Monday, March 08, 2010

June 22, 2009 - Tienen, Belgium

Thirty boneshaking miles north of Namur is the little town of Tienen, chosen for the day's lunch stop. Tienen is in the province of Brabant, in Flanders, the second of the three regions of Belgium. Like Namur, Tienen includes the consolidation of numerous smaller communes - this time only eight though - and boasts a total population around 32,000. It is near one of the Belgium internal linguistic borders and is Flemish speaking although, just 3 miles to the south, Belgians have French as their native language. The town initially developed around Sint Martin chapel, later to become Sint Martin church. Slowly the settlement migrated a little eastward around the, easier to defend, hill on which Sint Germanus was built. Some highlights of Tienen's turbulent history may excuse the drab nature of the city today. Always under threat of invasion due to its proximity to Liège, Tienen was granted municipal rights along with the right to build fortifications and completed its first wall around 1014. In 1489, Albert of Saxony seized the town on behalf of Emperor Maximilian of Austria. In 1507 the town was wrested from the Habsburgs by the locals. In 1568 it was unsuccessfully attacked by William of Orange who returned in 1572 and seized control for about a year before being ejected by the Spaniards. Numerous similar land grabs occurred during the next two centuries until, in 1789, the locals, under the leadership of brewer Jan Windelinck secured the town for about a year. The Austrians then regained control but were in turn defeated by the French, who seized the place in 1793 The French used a former convent as an ammunition depot, which unfortunately exploded in 1793, killing about 100 people and wrecking that neighborhood. Once again, the Austrians liberated (or re-occupied?) the town but were again routed a year later when the French returned. At this point the Austrians quit for good and went home. Nothing much happened after that until the Independence War in 1830 that finally produced the modern Belgium. Subsequent to this litany of destruction of course, the whole of Belgium was ground up twice more in each of the 20th century World Wars. In common with most of mainland Europe, histories such as these must profoundly influence a nation's appetite for involvement in further hostilities no matter where those hostilities might be or however justifiable. On the east side of Tienen stands the Tiense Suikerraffinaderij - Raffinerie Tirlemontoise, a huge sugar beet refinery that gives rise to the town being known as the Sugar Capital of Belgium. As might be expected there is a Sugar Museum in town which we were fortunately able to avoid. The German group Südzucker AG, the biggest sugar producer in Europe, has owned RT since 1989. Outside of this, there are a couple of notable churches and a town hall - Stadhuis - although the latter was completely obscured by scaffolding during our visit. More pictures here.

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