Friday, March 05, 2010

June 21, 2009 - Namur, Belgium

Continuing our trek north, we crossed into Belgium and stopped by Namur, a medium sized city of about 110,000 inhabitants, in the Walloon region. Overall, we were not favorably impressed by what we saw of Belgium on this route. The place had a grubby, unkempt aura and the roads were between bad and awful, some appearing not to have not been maintained since the Germans constructed them in WWII. Namur encompasses the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers and is a conglomeration of 20 previously independent communes. The language spoken locally is French. The Celts first developed the area as a trading center and were, as usual, followed by the Romans. In the early Middle Ages the Merovingians built the first citadel on the rocky spit at the apex of the rivers confluence. In the 1640s, Namur was seized by the Spanish Netherlands and had its citadel reinforced. Louis XIV invaded in 1692, captured the town, made it part of France and had his renowned military engineer, the vaunted Vauban, rebuild the citadel. The rebuild was none too successful apparently, for just three short years later William III of Orange captured the place. And so it went.
Next up, in 1709, the
Dutch found themselves in control until, in 1713, their "owners", the Spanish Netherlands ceded control to the Austrian House of Hapsburg who decided to leave the Dutch in charge anyway. For good measure, the citadel was rebuilt yet again. Confused yet? It only gets worse.

In 1794 the French returned and remained until 1815 when Napoleon was was defeated, at which point the Congress of Vienna incorporated what is now Belgium into the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Fifteen years later, Belgium broke from the Netherlands. In 1887 the citadel was rebuilt for the fourth time, this time being declared impregnable. Events proved otherwise however, for in 1914, after just three days of fighting, the citadel fell and the Germans held the town for the rest of WWI. WWII was no kinder, with the city being crushed in 1940 as it fell under Nazi occupation after which it was mangled again in 1944 in the Battle of the Bulge. Depressing, eh? Today, Namur is a workaday city producing machinery, leather goods, metals and porcelain with some barge traffic on the river. There is a (much needed) burst of excitement each September at the Combat de l'Échasse d'Or when two teams, in medieval dress, whack each other into oblivion while standing on stilts. Fortunately we missed this. For additional exciting pictures, click here.

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