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Tournai, France's first capital city

Tournai, the first French capital

Tournai, a city which is a genuine slice of history in itself. The first capital of France and over 2000 years old, it is one of the oldest cities in Belgium. Its monuments are impressive and its inhabitants are as welcoming as they come. If you sit down for a few minutes in the shade of the cathedral, you will undoubtedly feel like you are home.

Visit two thousand years of history

It its historical centre, Tournai opens the doors to 2000 years of history to you. A particularly rich history that is visited by following trails that are marked out by the lecterns and statues that lie at strategic points of the visit. An important point, is that Tournai gives you a whole host of ways to explore these trails: on foot, by segway, on a little tourist train, with an audio guide or accompanied by a tour guide.

Tournai has, in quite a small geographical area, two remarkable UNESCO listed heritage sites: its imposing cathedral and its belfry. Continuing along your stroll through the historical centre you will discover Saint-George's tower, the Red Fort, the Grand-Place and Place Saint-Pierre.

The cathedral gave Tournai its nickname of the "City of five bell towers". But did you know that only one of these towers contains bells? Upon entering the building you can't fail to be impressed by the horizontal, four-storied and two-rowed nave. Take the time to look up and observe the columns: you will be pleasantly surprised to see that they are all different. It is also impossible to miss the superb rose window that represents the city. The Belfry and its 257 steps takes you all the way to the top of the cathedral and gives you an unobstructed view of the city and its surrounding area. A must see before your visit of the city, so that you can get your bearings, or afterwards, to appreciate the route you have just completed. If you are visiting the city on a Sunday, you will be lucky enough to here the beautiful bells chiming? The bells used to announce good and bad news to the people of Tournai.

As for the Red Fort, it owes its name to the colour of its tiles. Inside, you will find an itinerary designed to tell you haw Tournai and its fortifications evolved through history. Before entering, why not stop for a moment at the foot of the fort, where you will find the statue of Martine and her dog Patapouf, famous characters created by two Tournai authors: Marlier and Delahaye, who have enchanted thousands of children all over the world.

Some must-see stops

Another historical site, the "Pont des Trous" is a stunning construction. The bridge, which dates back to the 13th century, is a military construction, one of the rare river doors still in existence. It was built to defend the Escault river. You will find it easily if you stroll along the banks of the Escaut, by foot or using the little tourist train which also takes you on to visit Tournai's other must-sees.

The Tournai Fine Arts Museum, conceived by Victor Horta is another remarkable building. Staying faithful to the Art Nouveau style it stands out thanks to its original and bright, open architecture. Not to mention the collections of works open to the public that include pieces from as far back as the 15th century alongside more contemporary artworks.

The TAMAT, another big museum in the Tournai, is dedicated to the textile arts of yesteryear and the present day. Rediscover the mural arts and fabric arts. Tournai, an artistic city, exhibits historical pieces which made its name in the 15th and 16th centuries. You can discover beautiful tapestries at the Halle-aux-Draps. Initially, in the 13th century, the Halle was used for the sale of foodstuffs and other artisan produce. Then, when the cloth industry took off; the building turned became specialised in textile trades. There were up to 2.500 professions in the 14th century.

A family visit

Tournai, the historical city, is a family destination par excellence. The Rando Famili route, with its audio guide, was devised specifically for your little ones and allows for the discovery of the seven most important sites. To accompany your children on their trip, the Wap Aventure games book offers them a chance to discover the city while attempting to solve an enigma which has been created just for them.

When everybody is warn out from their efforts, head down to the Grand Place, where you can sit down in the shadow of Tournai's most historical monuments: the Halle-aux-Draps, the Belfry and the typical façades that surround the Grand Place. Imagine yourself during the time of Clovis and the Merovingian dynasty, before he set off for Soissons and then on to Lutetia.

The Pont des Trous, one of the last existing river gateways (c) Joseph Jeanmart
The rose window at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Tournai (c) Jan DHondt
The banks of the Escaut in Tournai (c) Anibal Trejo

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