Listed as a historical monument in 1921, the Old Stock Exchange is today one of Lille’s most emblematic sights. Booksellers, florists and tango dancers meet there regularly, but probably without a second thought for the man who constructed this magnificent monument.
In the 1650s, in the square of the Grand Marché (today called Grand Place), in Lille, traders and courtiers would regularly express their discontent: they could no longer abide that they had to trade outdoors come rain or shine! We are in the Middle Ages and with the rise of commerce, towns such as Lille were prospering, as explained by the Wikipedia page on the Old Stock Exchange. Lille is Spanish at this time but does not have anything worthy of being called a building in which one could barter, if we were to compare it to its Flemish competitors, Ypres and Bruges, with their massive warehouses, or Antwerp, with its magnificent Stock Exchange erected in 1531.
Decreed by the King
The “mayor” (then called magistrate) of the day finally heard their admonishments. He decided to write to Philip IV, King of Spain, to obtain authorisation to construct a stock exchange to definitively put an end to the problem. Royal approval was granted on 7 June 1651. The Voix du Nord* mentions the letters patent of the King, which specifies that the stock exchange “shall be surrounded and enclosed by many beautiful houses in the place where presently stands the ‘Fontaine au Change‘ and its vicinity, on an area of land as required for such work with ornaments and other considerations.” Responsibility for the project was put into the hands of Julien Destrée (or Destrez), a local man. The bourgeois Lille inhabitant, manufacturer of furniture and chests, has become engineer and architect for the town of Lille and responsible for the construction of the Old Stock Exchange. He rose to the occasion, showing himself to be both rigorous and talented.
The project is far more complex than a simple subventioned site. Julien Destrée took inspiration from the Flemish baroque style which was all the rage in neighbouring Flanders to satisfy the requirement set out by the magistrate to embellish the town. It should also be said that the magistrate’s letter outlining the construction was most precise:”frontispieces of houses in Ecaussine dressed stone”, “cross-ribbed vaulting of interior galleries with one or more keystones.” Only the wish that “the interior of the four doors should be decorated with four statues depicting Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas” remained incompleted at the end of the day. Julien Destrée’s work was later to be qualified by the specialists as one example of “Flemish mannerist architecture“, in particular characterised by an overuse of extravagant decoration as the site Livraisons de l’histoire de l’architecture points out.
24 plots, 24 houses
To finance the work, the site was divided into 24 properties. In order to accomplish his work, Julien Destrée cleverly imagined a square inner courtyard similar to a convent with, in particular, arcades, aligned with galleries for the different traders, with retaining walls constituted by 24 individual houses, each one built by their respective owner and adhering to the letter to strict specifications and plans (with, amongst other things, stone from Lezennes), drawn up by Julien Destrée. The work was achieved in the short space of two years between 1652 and 1653.
Efficiency and quality: Julien Destrée thus fully met the challenge to conduct a site with the purpose of building a functional stock exchange for merchants and (above all), to embellish Lille. And without ever realising for a second that he was to inaugurate the definitive principle of galleries for traders, of which numerous examples can today be seen in the region.
Discover also the architecture that lies hidden behind…
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