1967, the Chambers of Commerce of Lille, Roubaix and Tourcoing were joined, and in 1969 the Communauté urbaine de Lille (Lille urban community) was created, linking 87 communes with Lille.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, the region was faced with some problems after the decline of the coal, mining and textile industries. From the start of the 1980s, the city began to turn itself more towards the service sector.
In 1983, the VAL, the world's first automated rapid transit underground network, was opened. In 1993, a high-speed TGV train line was opened, connecting Paris with Lille in one hour. This, with the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 and the arrival of the Eurostar train, put Lille at the centre of a triangle connecting Paris, London and Brussels.
Work on Euralille, an urban remodelling project, began in 1991. The Euralille Centre was opened in 1994, and the remodeled district is now full of parks and modern buildings containing offices, shops and apartments. In 1994 the "Grand Palais" was also opened.
Lille was elected European Capital of Culture in 2004, along with the Italian city of Genoa.
Lille and Roubaix were impacted by the 2005 Riots which affected all of France's urban centres.
In 2007 and again in 2010, Lille was awarded the label "Internet City @@@@".
Lille can be described as having a temperate oceanic climate; summers normally do not reach high average temperatures, but winters can fall below freezing temperatures, but with averages quite a bit above the freezing mark. Precipitation is plentiful year round.
The table below gives average temperatures and precipitation levels for the 1981-2010 reference period.
A former major mechanical, food industry and textile manufacturing centre as well as a retail and finance center, Lille forms the heart of a larger conurbation, regrouping Lille, Roubaix, Tourcoing and Villeneuve d'Ascq, which is France's 4th-largest urban conglomeration with a 1999 population of over 1.1 million.
For centuries, Lille, a city of merchants, has displayed a wide range of incomes: great wealth and poverty have lived side by side, especially until the end of the 1800s. This contrast was noted by Victor Hugo in 1851 in his poem Les Châtiments: « Caves de Lille ! on meurt sous vos plafonds de pierre ! » ("Cellars of Lille! We die under your stone ceilings!")
Employment in Lille has switched over half a century from a predominant industry to tertiary activities and services. Services account for 91% of employment in 2006.
In 2007, Lille hosts around 21,000 industry or service sites.
Lille features an array of architectural styles with various amounts of Flemish influence, including the use of brown and red brick. In addition, many residential neighborhoods, especially in Greater Lille, consist of attached 2–3 story houses aligned in a row, with narrow gardens in the back. These architectural attributes, many uncommon in France, help make Lille a transition in France to neighboring Belgium, as well as nearby Netherlands and England, where the presence of brick, as well as row houses or the terraced house is much more prominent.
Points of interest include
Lille hosts an annual braderie on the first weekend in September. Its origins are thought to date back to the twelfth century and between two and three million visitors are drawn into the city. It is one of the largest gatherings of France and the largest flea market in Europe.
Many of the roads in the inner city (including much of the old town) are closed and local shops, residents and traders set up stalls in the street.
The Métropole Européenne de Lille has a mixed mode public transport system, which is considered one of the most modern in the whole of France. It comprises buses, trams and a driverless metro system, all of which are operated under the Transpole name. The Lille Metro is a VAL system (véhicule automatique léger = light automated vehicle) that opened on 16 May 1983, becoming the first automatic metro line in the world. The metro system has two lines, with a total length of 45 kilometres (28 miles) and 60 stations. The tram system consists of two interurban tram lines, connecting central Lille to the nearby communities of Roubaix and Tourcoing, and has 45 stops. 68 urban bus routes cover the metropolis, 8 of which reach into Belgium.
Lille is an important crossroads in the European high-speed rail network. It lies on the Eurostar line to London (1:20 hour journey). The French TGV network also puts it only 1 hour from Paris, 38 minutes from Brussels, and connects to other major centres in France such as Marseille, Lyon, and Toulouse. Lille has two railway stations, which stand next door to one another: Lille-Europe station (Gare de Lille-Europe), which primarily serves high-speed trains and international services (Eurostar), and Lille-Flandres station (Gare de Lille-Flandres), which primarily serves lower speed regional trains and regional Belgian trains.
Five autoroutes pass by Lille, the densest confluence of highways in France after Paris:
A sixth one – the proposed A24 – will link Amiens to Lille if built, but there is opposition to its route.
Lille Lesquin International Airport is 15 minutes from the city centre by car (11 km). In terms of shipping, it ranks fourth, with almost 38,000 tonnes of freight which pass through each year. Its passenger traffic, around 1.2 million in 2010, is modest due to the proximity to Brussels, Charleroi, and Paris-CDG airports. The airport mostly connects other French and European cities (some with low cost companies) as well as Mediterranean destinations.
Lille is the third largest French river port after Paris and Strasbourg. The river Deûle is connected to regional waterways with over 680 km (423 mi) of navigable waters. The Deûle connects to Northern Europe via the River Scarpe and the River Scheldt (towards Belgium and the Netherlands), and internationally via the Lys River (to Dunkerque and Calais).
With over 110,000 students, the metropolitan area of Lille is one of France's top student cities.
Local newspapers include Nord éclair and La Voix du Nord.
France's national public television network has a channel that focuses on the local area: France 3 Nord-Pas-de-Calais
The city's most major association football club, Lille OSC, currently plays in Ligue 1, the highest level of football in France. The club has won eight major national trophies and regularly features in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. In the 2010–11 season, Lille won the league and cup double.
Lille's Stade Pierre-Mauroy was the playground for the final stages of the FIBA EuroBasket 2015.
It was in Lille that the 100th World Esperanto Congress took place, in 2015.