Administrative centre of Somme département and the major town in the Picardy region of northeast France, 130 km/81 mi north of Paris at the confluence of the rivers Somme and Avre; population (2005 est) 136,600. Situated in an area irrigated by canals, it has been a market-gardening region and textile centre since the Middle Ages, and has produced velvet since the 16th century. Other industries include clothing, tyres, chemicals, and machinery. Amiens is the seat of the University of Picardy. Amiens gave its name to the battles of August 1918, when British field marshal Douglas Haig launched his victorious offensive in World War I.
Amiens suffered much damage during both world wars, but its finest buildings escaped irreparable damage. The 13th-century Gothic cathedral of Notre Dame is the largest church in France and has much medieval sculpture. It is 143 m/470 ft long with a spire 113 m/370 ft high. It was inscribed as a world heritage site in 1981.
The city lies on the site of ancient Samarobriva, capital of the tribe of Ambiani Gauls, from whom the name Amiens probably derived. Later it became a Roman settlement, and eventually the capital of the ancient province of Picardy. The county of Amiens was joined to the French crown at the end of the 12th century. In 1264 the Provisions of Oxford were arbitrated by Louis IX (St Louis) at Amiens, who decided in favour of Henry III and against Simon de Montfort and the barons; this episode, the ‘Mise of Amiens’, led to war with England. Sovereignty was passed to the Burgundians in 1435, but restored to France in 1477.
In 1802, during the Napoleonic Wars, the Peace of Amiens was signed, settling the claims of England, France, Spain, and Holland and bringing a brief respite in the fighting between Britain and France. In 1870 Amiens was conquered by the Prussians.
Amiens in World War I
Amiens was an important rail junction and became the hub of military communications in northern France during World War I; the town was awarded the Croix de Guerre. It was occupied by the German army for several days before the battle of the Marne in September 1914, but thereafter remained in French hands.
The German Spring Offensive of 1918 brought it within the sound of gunfire and it was in some danger for several weeks, during which time the main railway line to Paris was cut. The danger was finally lifted by the Allied counter-offensive launched by British field marshal Douglas Haig in August 1918, to which battle Amiens has given its name. Some of the major battlefields of World War I lie to the northeast of the city.
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