The city of Namur is the capital of the province of Namur and of Wallonia, the French-speaking southern part of Belgium. It lies at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers.
It was founded in Celtic times on the small stretch of land in between the two rivers. The settlement grew bigger and developed into an important trading town during Roman times, with a large population of blacksmiths and potters. A while later, construction of the first Christian churches was begun. In the early Middle Ages and with the rise of feudal systems, a citadel, overlooking the city, was built on a rocky spur between the rivers.
During the Spanish reign over the Low Countries – 16th and 17th centuries – Namur developed into a Catholic stronghold and a military center from where the Spanish fought Protestantism (as part of the infamous Spanish Inquisition). In the following centuries the city suffered heavily in the hands of armies wanting to conquer the prosperous and valuable Low Countries. In order to reach wealthy Flemish cities such as Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp the armies always had to cross the Meuse River in the Namur region. (The citadel of Dinant played an important role here as well.)
The city was also heavily assaulted in both World Wars. It was, for example, one of the front lines in the Battle of the Bulge. As a result of being leveled over and over again, there are relatively few old buildings left. There are a couple though, all of them interesting enough to make the city worth visiting. It’s also a city with lots of pedestrian streets and plenty of shopping opportunities.
Nowadays it’s a city of great political importance. The one major highlight of a visit is, without any doubt, the massively impressive citadel.
Saint Alban’s Cathedral
Constructed between 1751 and 1767 by the architect Gaetano Pisoni, it clearly looks Italian. The cathedral’s interior is overwhelming in the sense that it makes you feel very small.
The inside is virtually colorless, except for several paintings by world-famous painters, such as Anthony van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens.
The Meat Hall
The 16th-century Meat Hall is one of the most impressive and important monuments in Namur. It’s located on the banks of the Sambre River and houses the tourist information center and a great archaeological museum.
The foundations of the building are of limestone; the rest is made out of bricks and beautiful blue stone.
Church of Saint Loup
This Jesuit church was erected in the 17th century and is a fantastic example of religious Baroque architecture in that period of time.
Two centuries later, even Baudelaire couldn’t hide his admiration for this gorgeous building.
Place d’Armes and Belfry
The Place d’Armes is a cozy little square in the middle of the city center. There are shops, restaurants and bars all around. In a corner of the square quietly stands the St James Tower, aka the belfry of Namur. This belfry is also listed on UNESCO’s list of belfries in Belgium and France.
Namur has a great selection of museums. From archaeology to ancient arts, there’s something for everyone.
Lastly, Namur’s greatest tourist attraction: the enormous Citadel. This fortress, looking out over both sides of the city from a rock between the Sambre and Meuse rivers, was a true strategic bastion. As early as the 3rd century, the Romans built an outlook post to protect the Meuse valley from Germanic tribes. As time passed the fortifications grew bigger and bigger, until it almost became a city on its own and one of the largest and mightiest strongholds in Europe.
Now the Citadel is a public park, free to visit, and offers totally awesome panoramic views of Namur. You can get access to this interesting piece of history (including signposted walking tours) by cable car, by regular car or by walking up the winding road.
This article is also available as a smartphone app, allowing you to use it as a reference when visiting Namur. You can get the app right here!