Belfries of Belgium and France

Sint-Truiden City Hall

Sint-Truiden’s historical centre includes the town hall (Stadhuis), with a 17th-century tower classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1999 (as part of Belfries in Belgium and France). The oldest parts of the building date from the 13th century.
Founded: 13th century | Location: Sint-Truiden, Belgium

Lier Town Hall

The present Lier Town Hall is the former clothmakers’ hall. In 1740 architect Jan Pieter de Bauerscheit the Younger substantially renovated the building, converting it into Brabant rococo style. It was designed as a large mansion adjacent to the Gothic Belfry. The council chamber is in Louis XV style. Special features worthy of note are the elegant oak spiral staircase, the painted ceiling in the council chamber, the wr ...
Founded: 1369/1740 | Location: Lier, Belgium

Tielt Belfry

The centrepiece of the Tielt market square is the belfry, which is the only remnant of the cloth hall. Its carillon was built by the du Mery brothers from Bruges in 1773. It has 36 bells with a total weight of 831 kilograms. It’s the only complete du Mery carillon in Flanders. The belfry is classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Founded: 1773 | Location: Tielt, Belgium

Dendermonde Town Hall

The former Cloth Hall on the Dendermonde Market Square is a jewel of Flemish medieval architecture. The Town Hall is especially colourful during the summer months, when it is embellished with heraldic flags and flower baskets. The Belfry, Unesco World Heritage since 1999, has housed a carillon since 1548, complete according to the Mechelen Standard with 49 bells, of 6800 kgs total weight. You will appreciate the magnifi ...
Founded: 1337 | Location: Dendermonde, Belgium

Nieuwpoort City Hall and Belfry

The Nieuwpoort belfry tower (as part of the city Hall) is one of the 56 belfries in Belgium and France, whose has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The belfry stands above the rectangular city hall which originates from the 14th century. During the First World War tower and the hall were, along with the entire city, almost completely destroyed. In 1921-1923 the belfry and the hall were reconstructed. The hal ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Nieuwpoort, Belgium

Menen Town Hall

Menen"s town hall consists of several buildings located in the middle of the market square. Through the centuries, it has been repeatedly devastated and altered. The present town hall building was established in 1782, when the Austrian Habsburgers ruled over the Southern Netherlands. The façade is in a simple and austere classical style. The Cloth Hall and the Mansion (landhuis) were also part of the town hall ...
Founded: 1782 | Location: Menen, Belgium

Diksmuide Belfry

Diksmuide belfry contains a 30-bell carillon and is one of the several belfries of Belgium and France that are recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. The City Hall and neighbouring Saint Nicolas Church were completely rebuilt after World War I in the Gothic style of the 14th and 15th centuries. The foundation stone of the town hall was laid in 1428. major renovations were carried out between 1567 and 1572. The con ...
Founded: 1428 | Location: Diksmuide, Belgium

Belfry of Thuin

The Belfry of Thuin is one of 56 belfries of Belgium and France since 1999 classified world heritage of UNESCO. The tower of the old church of Saint-Théodard, built without foundations on slate rock, is undeniably medieval and must date from the time of the greatest development of the city. Specifically in the period between 1153 and 1164 during visits of Bishop Henri-Leez prince decides to erect a tower for the ch ...
Founded: 17th century | Location: Thuin, Belgium

St. Leonard's Church

The Saint Leonard"s Church in Zoutleeuw stands on the former site of a Romanesque chapel erected in 1125 by Benedictines from Vlierbeek Abbey near Leuven. Construction of the present church began around 1231, and additions continued into the 16th century. Rendered mainly in the Gothic style, the building in its oldest parts shows traces of the Romanesque. The two heavy square towers flanking the west facade are conn ...
Founded: 1231 | Location: Zoutleeuw, Belgium

Herentals Cloth Hall

The Cloth Hall of Herentals with its belfry is one of the 56 belfries in Belgium and France, whose has been declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cloth hall dates from the 15th century, however it was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1534 and rebuilt.
Founded: 1534 | Location: Herentals, Belgium

Roeselare Town Hall

The oldest part of the Roeselare town hall was built between 1769 and 1771 in Louis XV style. The building got its modern wing in 1924. In 1999 the belfry, along with 55 other in Belgium and France, was recognized as a UNESCO as world heritage site.
Founded: 1769-1771 | Location: Roeselare, Belgium

Eeklo City Hall

The red-brick Eeklo city hall is a mixture of 17th century Flemish Renaissance architecture and modern renovations. One of the later additions (1930-32) is the belfry tower, which houses the town bells formerly kept in the adjacent church. Despite its young age and modest appearance, the tower became part of a set of belfries inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999.
Founded: 17th century | Location: Eeklo, Belgium

Cambrai Belfry

Cambrai Belfry was erected in the 11th and again in the 13th century as a symbol of community freedom. However it was destroyed several times when local uprisings were crushed. In 1395, Cambrai obtained final authorisation from the Emperor Venceslas to have a belfry, a function performed by the bell-tower of Saint-Martin church in the middle of the 16th century. Its role later saved it from destruction, when the church wa ...
Founded: 1447 | Location: Cambrai, France

Lo-Reninge Town Hall

The Old Town Hall of Lo is a historic landmark in the municipality of Lo-Reninge. Formerly the seat of the municipal government, the building is now a hotel and restaurant. The hall was built in 1565-1566 in Renaissance style by Joos Staesin from Ypres, in replacement of an older, dilapidated town hall. At the corner of the building is a belfry tower, supported in the front by two Tuscan columns. The four walls at the to ...
Founded: 1565-1566 | Location: Lo-Reninge, Belgium

Gembloux Belfry

The Gembloux belfry is part of the former parish church of Saint-Sauveur which dates probably date back to the 10th century. The church was no longer in use from 1810 and then demolished. In 1905, the bell tower was destroyed by a fire. From 1907 this was replaced by a new spherical bell. Gembloux"s Belfry belongs to the set of belfries of Belgium and France inscribed on UNESCO"s World Heritage List in 2005.
Founded: 12th century | Location: Gembloux, 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.