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 of the town halls at Leuven, Brussels, and Middelburg. Above the ground-story arcade with vaulted ceiling, the building displays typical features of its regional forerunners: a richly decorated facade with pointed-arch windows separated by canopied niches, and a steep, dormered roof surrounded by an openwork parapet. The niches, although designed to contain statues, stand empty.
Atop the central belfry tower of six stories with three terraces, a stone crown supports a gilded brass figure of Hanske de Krijger, mythical guardian of the city. The crown on the tower and the double-headed eagles over the attic windows pay homage to a famous visitor to Oudenaarde, Emperor Charles V, who fathered Margaret of Parma here a few years before construction of the Town Hall began.
The Town Hall initially combined functions of government and commerce, with rooms on the ground floor reserved for traders: the Corn House, Weighhouse and Lower Cloth Hall. Today, this floor accommodates the town's tourism office.
On the second floor, an elaborate portal crafted by Pauwel van der Schelden opens into the Schepenzaal, where the aldermen of Oudenaarde convened. The People's Hall takes up the front of the same floor, alongside the terrace overlooking the market square. This was the main room for receptions, banquets and entertainment.
The Town Hall boasts a collection of relics from Oudenaarde's past. The tapestries hanging in the Lower Cloth Hall and the adjacent Cloth Hall building represent an art form that brought the city fame between about the 15th–18th centuries. Another specialty of Oudenaarde during that time was the silversmith's trade, whose wares are displayed in the Silver Room on the third floor. The third floor also houses the Municipal Museum with various local art and artifacts.
The Town Hall and its Belfry were designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1999.References:
Derbent is the southernmost city in Russia, occupying the narrow gateway between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains connecting the Eurasian steppes to the north and the Iranian Plateau to the south. Derbent claims to be the oldest city in Russia with historical documentation dating to the 8th century BCE. Due to its strategic location, over the course of history, the city changed ownership many times, particularly among the Persian, Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms.
Derbent has archaeological structures over 5,000 years old. As a result of this geographic peculiarity, the city developed between two walls, stretching from the mountains to the sea. These fortifications were continuously employed for a millennium and a half, longer than any other extant fortress in the world.
A traditionally and historically Iranian city, the first intensive settlement in the Derbent area dates from the 8th century BC. The site was intermittently controlled by the Persian monarchs, starting from the 6th century BC. Until the 4th century AD, it was part of Caucasian Albania which was a satrap of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. In the 5th century Derbent functioned as a border fortress and the seat of Sassanid Persians. Because of its strategic position on the northern branch of the Silk Route, the fortress was contested by the Khazars in the course of the Khazar-Arab Wars. In 654, Derbent was captured by the Arabs.
The Sassanid fortress does not exist any more, as the famous Derbent fortress as it stands today was built from the 12th century onward. Derbent became a strong military outpost and harbour of the Sassanid empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries, Derbent also became an important center for spreading the Christian faith in the Caucasus.
The site continued to be of great strategic importance until the 19th century. Today the fortifications consist of two parallel defence walls and Naryn-Kala Citadel. The walls are 3.6km long, stretching from the sea up to the mountains. They were built from stone and had 73 defence towers. 9 out of the 14 original gates remain.
In Naryn-Kala Citadel most of the old buildings, including a palace and a church, are now in ruins. It also holds baths and one of the oldest mosques in the former USSR.
In 2003, UNESCO included the old part of Derbent with traditional buildings in the World Heritage List.