Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ghent

AS A TOURIST DESTINATION, the Flemish city of Ghent has long been over-shadowed by its neighbour, Bruges. In part this reflects their divergent histories. The success of the cloth trade during the Middle Ages was followed by a period of stagnation for Bruges, while Ghent became a major industrial centre in the 18th and 19th centuries. The resulting pollution coated the city’s antique buildings in layers of grime from its many factories. In the 1980s Ghent initiated a restoration programme. The city’s medieval buildings were cleaned, industrial sites were tidied up and the canals were cleared. Today, it is the intricately carved stonework of its churches and antique buildings, as well as the city’s excellent museums and stern, forbidding castle that give the centre its character.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

THE YPRES SALIENT

The Ypres Salient was the name given to a bulge in the line of trenches that both the German and British armies felt was a good place to break through each others’ lines. This led to large concentrations of men and four major battles including Passchendaele in July 1917, in which hundreds of thousands of men died. Today, visitors can choose to view the site with its vast cemeteries and monuments by car or guided tour.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Oude Markt

This handsome, cobblestoned square is flanked by a tasteful ensemble of highgabled brick buildings. Some of these date from the 18th century; others are comparatively new. At ground level these buildings house the largest concentration of bars and cafés in town, and as such attract the town’s university students in their droves.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Leuven

WITHIN EASY STRIKING distance of Brussels, the historic Flemish town of Leuven traces its origins to a fortified camp constructed here by Julius Caesar. In medieval times, the town became an important centre of the cloth trade, but it was as a seat of learning that it achieved international prominence. In 1425, Pope Martin V and Count John of Brabant founded Leuven’s university, and by the mid-1500s it was one of Europe’s most prestigious academic institutions, the home of such famous scholars as Erasmus and Mercator. Even today, the university exercises a dominant influence over the town, and its students give Leuven a vibrant atmosphere. The bars and cafés flanking the Oude Markt, a large square in the centre of town, are especially popular. Adjoining the square is the Grote Markt, a triangular open space which boasts two fine medieval buildings, the Stadhuis and St Pieterskerk.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Liège

BELGIUM’S THIRD-biggest city, Liège is a major river port and industrial conurbation at the confluence of the rivers Meuse and Ourthe. The city has an unusual history in that it was an independent principality from the 10th to the 18th century, ruled by Prince Bishops. However, the church became widely despised and when the French Republican army arrived in 1794, they were welcomed by the local citizens with open arms.

Today, Liège possesses some notable attractions and highlights include the Musée de la Vie Wallonne (Museum of Walloon Life), housed in an outstanding 17th-century friary. The museum focuses on Walloon folklore and culture, which is depicted in a series of reconstructed interiors and craft workshops from the city’s history.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Namur

FRENCH-SPEAKING Namur is a friendly, attractive town whose narrow central streets boast several elegant mansions and fine old churches, as well as lots of lively bars and outstanding restaurants. Until the Belgian army left in 1978, Namur was also a military town. The soldiers were stationed within the Citadel, located on top of the steep hill on the south side of the centre, which remains the town’s main attraction. An exploration of its bastions and subterranean galleries takes several hours.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Nivelles

TUCKED AWAY among the rolling hills of the province of Brabant, the little town of Nivelles was, for centuries, the site of one of the wealthiest and most powerful abbeys in the region. Earlier it was the cradle of the Carolingian dynasty, whose most celebrated ruler was the Emperor Charlemagne (747–814). The main sight today is the vast church, the Collégiale Ste- Gertrude, that dominates the town centre. Something of an architectural hotchpotch, the church dates back to the 10th century and is remarkable in that it has two imposing chancels – one each for the pope and the king.