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Belgium Under the Radar – Namur

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.

Panorama of Namur, Belgium
Panoramic view of the old town, on the banks of the Sambre River, seen from the Citadel

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.

Street in Namur, Belgium
A typical Namur street full of shops and stores

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.

Saint Alban's Cathedral in Namur, Belgium
The Saint Alban’s Cathedral in Italian style

The inside is virtually colorless, except for several paintings by world-famous painters, such as Anthony van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens.

Saint Alban's Cathedral; Namur
The altar underneath the massive dome

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.

Meat Hall of Namur, on the banks of the Sambre river, Belgium
Meat Hall on the left bank of the Sambre River

The foundations of the building are of limestone; the rest is made out of bricks and beautiful blue stone.

Meat Hall in Namur, Belgium
Inside the Meat Hall is a great museum and the tourist office

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.

Church of Saint Loup, Namur, Belgium
Beautiful facade of the Church of Saint Loup
Inside the Church of Saint Loup
A look inside the Church of Saint Loup

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.

Place d'Armes and the Belfry of Namur, Belgium
The Place d’Armes with the Belfry on the left

Museums

Namur has a great selection of museums. From archaeology to ancient arts, there’s something for everyone.

Street in Namur, Belgium
One of many narrow streets with museums

The Citadel

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.

Citadel of Namur and the Meuse River, Belgium
One of the fortified towers and a view of the Meuse River
The Cathedral, seen from the Citadel in Namur, Belgium
The Cathedral, seen from the Citadel
Fortified walls of the Citadel of Namur
Fortified walls

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.

Citadel of Namur, Belgium
A narrow stairway leads up to a good vantage point and a great view
Sambre and Meuse Rivers in Namur, Belgium, seen from the Citadel
The confluence of the Sambre and Meuse Rivers
View of the Meuse River and hills of the Ardennes, Belgium
View of the Meuse River and the hills and forests of the Ardennes

Location Namur
Sources: Wikipedia and Namur Tourism

Other posts in this series are: LierTongerenDurbuyDinantLeuven, Ypres and Aalst.

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!

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