Lens prepares a warm welcome
Rugby might not be a traditional sport in these parts but this former capital of France’s coal mining region is known for its hospitality and can't wait to participate in this year's festival of rugby.
With a little over 35,000 residents, Lens is the Tom Thumb of the host cities for RWC 2007. It's still the smallest town to have staged a major sporting event with matches in the 1998 World Cup soccer finals. The Pas-de-Calais regional authority might these days be active in sport but its history is inextricably linked to coal mining. In 1720, the first coal seams were discovered nearby at Anzin. More and more pits opened from 1840 to exploit the black gold of this 120km-long bowl. The inter-war years marked the height of mining in the area with production reaching 35 million tonnes in 1930 to power the steel and chemical industries. Forty years later coal mining went into rapid decline and pits closed one after the other until the last mine stopped working in 1990.
The black mugs, as the miners were called, may have disappeared but they left behind an unchanging tradition: the Ch’ti, the local dialect now used to describe anyone from the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, the beer festivals, or ducasses (foires) ... Yet the city has not stood still. It has launched itself into a makeover which has seen seven business parks set up to diversify the local economy (textiles, automobile manufacturing, food processing). A scientific hub, engineering school and several technical colleges help dynamise a youthful area where 41 per cent of Lens residents are under 25.
The Louvre comes to Lens
Lens is set to welcome three 2007 RWC matches in the Bollaert cauldron but is also preparing to open a branch of the famous Paris Louvre museum. An edifice with floor space of 18,000 square metres will be used to display 500 to 600 major works, alternating with the Paris museum, and to stage exhibitions. This innovative project will reveal Louvre collections unseen in Paris because of lack of space to a wider public. The opening comes too late for rugby fans but they will be able to enjoy the warm welcome and festivities of Lens. English fans are expected to cross the Channel in large numbers to support their team and soak up the atmosphere of a Rugby World Cup only a short step from home. And Paris and its Louvre museum are only an hour from Lens...
Agglomeration: 375,000 habitants
14th agglomeration in France
Seven business parks, an engineering school and several technical colleges
Region: Nord Pas-de-Calais