Mons - close to the border of France
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I had not been in Mons in ages. I was there by accident literally back just before I started my studies at university. Back then we were tree young boys all just passed 18 on a first road trip in Europe. Already when we reached Belgium we have had some mishaps with the old Volvo we were driving and in Mons it cave in. It cost us a lot of our money and a stay of 1½ day in Mons.
I had driven by numerous of times since on my way to Paris and I had always admired the Belfry standing tall overlooking and ready to warn the inhabitants of the danger coming from any direction.
The first signs of activity in the region of Mons can be found at Spiennes, where some of the best flint tools in Europe were found dating from the Neolithic period.
When Julius Caesar arrived in the region in the 1st century BC, the region was settled by the Nervii. A castrum was built in Roman times, giving the settlement its first Latin name Castrilocus; the name was later changed into Montes for the hills on which the castrum was built. In the 7th century, Saint Ghislain and two of his disciples built an oratory or chapel dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul near the Mons hill, at a place called Ursidongus, now known as Saint-Ghislain. Soon after, Saint Waltrude (in French Sainte Waudru), daughter of one of Clotaire II’s intendants, came to the oratory and was proclaimed a saint upon her death in 688. She was canonized in 1039.
Like Ath, its neighbour to the north-west, Mons was made a fortified city by Baldwin IV, Count of Hainaut in the 12th century. The population grew fast, trade flourished, and several commercial buildings were erected near the Grand’Place.
The 12th century also saw the appearance of the first town halls. The city had 4,700 inhabitants by the end of the 13th century. Mons succeeded Valenciennes as the capital of the county of Hainaut in 1295 and grew to 8,900 inhabitants by the end of the 15th century. In the 1450s, Matheus de Layens took over the construction of the Saint Waltrude church from Jan Spijkens and restored the town hall.
In 1515, Charles V took an oath in Mons as Count of Hainaut. In this period of its history, the city became the target of various occupations, starting in May 1572 with the Protestant takeover by Louis of Nassau, who had hoped to clear the way for the French Protestant leader Gaspard de Coligny to oppose Spanish rule.
After the murder of de Coligny during the St.
On April 8, 1691, after a nine-month siege, Louis XIV’s army stormed the city, which again suffered heavy casualties. From 1697 to 1701, Mons was alternately French or Austrian. After being under French control from 1701 to 1709, the Dutch army gained the upper hand in the Battle of Malplaquet.
In 1715, Mons returned to Austria under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). But the French did not give up easily; Louis XV besieged the city again in 1746. After the Battle of Jemappes (1792), the Hainaut area was annexed to France and Mons became the capital of the Jemappes district.
Following the fall of the First French Empire in 1814, King William I of the Netherlands fortified the city heavily. In 1830, however, Belgium gained its independence and the decision was made to dismantle fortified cities such as Mons, Charleroi, and Namur. The actual removal of fortifications only happened in the 1860s, allowing the creation of large boulevards and other urban projects.
The Industrial Revolution and coal mining made Mons a centre of heavy industry, which strongly influenced the culture and image of the Borinage region as a whole. It was to become an integral part of the sillon industriel, the industrial backbone of Wallonia.
On August 23 and 24, 1914, Mons was the site of the first battle fought by the British Army in World War I.
As an important industrial centre, the city was heavily bombed and several skirmishes took place in September 1944 between the American troops and the retreating German forces. After the war, most industries went into decline.
NATO's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) was relocated in Casteau, a village near Mons, from Fontainebleau after France's withdrawal from the military structure of the alliance in 1967. The relocation of SHAPE to this particular region of Belgium was largely a political decision, based in large part on the depressed economic conditions of the area at the time with the view to bolstering the economy of the region.
A riot in the prison of Mons took place in April 2006 after prisoner complaints concerning living conditions and treatment; no deaths were reported as a result of the riot, but the event focused attention on prisons throughout Belgium. Today, the city is an important university town and commercial centre.