Les citadelles mosanes
Les citadelles mosanes is part of the Tentative list of Belgium in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
The Meuse citadels are 3 forts along the river Meuse that held strategic positions from Roman times til the 20th century. The fortifications were strenghtened and modernized by the various ruling parties, including the Duchy of Burgundy, the Spanish Netherlands and France. The citadels are located in Namur, Huy and Dinant.
Map of Les citadelles mosanesLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
The Meuse Citadels TWHS comprises the fortified areas of the Walloon cities of Namur, Huy and Dinant. The river Meuse, which runs from France to the North Sea via Belgium and The Netherlands, used to be a natural border and offered strategic points of defense. The fortifications developed from Roman times til the 2nd half of the 20th century, when land territory warfare became of less importance.
On my day trip to Namur late January 2021 I of course visited its citadel, the major landmark of this city. There are Roman origins here as well, but the major stone wall construction started in the late Middle Ages. From the 16th century onwards these defense works were built here, among others in the 17th century under the direction of the well-known French military architect Vauban and later by the Dutch.
From the city center the Citadel is easy to access on foot via one of the bridges over the river Sambre. It is huge and a brisk walk is needed to climb up the ramp: the defense structures stand on a 100m high hill. The main grounds are freely accessible, only the former Terra Nova barracks are in use as a museum nowadays. There is also a system of underground passages (closed because of Covid).
Having walked to the very tip of the Citadel I was surprised to find a gigantic modern statue there. It is Searching for Utopia by the Belgian artist Jan Fabre. The 5m long sculpture of a bronze turtle has found its permanent resting place here after having been dragged around the country from exhibition to exhibition. This and other high points of the Citadel also present beautiful views of the inner city of Namur on the other river bank. With its 110,000 inhabitants Namur is not very large but I found it rather lively. It is the capital of the Walloon region and thus has a government function with the associated public buildings and staff.
A good view the other way around – from the city to the Citadel – can be had from the Jambes quarter. That area is recommended for a stroll also because of its Art Nouveau buildings.
Forts are definitely an overrepresented category on the WH List already: no less than 45 sites have military/fortifications as their main theme. Furthermore there are the fortified cities such as Cartagena and Havana. Also the serial approach, which Belgium has applied so succesfully with the Belfries and the Beguinages to spread WHS around the country, is totally artificial here. Even the city officials in Namur were disappointed that they had to share the nomination with the “lesser” citadels of Dinant and Huy. A 4th citadel, in Liège, is now in use as a hospital and it is unclear whether it will be included in a future nomination. Earlier on, the citadel of the French town of Givet (Fortress of Charlemont) was also named as a possible serial candidate.
Read more from Els Slots here.
We visited the Citadelles at Namur and Dinant over the last couple of days. Whilst both do warrant a visit, they offer quite different experiences.
The citadelle in Namur is undoubtedly impressive and we thoroughly enjoyed exploring it over a couple of hours. We were unsure beforehand how much of the citadelle we would be able to see without paying the entrance fee, so we started our walk from the street level in town, walking up the steps past the fabulous artwork called 'Searching for Utopia' (the turtle). As it happens, we just kept going up and up, admiring the views from the edges down over the town, rivers and the river confluence. Eventually we reached the visitor centre, but we still had access to the citadelle without paying anything, so kept going until we exited at the top. I believe that the entrance fee is payable only if you wish to join a guided tour of the site, or a tour of the underground passageways, meaning the rest of the site is free to explore.
There is a lot of work going on in Namur currently, both to restore the citadelle walls and within the town itself, especially around the river confluence area where new buildings are going up and a new, modern, pedestrian bridge is being built. Therefore it was hard to think of the town as being particularly scenic or pretty, however a grey, wet day in February is probably not the best time of year.
Dinant citadelle is beautifully set above the very pretty town, but cannot be seen to be as impressive as the one at Namur. However the views across the water to the town, the church and the citadelle will take some beating, even in rainy February!! Entrance to the citadelle is only via payment of an entrance fee (9.50 EUR). There is a cable car running between the top and the town, but this is part of an enhanced citadelle entrance fee only (10.50 EUR inc entrance fee and cable car), so you can't just pay for the cable car to take a look at the view. There are steps and paths up to the top though.
I enjoyed our visit to both citadelles and towns, but remain unconvinced on their worthiness as WHS to be honest. Particularly as, with the exception of the UNESCO submission, I could find no information about the link between the sites on the Meuse River, so couldn't see how they connect together into a cohesive listing.
July 2018 - on our trip to France we passed the Wallony. In the evening we still could see Huy, in the morning we took an extensive walk around the citadel of Namur. It is quite impressive. WHS status however, I am not sure. In Namur, you can spend easily an hour on the citadel. Interesting is also some artwork here. The golden turtle for instance. From up there you have a good view at the city and can also see the belfries (another WHS)
I visited Dinant several times and if I had to choose I'd always choose it over Namur, although the fortifications in Namur are worth visiting (perhaps not revisiting though). The highlight of my trip was to kayak there, passing by several fortifications.
Unfortunately we had already booked all the hotels for our tour of Belgium when the new TL of this country appeared on the Internet and we couldn't do anything to change radically our itinerary!!! This made me quite angry because the Tentative Lists often change only once every ten year and it had happened in the most inconvenient moment (and something similar already had happened before our tour of Spain!). However in the end we saw all the new sites but often too much badly, quickly and only some components of them.
This is the most typical case: we had the time only to view, even quite accidentally, the citadel of Namur, where we had booked a hotel, from the Pont de l'Évêché, in the late evening. Here we saw the impressive fortifications of the castle, the oldest part of the citadel with a watchtower standing out, high on a hill in front of us. Nothing else! Maybe in the future we will visit the citadel well, along with Dinant and Huy.
2008 Added to Tentative List
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