Belfries of Belgium and France

Belfry of Bruges

The belfry of Bruges, or Belfort, is a medieval bell tower and one of the Bruges" most prominent symbols. The belfry formerly housed a treasury and the municipal archives, and served as an observation post for spotting fires and other danger. A narrow, steep staircase of 366 steps, accessible by the public for an entry fee, leads to the top of the 83-metre-high building, which leans about a metre to the east. The be ...
Founded: c. 1240 | Location: Bruges, Belgium

Antwerp City Hall

The Antwerp City Hall was erected between 1561 and 1565 after designs made by Cornelis Floris de Vriendt and several other architects and artists, this Renaissance building incorporates both Flemish and Italian influences. The City Hall is inscribed on UNESCO"s World Heritage List along with the belfries of Belgium and France. In the 16th century Antwerp became one of the busiest trading ports and most prosperous ci ...
Founded: 1561-1564 | Location: Antwerp, Belgium

Cathedral of Our Lady

The Cathedral of Our Lady contains a number of significant works by the Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, as well as paintings by artists such as Otto van Veen, Jacob de Backer and Marten de Vos. The belfry of the cathedral is included in 'Belfries of Belgium and France' in the list of World Heritage Sites. Where the cathedral now stands, there was a small chapel of Our Lady from the 9th to the 12th century, which acqui ...
Founded: 1352 | Location: Antwerp, Belgium

Belfry of Ghent

The 91-metre-tall belfry is one of three medieval towers that overlook the old city centre of Ghent, the other two belonging to Saint Bavo Cathedral and Saint Nicholas" Church. Its height makes it the tallest belfry in Belgium. The belfry of Ghent, together with its attached buildings, belongs to the set of belfries of Belgium and France inscribed on UNESCO"s World Heritage List. Construction of the tower began in 1313 a ...
Founded: 1313 | Location: Ghent, Belgium

St. Peter's Church

Saint Peter"s Church is situated on the Leuven Grote Markt (main market square), right across the ornate Town Hall. Built mainly in the 15th century in Brabantine Gothic style, the church has a cruciform floor plan and a low bell tower that has never been completed. It is 93 meters long. The first church on the site, made of wood and presumably founded in 986, burned down in 1176. It was replaced by a Romanesque chu ...
Founded: 1425-1497 | Location: Leuven, Belgium

St. Rumbold's Cathedral

St. Rumbold's Cathedral is the Belgian metropolitan archiepiscopal cathedral in Mechelen, dedicated to Saint Rumbold, Christian missionary and martyr who had founded an abbey nearby. His remains are rumoured to be buried inside the cathedral. Construction of the church itself started shortly after 1200, and it was consecrated in 1312, when part had become usable. From 1324 onwards the flying buttresses and revised choir s ...
Founded: c. 1200 | Location: Mechelen, Belgium

Ypres Cloth Hall

The Cloth Hall in Ypres was one of the largest commercial buildings of the Middle Ages, when it served as the main market and warehouse for the Flemish city"s prosperous cloth industry. The original structure, erected mainly in the 13th century and completed 1304, lay in ruins after artillery fire devastated Ypres in World War I. Between 1933 and 1967, the hall was meticulously reconstructed to its prewar condition, under ...
Founded: 1304/1933 | Location: Ypres, Belgium

Mechelen Town Hall

Mechelen town hall on the Grote Markt consists of two parts: the cloth hall with unfinished belfry and the Palace of the Great Council. The cloth trade went into decline in the 14th century and there wasn"t the money to complete the building. For two hundred years the belfry was no more than a shell, until it was eventually provided with a temporary roof in the 16th century. The belfry is now a UNESCO world heritage ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Mechelen, Belgium

Schepenhuis

The Schepenhuis (Aldermen"s House) of Aalst is a former city hall, one of the oldest in the Low Countries. Dating originally from 1225, it was partially rebuilt twice as a result of fire damage, first after a 1380 war and again after a fireworks accident in 1879. The belfry tower at one corner of the building was completed in 1460, and in the next year was equipped with a carillon built by master craftsmen from Mech ...
Founded: 1225 | Location: Aalst, Belgium

Belfry of Tournai

The belfry of Tournai is a freestanding bell tower of medieval origin, 72 metres in height with a 256-step stairway. This landmark building is one of a set of belfries of Belgium and France registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Construction of the belfry began around 1188 when King Philip Augustus of France granted Tournai its town charter, conferring among other privileges the right to mount a communal bell to r ...
Founded: 1188 | Location: Tournai, Belgium

