Notre-Dame Cathedral in Tournai
The Notre-Dame Cathedral in Tournai is seen as a precursor of the vast Gothic cathedrals.
The construction of the Cathedral lasted from 1146 until 1325. The building shows both a Romanesque core and Gothic elements, such as the choir, which were added later on. Its size is a result of the technological progress that was made during this era, while the sober decorations are said to be in the Carolingian tradition.
Community Perspective: The Cathedral seems to have been under scaffolding permanently between 2005 and 2017, according to the reviews. As of 2023, the main body of the church is fully visible again but restorations are going on inside.
Map of Notre-Dame Cathedral in TournaiLoad map
I mainly want to give an update about the renovations taking place at the cathedral of Tournai. As of December 2023, the scaffoldings on the outside are mostly removed, so the main body of the cathedral can be seen again in all of its gray glory. However, there are still extensive renovation works going on inside the cathedral. Almost half of the interior is blocked off and under scaffolding, including the complete gothic choir. So they are working on it since almost 20 years now ? The open parts are also a bit unkempt, with tools lying around, bad lighting and artwork in strange places. So it is still not the best time to visit the cathedral.
As for my general impression, I agree with most reviewers that it is not the most interesting cathedral. The outside appearance is large, but plain, gray and unimpressive. It is also difficult to get a good view of the cathedral, as it is mostly hidden behind other buildings. The interior (as far as I could see) is also quite plain, with not much decorations in the romanesque part. I also thought that the romanesque and gothic parts are not well integrated, leading to a disjointed feeling of the whole building. Compared to other big european cathedrals, the Tournai cathedral is at best a third tier cathedral. Other romanesque cathedrals (e.g. Speyer, Limburg, Hildesheim) are both older and more interesting and beautiful. And even these are generally seen as being clearly inferior to the top tier cathedrals like Aachen, Sienna or Canterbury. On location, there is the claim that Tournai cathedral is 'one of the most significant cultural monuments in western Europe' - but a justification is missing.
The rest of Tournai also didn't leave the best impression - the nice belfry was closed down (with no mention of how long), the grand place was buried in traffic, parked cars and tacky christmas stalls, and the little museum of beaux arts (a not-so-major work of Horta) had only half the rooms open but still demanded the full price.
Visited in December 2023
Importance 2/5 Beauty 3/5 Uniqueness 3/5 Environment 3/5 Experience 2/5
July 2018 - last hours in Belgium we still visited Tournai and had some Frittes before we wold only get French Cuisine. Well, nice church but I do not understand the OUV of Tournai Cathedral. Anyway good to see this church and town. We visited the church from inside and outside but then continued our journey. There are plenty of churches in Belgium that seem to be way more interesting than this one.
My wife and I visited here in August 2017. The cathedral is currently undergoing heavy renovation, both inside and out. I would estimate something like half of the exterior is covered in scaffolding, and less than a third of the interior is available for viewing.
However, you can still see the impressive towers and the portico at one end, as well as the exposed remains of earlier churches inside.
With that in mind, Tournai is actually a beautiful little town for a visit, particularly on a sunny summer afternoon like we had. A great lunch on the square, a climb of the belfry (part of the separate Belfries of Belgium and France listing) from where you get a fantastic view of the cathedral, then a wander around the cathedral.
See below for my full video review!
Read more from Joel on the Road here.
The cathedral was pretty much closed for restorations when I visited and will be for a couple more years.
When I arrive, I find that there is a small door open on the opposite side of the cathedral to where I’ve approached from. I go through and leave my bag just inside the entrance. I am in a chapel that, at first, seems quite large and I start to think that maybe I will be able to see more than I thought. It’s only when I go through a little passageway to the main section of the church that I realise what a small proportion of the building the chapel is.
Here is where all the work is happening. The passageway is covered with scaffolding and boards and, by peeking through some cracks, I can see up to the ceiling and across to some of the windows. There’s an enormous space in there that, when open, must be quite breathtaking. It’s a pity that they’ve decided to hide it from view rather than give visitors an opportunity to see the restoration work that’s going on.
