Category Archives: 2009

• Belfries of Belgium and France

Visits:

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.

Bruges

29th March 2008 & 5th July 2009

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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.

Ghent

21st September 2014

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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.

Amiens

17th April 2016

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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.

Arras

17th April 2016

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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.

Béthune

17th April 2016

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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

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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

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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.

Dendermonde

9th October 2016

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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.

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• Historic Centre of Brugge

Visit: 4th – 7th July 2009

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By Ross

We visited Bruges back in the summer of 2009, between our 2nd and 3rd years of university. This was my first time in the city but Tom had been the previous year with family. Our trip was completely unrelated to UNESCO and was actually inspired by the film In Bruges, it was the first of our beer drinking holidays and set a good precedent for the rest.

Tom drove us in his parents’ Mazda and we went via the Channel Tunnel:

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The drive flew by with some predictably crude games of ‘would you rather’ and lots of list-based activities (a recurring theme on all our holidays). We arrived in the afternoon and were all very pleased with the weather. We parked in the underground car park and went straight to the hotel to drop our bags off. We’d managed to get a place just off the Grote Markt, this is a view of the Belfry from our room:

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For our first meal we went to a restaurant on the Grote Markt, it was just the kind of place you usually get in tourist-heavy areas with menus in at least 7 different languages and food that is about as authentic as a Mars bar, this place though was especially abysmal. Hungry for some traditional Belgian cuisine I was quite excited with the menu, I ordered frogs legs for starter and eel in chervil sauce for main. Unfortunately though the meal that followed was extremely disappointing – the frogs legs were completely insipid and the eel tasted like a bicycle tire that had been stuck at the bottom of a river for a few weeks. Garland’s rabbit ‘cooked on the Flemish way’ was equally overcooked and bland, what a shame!

Oh well, at least there’s still the beer we told ourselves! After a quick walk around the cobbled streets and bridges (not forgetting the alcoves) we headed to a bar on the Grote Markt where we would end up spending a lot of time (and money) over the next three days. It was right by the Belfry tower and served steins, the waiters were characters as well: one looked liked like Quasimodo and would call anyone who didn’t order a full Stein of beer a pussy and the other a Columbian who told us particularly lewd stories, one of which involved a transvestite!

As you would expect, pandemonium and vast amounts of beer drinking followed. We did take a few snaps though:

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The next day we sat in a park for a few hours before eating some Lasagne in a café, and getting told off for ordering tap water (unlike in the UK this is not served in most restaurants). We then tried lots more Belgian beer, some of the better ones were: Bruge Zot, Duval, Kwak, Leffe (Blonde & Brun), Jupiler (of which we took a keg home), Chimay, Stella Artois (it is definitely better in Belgium), Judas and many more which I can’t remember. We played lots of drinking games, one of which involved the infamous ‘Bruges rules’. I also had some great Moules frittes and a lobster which was served straight from the tank.

On the last day we climbed the Belfry tower which involves a very narrow spiral staircase which is nauseating to climb, not to mention with a hangover. The tower is actually part of the separate WHS of Belfries of Belgium and France, there are 31 other similar towers spread across the two respective countries. The view was impressive:

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Although the photos probably don’t do it justice I can assure you Bruges is a truly beautiful city, some would say that with all the canals and bridges it’s just like a fairy tale… It is a WHS because ‘Brugge is an outstanding example of a medieval historic settlement, which has maintained its historic fabric as this has evolved over the centuries, and where original Gothic constructions form part of the town’s identity. As one of the commercial and cultural capitals of Europe, Brugge developed cultural links to different parts of the world. It is closely associated with the school of Flemish Primitive painting.’

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Interestingly we all bought our girlfriends souvenirs (even Ant) with the exception of Chig who bought his girlfriend nothing. I bought Louise two presents, one of which was this white chocolate swan:

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