Belfry of Mons

The belfry of Mons is one of the more recent among the belfries of Belgium and France. It is classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1999. It is the only one in Belgium that is constructed in baroque style. With an altitude of 87 meters, it dominates the city of Mons, which is constructed on a hill itself. The building was designed by architecture Louis Ledoux. He led the works from 1662 until his death in 16 ...
Founded: 1662-1669 | Location: Mons, Belgium

Kortrijk Belfry

The belfry (Belfort) of Kortrijk stands in the centre of the Grote Markt and was part of the former cloth hall. The earliest mention of the cloth hall dates back to 1248. The belfry is an imposing square tower, slightly sunk into the market square. This is due to the market being raised throughout the centuries. The view from the tower was mainly determined in 1520 with the reconstruction of the upper section of the tower ...
Founded: 1520 | Location: Kortrijk, Belgium

Basilica of Our Lady

The Gothic tower of the Basilica of Our Lady dominates over the town of Tongeren and the surrounding area. It was built in Gothic style in the 13th century and recent excavations have produced some of the richest archaeological finds in Flanders. Archaeological excavations have proven the presence of an edifice here starting from the 4th century, while a Carolingian prayer house existed here in the 9th century. The buildi ...
Founded: 1240 | Location: Tongeren, Belgium

Binche Town Hall

Binche"s town hall and belfry dates back to the 14th century. Burnt down by the French in 1554, the hall was soon restored in a Renaissance style by architect Du Broeucq. In the 18th century, the architect Dewelz covered the building with a neoclassical façade but, after major restoration works in 1901, the town hall regained its Renaissance appearance. A Baroque onion dome crowns the belfry. The belfry houses ...
Founded: 16th century | Location: Binche, Belgium

Boulogne-sur-Mer Belfry

The oldest monument of Boulogne-sur-Mer was built in three stages, in the 12th, 13th and 18th centuries. In fact, this belfry was originally a seigniorial prison, transferred to the community in 1230. 38 years later, Saint-Louis ordered the destruction of the tower’s second floor, as well as of the community’s charter of freedom and the town’s seal, as it was refusing to pay a tax on the eighth crusade. ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Boulogne-sur-Mer, France

Oudenaarde Town Hall

Oudenaarde Town Hall was built by architect Hendrik van Pede in 1526–1537 to replace the medieval Schepenhuis (Aldermen's House) that occupied the same site. Another older structure, the 14th-century Cloth Hall, was retained and now forms a sort of extension at the back of the Town Hall proper. The Oudenaarde Town Hall was a late flowering of secular Brabantine Gothic architecture, carrying on the stylistic tradition o ...
Founded: 1526–1537 | Location: Oudenaarde, Belgium

Belfry of Namur

The belfry of Namur, also called Saint-Jacob"s Tower was constructed in 1388 as part of the city wall. It was remodeled as a belfry in 1746. It is one of the 56 belfries of Belgium and France classified as the World Heritage Site of the UNESCO. In the beginning, one of the clocks of the Saint-Pierre-au-Château church served as belfry for the citizens of Namur, which is to indicate the time and to announce even ...
Founded: 1388 | Location: Namur, Belgium

Charleroi Belfry

Charleroi Belfry is part of the City Hall, designed by architect Joseph André in 1936. It is a perfect blend of Classicism and Art Deco. The 70-metre-high belfry can be accessed by climbing 250 stairs and was built using blue and white stone and bricks. It is crowned with a small bronze tower. The last three levels are reserved for the chambers of the 47 bells forming the carillon. Every fifteen minutes it chimes out a f ...
Founded: 1936 | Location: Charleroi, Belgium

St. Germanus Church

St. Germanus Church with Stadstoren (City Tower) was built in the first half of the 12th century. The church was destroyed and rebuilt several times. Parts of the original church remain from the 14th-15th century. The tower was erected in 1555. Together with plenty other belfries in Belgium and France St. Germanus Church was recognised by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1999.
Founded: 14th century | Location: Tienen, Belgium

Veurne Town Hall

Several Renaissance-style buildings, mostly built using the local light-coloured brick, adorn Veurne’s central market square, which make it one of Belgium"s finest market squares. Among these are the city hall (Landhuis) and belfry, which is recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites in 1999. The Belfry of Cecilia Tower was built in 1628.
Founded: 1628 | Location: Veurne, Belgium

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.