Read more from Michael Turtle here.
Huge cathedral but still covered with scaffoldings. This will last until 2017 - major works, although minor works will be carried out until 2025 (?).
Currently (July 2015) it is not possible to visit main nave but at least you may see some views of archeological findings from different stages of monument construction (even from the time when there were Gallo-Roman buildings).
I visited the cathedral in Tournai in 2011 and was really impressed by the town in general. Clean, not so many tourists when I visited, quiet, lots of bars and restaurants. The Cathedral is really a highlight together with the nearby belfry (also a WHS).
The Cathedral of Tournai is one of the most representative and beautiful example of the Gothic Art. Its most ancient part has been built during the 12th century. The 36 meters high and 134 meters long Cathedral has been renovated after suffering great damages and is one of the jewels of Belgian Heritage.
While visiting the city of Tournai, don't forgot to give a look to the belfry of the city which belong to the list of Belfries of Belgium and France, registered on the WHS list.
For my birthday some of my friends joined me in visiting the Cathedral in Tournai. We went by train. Tournai is easily reachable from Brussels though we had to do some transfers from my place before we could get there.
From the station we first went to the Tour Henri VIII. Tournai is the only Belgian city ever to have been conquered by the English and this tower is one of the sole survivors of this period. Also nearby is the Pont Des trous which is also a nice sight.
We went on to the Grand Place. And it struck me how beautifull this market was. You got a great view on the world heritage belfry. I'm also guessing something was going on that day as most of the statues we came across were dressed up. As probably stated before, the belfry is definitly worth it. Being the oldest in Belgium, being nicely restored and offering a beautifull view to the cathedral. After visiting 19 belfries, this one comes out as one of the best for the moment.
Onto the cathedral, which is undergoing restoration. Some parts are entirely wrapped in scaffolding. Especially the nave's exterior is nicely tucked in. The size of the building is puzzling to me. I expected the towers to be somewhat bigger, but the building itself is quite big. I especially love the purple colour of the roofs.
The gothic choir inside was entirely sealed up and filled to the brim with scaffolding. Some parts of the floor in the cathedral are opened up, for archeological research I presume. The nave itself was quite beautifull, especially the rosary window and the old statues outside at the entrance. The part I liked the most in the cathedral was the rood screen. I found it to be quite beautifull.
For a measely 2 EUR you can visit the treasury, which holds some very nice treasures. Definitly worth it's money.
I can recommend a visit to this (one of the oldest religious) building in Belgium.
I visited the cathedral on July 31st, 2008. It still resembles a building site, both outside and inside. The main body of the nave is cordoned off and there is clearly much restoration and repair work to be done. Saying that, you still get a sense of the grandeur of this wonderful building.
The Grand Place is lively and bustling with a huge choice of places to eat or have a drink. An English concert band from a school in Essex were playing when we strolled around.
The cathedral is right in the centre of town and can be seen from most places. It is a fine example of Romanesque architecture. I was impressed by the design it is not as lavish as many other European cathedrals, but it is still quite striking. Unfortunately it was closed when I visited so I did not get a chance to look inside, and see the apparently impressive sculptures.
There were some renovations continuing on the outside but it seems that the major restoration is nearing completion after the towers were hit by a tornado! in 1999. Of the façade the Porte Mantile archway was impressive if a little weather/ pollution worn.
The town of Tournai was quite pretty and very quiet. At the end of la Grand Place about fifty metres from the cathedral is the Belfry which is part of the Belfries of Belgium and France WHS. This was excellent; the exhibits inside give a great introduction to what these towers represent, it also gives the best views of the cathedral (see picture).
Tournai is easy to reach from Brussels 1h or Lille 25min, and is close to two more WHS Spieness Flint mines and Le Canal du Centre. It is worth a trip if you are in the area.
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