• Belfries of Belgium and France


29th March 2008, 5th July 2009, 21st September 2014,

17th April 2016, 8th/9th October 2016

This expansive World Heritage Site consists of no fewer than 55 bell towers spread across Belgium and northeastern France. As well as being fine examples of Roman, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, the belfries represent the emergence of local government as a force to be taken seriously in Europe. In most towns the tallest buildings were traditionally the church’s spire and the manor of the local feudal baron. As burghers and aldermen grew in stature from the 11th to the 17th centuries, belfries (often co-located with town halls) began to challenge the dominance of the other two institutions.

The WHS known as ‘Belfries of Belgium and France’ can be found in villages, towns and cities alike. They range in height from perhaps 100 feet to three times that.

I have held off from writing about the belfries for a while, but, having now ticked off eight of them on four separate trips it seems acceptable to do so.


29th March 2008 & 5th July 2009


Bruges’s belfry is 272 feet tall and is one of the most prominent on the list. It sits within the separately inscribed World Heritage Site city of Bruges which I went to in both 2008 and 2009. But it is most famous in Britain, perhaps, as a key filming location in the film In Bruges. If you recall, the climactic final scene is set in the belfry. I climbed it on both occasions I visited the city.


21st September 2014


Back in 2014 Natalie and I met up with my friend (who was then living in nearby Luxembourg) and his friends for a weekend in Ghent. My primary motivation for suggesting the city was to see Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, but it was handy that there was also a major belfry in the city. I think this one is more attractive than Bruges’s, and it is also the tallest belfry in Belgium, at around 300 feet.


17th April 2016


This one feels like a bit of a fudge because you have to squint to see the belfry in the picture above. It was in Amiens, which a group of friends and I drove to and spent a weekend in primarily to visit the ornate cathedral. I insisted we get closer to the belfry but was stymied by a faulty satnav, so we ended up never getting a good look at it.


17th April 2016


On the way back from Amiens as we headed toward Calais and the Chunnel home we stopped for lunch in Arras. This belfry and town hall is located on the town’s main square, which is a pretty spot to spend some time. It is also home to one of the ‘Fortifications of Vauban’, a WHS consisting of various 17th century accomplishments of French military engineering.


17th April 2016


After Arras we stopped again in the small French town of Béthune. We drank a coffee in its square, which was less picturesque than Arras but still quite pleasant. This belfry is not nearly as ornate as the others I’ve described so far, but it has its own defiant character that I quite like. I should think this is one of the oldest belfries; it says on Wikipedia that a belfry has stood on this spot since 1346.

Antwerp Cathedral

8th October 2016


In the mould of the Amiens visit we undertook a similar road trip in October 2016 to Antwerp. This Belgian city was one of the world’s most affluent in the Middle Ages, and it has a cathedral to match. We stayed in a hotel right next door to the belfry, but didn’t get a chance to walk up it because there was a service on when we attempted to visit.

Antwerp Town Hall

9th October 2016


Antwerp actually has two belfries inscribed on the list. The second is this magnificent town hall, which is draped in flags. The belfry itself makes no attempt to soar as high as its counterpart at the cathedral, but fits nicely with the rest of the building.


9th October 2016


Dendermonde is a small Belgian town at the beginning of the Scheldt river (which flows onwards to Antwerp). We stopped off here on our way home, and were glad to have done so. This town hall was open to the public and free to enter, so we had a look around at its collection of paintings and the council chamber. The yellow flag with the black lion is the flag of Flanders.


One thought on “• Belfries of Belgium and France

  1. Pingback: • Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France | Tom's World Heritage Site travel blog

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