Lille (lēl) [key], city (1990 pop. 178,301), capital of Nord dept., N France, near the Belgian border. With its central position in NW Europe, Lille became a great commercial, cultural, and manufacturing center, long known for its textile products—notably lisle (the name is derived from an older spelling of the city's name). Intense industrial expansion began in the 1960s, strengthened by the establishment (1967) of a metropolitan community uniting almost 90 towns with a total population of over 900,000. Steel, iron, metalworking, and chemicals were among the city's flourishing manufactures. By the 1990s, however, competiton from Southeast Asia and within Europe, including the former Eastern bloc, resulted in reduced production and high unemployment in the area.
Lille was the chief city of the county of Flanders, a brilliant residence of the 16th-century dukes of Burgundy, and (after 1668) the capital of French Flanders. Taken (1708) after a costly siege by Eugene of Savoy and the duke of Marlborough, it was restored to France in the Peace of Utrecht (1713). Among Lille's principal buildings are the huge citadel (17th cent.), one of the finest works of the French military engineer Vauban; the old stock exchange (17th cent.); several fine churches; and the unfinished cathedral (begun 1854). Lille has a large university, transferred there from Douai in 1808, and one of the most important art museums in Europe; its paintings include many of the best works of the Flemish, Dutch, French, and Spanish masters.