By the end of the First World War, Arras was in ruins. For almost three years, from October 1914 to April 1917, the inhabitants of the city lived under the shelling of the German artillery. On 8th October 1914 the town hall, which dated from the 16th century, was burned to the ground by incendiary shells. A fortnight later the bell tower, the pride of the city, collapsed.
The old city was reduced to rubble under the methodical shelling of the German Army. The 16th-century town hall and bell tower were razed to the ground, and Saint-Vaast Abbey and much of the remaining architectural heritage in the city were destroyed. By the end of the war only 5% of the houses in the city were habitable. The capital of Artois, much like Reims and its ruined cathedral, had become a 'martyred city'.
Around two-thirds of the 155 buildings lining the city squares were no longer standing. The French Government decided that faithful reproductions of these ancient buildings should be built in their original locations as a tribute to the city's medieval heritage. And so the chief architect responsible for France's national monuments, Pierre Paquet, was given the Herculean task of rebuilding Arras from a mass of rubble. Using photographs and archive documents, Paquet designed facades faithful to the spirit of the original buildings while ensuring the interiors were built to modern specifications. For example, no one would think that behind the medieval appearance of the bell tower lies a contemporary structure made of concrete and steel. Unfortunately the reconstruction of the historic part of Arras, which took until 1934 and was very expensive, delayed much needed works in other areas of the city.
In the streets leading off Petite Place (now Place des Héros), some of the buildings show architectural motifs which adhere to a more modern, Art Deco style.