Arras Main Square Festival

The Main Square Festival is one of probably only a handful of summer open-air music festivals at a UNESCO site. In this case, the site is a 17th century military square, La Citadelle Vauban, in Arras, France. Barracks line the perimeter, and there is an arsenal, a 17th-century cathedral, St. Louis, and a memorial, The Firing Squad Wall, which honors over 200 members of the French resistance who were shot in the trenches during WWII.

The festival site has two stages – a main stage where the headliners play, and a secondary stage for smaller acts. The grounds are cobblestone and dirt, which makes for a muddy mess when it pours!

The festival runs for three days, but we only went for one night to see The Kooks, Florence & the Machine and Pearl Jam. The line-up of American and British artists pretty much mimics the nearby Belgian festival, Rock Werchter, which is about 30 km from Brussels. Compared to Rock Werchter, though, Main Square Festival is better located (in a city center vs. a field in the middle of the countryside), smaller and cleaner. Like any festival, the food leaves much to be desired; there are a number of stands serving the usual fare of frites, churros, gyros, pizza, sausage, etc. and one organic food stand offering bland, bland veggie wraps. The Thai stand offers pad thai made with spaghetti. Appetizing, right?

The Citadel was originally constructed under the orders of Louis XIV to protect Arras from Spanish troops arriving from the Netherlands. This site was selected for its proximity to the Crinchon River, which could provide water to the garrison and fill the moat. Aside from the river, however, it turned out the location was not well thought out. The site was quickly named La Belle Inutile, or the beautiful useless, due to its unstrategic location.

Although it wasn’t much for protection, the Citadel served other purposes. For example, during the 1917 Battle of Arras, the moat was used as a parking lot for tanks. Then it was used as a military garrison until Sarkozy disbanded the regimen and sold it to the town for a token sum. Arras has since used the site as the scene of its annual music festival.

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