The word Boves is unusual and best translates as underground spaces or cellars created as a by-product of stone quarrying. The boves in Arras have a rich and fascinating history.
They date from the ninth century and were used to extract stone for the fortification of the town and for important public buildings. A few hundred years later, stone extraction moved to larger quarries on the south east of Arras and the boves were converted for domestic and industrial use - for example as laundries, breweries and storage. They typically form a second subterranean level up to 12 metres deep beneath the normal cellars or cave and run all around the two main squares or Places of Arras.
In World War I, the Allies occupied Arras which was just a couple of kilometres from the front line. The boves were linked through new tunnels, sewers and other quarries to form a continuous route from the centre of town to the trenches. More than 24,000 men shelterd here before the Battle of Arras in April 1917.
During World War II the boves were once again pressed into action as civilian air-raid shelters. Grafitti from both conflicts can still be seen.
Commendably, the local authority has opened the boves to visitors for many years. Guided tours can be taken which give a first hand insight into their fascinating history. The subterranean space is also sometimes used for art installations.