A former province of northern France, Artois occupies the interior of the département of Pas-de-Calais, the western part of which constitutes the former Boulonnais. With an area of around 4000 sq. km. and a population of about a million, Artois occupies the western end of the coalfield which stretches eastward through the neighbouring Nord département and across central Belgium. Its principal cities are Arras, Saint-Omer, Lens and Béthune.
Formerly a part of the county of Flanders until annexed by France in 1180 and created a county in 1237, Artois came under the rule of the dukes of Burgundy in 1384, and was not finally returned to French control until 1659. It experienced rapid industrial development during the second half of the 19th century, fueled by its rich coal resources. During World War I the front line between the opposing German and British armies in France ran through the province, resulting in enormous physical damage. In recent decades Artois has suffered with similar areas through the decline of the coal industry.