Belfries of Belgium and France (World Heritage)

The bell towers, built between the 11th and 17th centuries, adorn town halls as well as town and church buildings. They symbolize the newly developing power of the medieval bourgeoisie and urban freedom. See philosophynearby for more information about Belgium.

Belfries of Belgium and France: Facts

Official title: Belfries (medieval bell towers) in Flanders and Wallonia
Cultural monument: Belfry and Schöffenhaus (Aalst), Cathedral of Our Lady (Antwerp), City Hall with Belfry (Dendermonde), City Hall with Belfry (Diksmuide), Belfry, Cloth Hall and Mammelokker (formerly prison, Ghent), St. Pieterskerk in Leuven, St.-Germanuskerk with City tower (Tienen), Basilica of Our Lady with city tower on the Grote Markt (Tongeren), St. Leonarduskerk on the Grote Markt (Zoutleeuw); France: the belfries of Aire-sur-la-Lys, Armentières, Amiens, Abbeville, Arras, Bailleul, Bergues, Béthune, Boulogne, Calais, Cambrai, Comines, Douai, Doullens, Dunkerque, Gravelines, Hesdin, Lille, Loos, Lucheux, Rue and Saint-Riquier; In 2005 the Belfry of Gembloux in Belgium and 23 bell towers in Flanders, Artois, Hainaut and Picardy in France were added
Continent: Europe
Country: Belgium: Flanders and Wallonia (32); France: Nord-Pas de Calais, Picardy (23)
Location: Eeklo, Zoutleeuw, Veurne, Tienen, Tielt, St-Truiden, Roeselare, Nieuwpoort, Menen, Lo-Reninge, Lier, Herentals, Mechelen, Aalst, Tongeren, Ieper, Oudenaarde, Kortrijk, Dendermonde, Antwerp, Leuven, Bruges, Gent, Diksmuide (all Flanders), Binche, Charleroi, Tournai, Namur, Mons, Thuin (all Wallonia) Meaning: Symbols of the emerging urban culture of the Middle Ages
Appointment: 1999, expansion 2005, 2008
Meaning: Symbols of the emerging urban culture of the Middle Ages

Belfries of Belgium and France: History

1173 first written mention of the cloth hall of Ieper
1187 Start of construction of the Tournai Belfry
1209 Construction of the Abbeville Belfry (France)
1225 Origin of the Aalst belfry
1240 Construction of the first belfry in Bruges
around 1250 Construction of the Belfry of Ieper
1300-1380 Construction of the Ghent Belfry
1307 Construction of the Kortrijk Belfry
1449-1520 Construction of the St. Rombout Tower (Mechelen)
1460 Construction of today’s Aalst belfry
1628 Construction of the Veurne Belfry
1639 Construction of the Thuin Belfry
1623 Construction of the Belfry of Comines (France)
1661 Construction of the Belfry of Mons
1901 Construction of the Belfry of Dunkirk (France)
1936 Completion of the Charleroi Belfry
1924-1932 Reconstruction of the Carillons of Lille (France) in Art Deco style after the destruction of the old tower in World War I
1932 Reconstruction of the carillon in Bailleul in France after the destruction of the old tower in the 1st World War

Civic pride with chimes

Belfries, outwardly not unlike a campanile on an Italian piazza, were initially built as watchtowers. In them was the city bell, which was rung when enemies approached or in the event of a fire to warn the townspeople. In the course of the Middle Ages, clockwork and carillon were added to the “skyscrapers” of that time. And what the writer Albrecht Rodenbach wrote in “Klokke Roeland” does not only apply to Ghent: “The old belfry rises above Ghent, lonely and gray, symbol of the past.” By the way: before the cities built town halls, the councilors met in the belfry, which in some places also served as a prison and as a repository for city documents.

But no, goats are not thrown from these city towers, as was customary until last year in Manganeses de la Polvorosa, Spain, on the feast of St. Vincent. But during the Aalster Carnival, it rains about 2000 sugar-sweet onions down from the belfry. And downstairs a hooting crowd is waiting to get hold of the piece of vegetables that will win the “Golden Onion Prize”.

“The bells never ring sweeter,” says the strollers in Flemish cities. Sometimes you can hear not only old tunes, but also songs like “Singing in the rain”. Even Victor Hugo, the creator of the “Hunchback of Notre-Dame”, was fascinated by the carillon. During his visit to Mechelen in August 1837, he climbed the tower of the local cathedral and then wrote, impressed: “Imagine a piano 400 feet high and the cathedral as a grand piano.” To move the heavy clappers over trains and thus to make the glockenspiel sound, the keys of the manual must be struck with a clenched fist. Even in the cold of an unheated tower, this is extremely sweaty work, not to mention the arduous ascent on foot to even reach the floor with the manual. In the St. Rombout Tower it is 60 meters high; by the time the carillon arrives in front of his instrument, he has climbed the arduous 514 steps.

Probably the most delicate city tower is that of Aalst, which is crowned by a pointed hood with a weather vane provided with small dormer windows. Mechelen, on the other hand, the former residence city of Margaret of Austria, aunt of Emperor Charles V, has two belfries: One – never completed – is on the Grote Markt between the former Cloth Hall and the Palace of the Great Council, the other – immediately in its force Eye jumping – is the St. Rombout Tower. The “community tower” of Ghent, built in the 14th century and in which hangs a carillon by the famous Leuven bell-maker Peter Hemony, also testifies to the free civic spirit of the guilds and guilds. With a height of 83 meters, the Belfry in Bruges, which slopes more than a meter in a south-easterly direction, towers over the Cloth Hall and the city’s market.

Today’s Cloth Hall and the Belfry of Ieper rose like a phoenix from the ashes after the horrors and destruction of the First World War. In the middle of the market is the Belfry of Kortrijk, which is adorned with the town’s coat of arms and an image of Mary. And “Manten” and “Kalle” make the bell of the belfry strike. At the top, Mercury, the god of trade who serves as a weather vane, looks down at the hustle and bustle at his feet. The town hall of Oudenaarde, which resembles a fragile reliquary, was built in the lively Brabant late Gothic style in the first half of the 16th century. In the middle rises the belfry, a tiny, slender tower that is closed off by a crown.

In 2005, another 23 belfries in the northern French regions of Nord-Pas de Calais and Picardy were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Belfries of Belgium and France (World Heritage)