Guess what’s new? – Corona. Guess how long it will last? – China.

Never mind. The travel ban is still on for Belgium, so explorations within the country continues. This weekend was reserved for Tournai. A beautiful city on the west of Belgium. Kinda looks like Lille at the first sight.  Although, being part of the province of Hainaut, Tournai is part of Eurometropolis Lille–Kortrijk–Tournai.

Tournai is one of the oldest cities in Belgium and has played an important role in the country’s cultural history. It was the first capital of the Frankish Empire, with Clovis I being born here – the first king of France, crowned and buried in Reims.

Tournai, known as Tornacum, was a place of minor importance in Roman times, a stopping place where the Roman road from Cologne on the Rhine to Boulogne on the coast crossed the river Scheldt. It came into the possession of the Salian Franks in 5th century. Clovis moved the center of power to Paris. In turn, a native son of Tournai, Eleutherius, became bishop of the newly created bishopric of Tournai, extending over most of the area west of the Scheldt. In 9th century Charles the Bald, first king of Western Francia and still to become Holy Roman Emperor, would make Tournai the seat of the County of Flanders.

river Scheldt

After the partition of the Frankish empire by the Treaties of Verdun (843) Tournai remained in the western part of the empire, which in 10th century became France. The city participated in 11th-century rise of towns with a woollen cloth industry based on English wool, which soon made it attractive to wealthy merchants. An ambitious rebuilding of the cathedral was initiated in 11th century. The stone Pont des Trous over the Scheldt, with defensive towers at either end, was built in 1290, replacing an earlier wooden structure.

Le Pont des Trous à Tournai

During the 15th century, the city’s textile trade boomed and it became an important supplier of tapestry. The art of painting flourished too. It was captured in 1513 by Henry VIII of England, making it the only Belgian city ever to have been ruled by England. The city was handed back to French rule three years later, following the Treaty of London (1518).

Belfry of Tournai

In 16th century, Habsburg Emperor Charles V added the city to his possessions in the so-called Low Countries, leading to a period of religious strife and economic decline. During the 16th century, Tournai was a bulwark of Calvinism, but eventually it was conquered by the Spanish governor of the Low Countries, the Duke of Parma, following a prolonged famous Siege of Tournai in 1581. After the fall of the city, its Protestant inhabitants were given one year to sell their possessions and emigrate, a policy that was at the time considered relatively humane, since very often religious opponents were simply massacred.

Monument of local artist van der Wayden, in front of the Cathedral, 15th century

One century later, the city briefly returned to France under Louis XIV in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Following the Napoleonic Wars, Tournai formed part of the newly independent Belgium.

Unfortunately, local specialties were skipped this time as the bars and restaurants were closed.

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