The flat biking roads next to the Canal and the Scheldt are ideal places for relaxing bike rides on sunny days.
This is Bossuit, the village where the Kortrijk canal merges into the Scheldt
Tournai (or "Doornik in Dutch) is a town about 30 km south of my home town of Kortrijk
. Personally I think it is one of the most underrated towns in Belgium. I must admit that I had never been there untill last year when I decided to take a bike trip along the Kortrijk-Bossuit canal, which connects Kortrijk with the Scheldt river, and then following the Scheldt upstream untill I arrived in Tournai
. The pictures on this page are from this trip.
The top reason to visit Tournai is its amazing cathedral, it REALLY is amazing, having travelled through Europe a lot already I'm not easily impressed by churches, but this one is simply majestic.
Tournai Cathedral, because of its size it's really hard to capture in one picture. The five towers are actually about in the middle of the cathedral's length.
It has five towers and if it impresses me I can't even imagine how medieval people must have felt when they saw it. The church is 134 m long and was built mainly in the 12th and 13th century, but the plans often changed, which is why you can see a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque elements in different parts of the church. The Cathedral was in the news last year because a Byzantian Cross which had not left the Cathedral for over 800 years was stolen and never found again. The cross had an estimated worth of 40 million euros and is seen as unsellable because of its fame, so it's probably sitting in somebodies private collection, I hope it will be returned one day.
The history of Tournai is very rich by the way, founded in Roman times as Turcanum it is one of the oldest cities in Belgium and was the capital of the entire Frankish empire as early as the year 432.
Pont des Trous, bridge over the Scheldt in Tournai
That's right, 432 AD, a time when most other Belgian cities didn't even exist. Clovis, the first Frankish King, and the person who converted the Franks from Germanic Paganism to Christianity (and therefor had a huge influence on the entire Western history and culture) was born in Tournai in 465, when it still was the capital city. Later (much later) it became one of the biggest cities in Flanders and was especially well known for its wall tapisteries which could (and can) be found in castles all over Europe. Other sights include and the Belfry, which is the oldest one in Belgium (even though I thought it looked surprisingly fresh in white) and the 13th century bridge over the Scheldt river called Pont des Trous. This structure consists of a bridge in 3 parts and two big defensive towers, and was built to control the traffic on the Scheldt, it had huge steel barriers which could be lowered to block all trafic, which happened when in 1340 a joint Flemish-English army, led by King Edward III of England attacked the city.
The Belfry, built in 1192
(it was all written on a sign near the bridge :)
Much later the English attacked the city again (they really loved Tournai for some reason) and it was conquered by Henry VIII, making it the only Belgian city that ever was under English control, Tournai even had its own representation in the English parliament. (thanks wikipedia) It also was an important center of Calvinism at some point. Really there is so much history in this town, it's too much for one blog post.
Today Tournai is a small town, but when I visited it was quite bustling with people, probably because it was a very sunny day, but they all seemed local people, no tourists and they filled the many terasses on the central square and the streets around it.
I took a different road back, when walking through the center of Tournai I noticed a street called "Rue de Courtrai" (Kortrijk street) so I figured not much could go wrong if I followed that one, and that turned out to be true.
Locals enjoying the weather
Once I arrived back in Kortrijk I noticed that the name of the street changed to Doorniksestraat (Tournai street) which I thought was pretty cute and made me feel like Flanders and Wallonia are more connected than it sometimes seems.
All in all Tournai might seem like just another cosy town, but its rich history and amzing cathedral make it worth visiting for the historical and culturally-minded travellers amongst us. You can easily combine it with a trip to other nearby cities such as Lille.
-For all those who love useless trivia (and I must admit I do): Tournai is the geographically largest town in Belgium. It consists of the town of Tournai and an unprecedented 29 surrounding villages, covering an area of 213.75 km². This is probably because there are no other cities or towns nearby.
This was my bike ride, the whole thing was about 70km, which doesn't seem like much but I have no condition and it was a heavy city bike so I was quite tired afterwards :-)
-I remember one of the first sentences in French I ever heard, when I was around 7 years old was "Tournai est une ville aux cinq clochers et quatre sans cloche" which is a play on words, when you hear it out loud most people hear "quatre cent cloche" and therefor think the sentence means "Tournai is a city with 5 bell towers ...and four hundred bells" when in fact it means "and four are without bells."
I think we can all agree it's a pretty lame play on words but for some reason I remembered it :)