The rat is the likeable symbol of the city of Arras. The townspeople’s affection for this little rodent is rooted in history, and today it is expressed in multiple forms. First of all, in chocolate! An essential local product and a speciality to nibble as you stroll around the city on the trail of the rat.
A speciality of Arras
Arras and rats have a long history. Love for this usually despised animal comes from a clear play on words.
In former times, the “s” in Arras was not pronounced. So “Arra” became “A Rats” (“with rats”, in English) in popular imagery and language, as they both sounded the same in French. Rats first appeared on official city seals in the fourteenth century, surrounding a lion and a fortified enclosure. From 1331, they also appeared among the symbols of the Bishopric of Arras. Adopted by the coin mint of Philip II of Spain in the sixteenth century, the image of the rat was disseminated widely and thus it became the curious and rather mischievous emblem of the city.
The mice will never eat the rats
It was the Thirty Years War that really established the rat of Arras’ place in history.
After a long siege, the troops of Louis XIII took the Artois city from the Spanish on 9 August 1640. They discovered an ironic inscription left behind by the Spanish: “When the French take Arras, the mice will eat the rats”. The French soldiers responded in kind to the provocation by deleting a single letter in one of the French words to make the phrase: “When the French give up Arras, the mice will eat the rats”. Arras has remained in French hands, and the rats have been overjoyed and relieved! No longer held today, the Festival of Rats was once a reminder of that amusing page in the history of Arras.
Catch them all !
Can you find them? The Town Hall retains a famous specimen on its bretèche (its small balcony) and several inside, in stone or wood.
They have even clambered up onto the roof of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de l’Assomption and Saint-Vaast. Lending its name to a restaurant (Le Petit Rat Porteur) and various associations (Les Rats d’Arras, the American football club), the rat has a foothold in the heart of the Place des Héros.
The most famous of all : the chocolate rat
In fact, the most delicious of rats is to be found at Sébastien and Corinne Thibault’s shop. “It even outdoes the Cœur d’Arras!” admit the confectionary specialists. Since 2004, the pâtissiers-chocolatiers have been perpetuating the tradition of the chocolate rat of Arras, a registered trademark. The recipe has remained unchanged: crispy praline feuillantine covered with dark chocolate and moulded into the shape of a small (or big) rat. A fun little treat, that has scampered from Arras to the four corners of the world!
the Rat of Arras, in practice :
- The chocolate rat: at the Pâtisserie Thibault, 50 Place des Héros, tel: +33 (0)220.127.116.11.20.
- One large rat = €1.50 – Small rats: 100 g = €6; 200g = €12.