The town is arranged into four principal quarters, and traversed by the Woigot (itself a tributary of the Orne). North of the river, Briey-Haut (Upper Briey), the area centred on the former medieval citadel, stretches out towards the villages of Mance and Moutier, and overhangs Briey-Bas (Lower Briey), which occupies the banks of the Woigot. The steeply angled “grand-rue” (“Main Street”) connects the two areas of the town, which elsewhere are separated by a cliff-face garden. South of the valley is Briey-les-Hauts, another “high town”, facing the villages of Lantéfontaine and Valleroy. Beyond Briey-Haut, the fourth quarter is Briey-en-Forêt, a 1960s development dominated by Le Corbusier’s “Cité Radieuse”, a substantial apartment block, which displays an architectural assertiveness characteristic of its time: the “Cité Radieuse” has frequently struggled to attract residents, triggering aesthetic and political controversy since first it emerged out of the surrounding woodland.
Intensive heavy industrialisation is now a receding memory, and the service sector has provided the principal sources of employment growth in recent years, with increasing numbers of the working-age residents commuting to nearby Metz or Luxembourg.
The increasing fragility of the old middle kingdom culminating with its disappearance in 1477 created areas of political uncertainty on both sides of the Rhine and ushered in several centuries of warfare which tended, at least till 1871, to involve on the one side France and on the other side various neighbouring countries whose leaders did not wish France to become larger. Briey found itself captured by Charles the Bold in 1475, ravaged by protestants in 1591, and captured by a Swedish army in 1635. No doubt the relative strength of the natural defensive position of the old citadel preserved Briey from yet more frequent devastations, but it was nonetheless reportedly occupied briefly by a Russian army during the final days of the Napoleonic War in 1815.
In 1801 Briey became a sub-prefecture in the Moselle Department. However, after 1871 most of the Moselle Department was subsumed within the German Empire under the terms of the Treaty of Frankfurt. The former French department ceased to exist and its residuum, including Briey, was integrated into a new Department of Meurthe-et-Moselle. When Lorraine was recovered by France in 1919 it was decided not to return Briey to its former Department which is why, in terms of departmental boundaries, the town remains administratively separated from the eastern portion of the Briey Basin.