Tournai's rich History
Being one of Belgium's oldest cities, Tournai has a very rich history: already an important city in the Roman Empire, it became later one of the main cities in the County of Flanders. As former merovingian capital and birthplace of Clovis, the French Monarchy always considered Tournai as its craddle and, as a matter of fact, the city still bears the fleur de lys in its coat of arms. Under Henry VIII, Tournai came under the sovereignity of England. Later on, it was part of the Low Countries and, with them, was in the hands of different Empires: Spain, Austria, France and Holland.
Follow the signs to the centre of the city and you will end up in the Market Square, a nice triangle square, partly car-free. Enjoy a drink on one of the many terraces on the square while admiring the surrounding architecture.
Everyone in Tournai knows Casterman. We were all proud of this worldwide famous printer from our region. Why famous ? Well, ever heard of Tintin? If you have ever held one of these albums in your hand, did you know it used to be printed in Tournai?
This venerable house celebrated its 200 years in 1980 by publishing a special Tintin album. Lucien Jardez translated "The Castafiore Emerald" into Tournaisian dialect: "Les pinderlots de l'castafiore".
Casterman was an institution! For the comics, there was not only Tintin but also Alix, Corto Maltese and many others. On the side of the children's literature, Martine or Petzi were two well known characters (at least inside Belgium)!
Even with these treasures and the millions Tintin albums sold per year, the company forgot to modernize its infrastructure and went broke in 1999!! It was then split into two part, the editing activities were sold to Flammarion (later bought by Rizzoli, an Italian group) and the printing activities continued on their own until Evadix bought them in 2002.
This last part, known as Casterman Printing, is the only activity remaining in Tournai!
Although born in Northern France, the Scheldt river (Escaut, as it is known locally, or Schelde in Flemish) is one of Belgium's main rivers. It is not very long but, after crossing the entire Flanders, it forms a very large estuary where the port of Antwerp is located, which happens to be the most important in Belgium and one of the busiest in Europe. This estuary is part of a larger delta formed by the Meuse and the Rhine.
In Tournai, the Scheldt looks pretty insignificant, rather like a canal, but its banks are lined with trees and make a pleasant promenade. The river splits the historical centre in two almost simetrical halves (although almost all the sights are in the Northern bank) and is spanned by several bridges (only one being historical - Le Pont des Trous).
The most beautiful building on the market square is the cloth hall. It was the medieval center of the cloth trade. It started as a wooden building in the 13th century but has been rebuilt many times. It now houses temporary exhibitions.