Discover Benelux | Museums Special | Belgium & France
Beaux-Arts. Photo: Horta WAPICT
B AT S A B O U T T H E B E L F R Y ( A N D T H E B E E R )
The city with a museum for everyone TEXT: MARTIN PILKINGTON
Tournai has some amazing museums, but you can soak up history in its centre just by looking around you – and looking up. When UNESCO granted World Heritage status to Tournai’s magnificent cathedral and belfry in 1999, it boosted the city’s tourist industry hugely. And visitors coming for those landmark sites found them surrounded by a host of others too. “It’s a great honour for any city to be recognised by UNESCO in this way,” says Eva Demeulemeester of Visit Tournai, “and the twin buildings are emblematic of Tournai, but it would be sad if people coming to enjoy them didn’t find time to explore what else we have to offer.” 22 | Issue 52 | April 2018
The 12th century cathedral of Notre Dame is a place once seen, never forgotten. Its five towers are an architectural wonder from the outside, and the massive nave likewise from within. Just across the Grand Place from the cathedral stands the equally imposing belfry, the oldest in Belgium: “The belfry is a great spot – if you’re fit enough to climb the 257 steps to the top – from which to get an overview of the city,” continues Mme Demeulemeester. One of the sights not to be missed from that viewpoint, or from any tour of Tournai, is the Pont des Trous that straddles the river Scheldt, the watergate built in the 13th century and therefore a mere youngster compared to the cathedral. English visitors will be intrigued by the vestiges of Henry VIII’s five-year
occupation of the city, which include a tower named after the monarch, and an ‘English chapel’ with links to Cardinal Wolsey (once bishop here).
Charm and character Beneath the belfry the Grand Place itself is lined with fine old buildings of a style only found in the Low Countries, giving the area a huge charm and an atmosphere that is clearly enjoyed, along with a glass of beer and maybe a local delicacy, by the eclectic mix of visitors, students and locals who flock to it. As might be expected of a town with a wealth of history (and a history of wealth) behind it, Tournai has an enviable range of museums to educate and entertain