Fort de la Chartreuse
The Fort de la Chartreuse, which dominates the Amercœur neighborhood of Liège in Belgium, was built between 1817 and 1823 to defend the city.
The fort is built on a strategic height that dominates the valley of the Meuse, which had been occupied by a Carthusian (Ordre des Chartreux) monastery until the French Revolution. The fort was built by the Dutch, who at the time administered southern Belgium.
The fort was abandoned as a fortification by the military in 1891 and was thereafter used as a barracks. From 1914 to 1918 the Germans used it as a prison, and again from 1940 to 1944. A lot of executions took place here. In 1944-1945 it was used by the Americans as a military hospital. The Belgian army left the site in 1988.
This historic site is waiting for a new destination but nature took over, therefore visit this somewhat spooky location. Since 2012 it is closed on behalf of the Belgian Police, but with some efforts you can still go inside. There are some local tours which include a visit but I have no contact details for such tours.
- Historical Travel
THE INTER-ALLIED MEMORIAL AT COINTE (WWI)
Because of its resistance to the German invasion in August 1914 Liège was presented with the Legion of Honour by the President of the French Republic Raymond Poincaré on 24 July 1919.
In that same year architect Paul Jaspar designed a project of a 90-m “Victory Belfry” to be erected close to the city hall and to the Perron, a symbol representing the freedom of Liège, but this project was never carried out. An international committee asked for the support of the allied countries to erect a monument dedicated to the glory of the allied soldiers on the hill of Cointe in Liège. The “Merode Committee” commissioned Antwerp architect Joseph Smolderen to design a monumental complex comprising the Church of the Sacred Heart and the 75-metre Inter-allied Memorial. The first stone of the church was laid on 21 June 1925 whereas the construction of the civilian monument started in September 1928 to be inaugurated on 20 July 1937.
The “crypt” contains the Franco-Belgian, Romanian and Spanish monuments while the vast esplanade comprises the Italian, Greek, Polish, English and Russian monuments in its hall of pillars. The monumental complex has been listed by the decree of 24 January 2011.
- Historical Travel
Pont de Fragnée
This imposing bridge across the Meuse River, at the southern end of the city of Liège, was built from 1901 to 1904 for the Universal Exposition of 1905.
The Fragnée bridge survived the First World War unharmed, but it was destroyed in 1940 at the beginning of the Second World War by the Belgian army to prevent its being used by the invading Germans.
After the war the bridge was rebuilt from 1946 to 1948. The original statues were preserved, but were not set up again on the bridge until 1959.
If by any chance this bridge reminds you of the Pont Alexandre III in Paris – that’s no accident.
Second photo: Twin columns at the end of Fragnée Bridge.
Third photo: Statue of a mermaid on Fragnée Bridge.
>>Next: Monument to Zénobe Gramme
Place du Marché (Market Square)
In the Middle Ages this really was the marketplace where people came to buy their daily groceries, but eventually it became too small for the growing population so the market was moved elsewhere.
The pillar and fountain in the center of the square were designed by a local artist named Jean Del Cour in 1697. This pillar was traditionally depicted in the coat of arms of the city, and it was supposedly the inspiration for a very abstract logo adopted by the city council in 2007.
Second photo: Wall to wall restaurants at the Market Square. I tried one of these just for a snack and a cup of coffee. The clientele seemed to be mainly local people who were just hanging around, killing time, which I suppose is the traditional use of cafés in times of high unemployment.
>>Next: Palace of the Prince Bishops
Two crumbling landmarks on a hill
Up on a hill at the south end of Liège there is a church called Sacré Coeur (Sacred Heart) and a tower called the Inter-Allied Monument. These can be seen from many places in the southern half of the city.
From a distance, these two monuments look a bit shabby, but when you climb the hill and get up close to them they look – extremely shabby. Both were closed and fenced in when I went up to see them in 2011. On the fences there were signs claiming that both monuments were being re-constructed, but there was no visible evidence of any construction work, just decay.
Both the church and the tower were built in the 1930s and were intended as memorials to the allied combatants of the First World War. Liège was the first Belgian city to be attacked in that war by the invading German forces, on August 4-6, 1914.
As in Lyon, France, which is also dominated by a church and a tower up on a hill, the idea in Liège was to have a religious and a secular monument side by side, so as to satisfy both the believing and the disbelieving segments of the population.
By coincidence – or not – the church on the hill above Liège has the same name as the larger and more famous Basilica Sacré Coeur which looms menacingly on a hill above the city of Paris.
Second photo: View of Sacré Coeur and the Inter-Allied Monument from across the Meuse River in Liège.
Third photo: Looking up at Sacré Coeur in Liège.
Fourth photo: Sacré Coeur in need of repair.
>>Next: The Meuse River
- Historical Travel
Palais des Congrès (Convention Center)
On the right bank of the Meuse River in Liège there is a new Convention Center (Palais des Congrès) with some twenty multi-purpose halls of various sizes, including a large auditorium that can accommodate more than a thousand people.
When I was in Liège the Convention Center was the site of the third Annual Business and Technical Conference of the “European Healthy Cities Network”, sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO). Some of the people attending the conference were staying at my hotel, and there was a bus shuttle service to bring them to and from the Convention Center.
Second photo: The Meuse River and the RAVel 1 pedestrian and bicycle route by the Convention Center.
>>Next: Two crumbling landmarks on a hill
Monument to Zénobe Gramme
At the east end of Fragnée Bridge, on the right bank of the Meuse River, there is an elaborate monument to the Belgian electrical engineer Zénobe Gramme (1825-1901), the inventor of the industrial dynamo.
Gramme was a practical man (and later in life a successful businessman), not a scientist or theoretician. He made his inventions through trial and error while working with machines in the factory. There is an anecdote about him (I don’t know if this is true, but here it is) saying that when a physicist explained to him how his dynamo worked he shook his head and said that if he had had to know all that he would never have been able to invent it (« s'il m'avait fallu savoir tout cela, je ne l'aurais jamais inventée »).
It is not true that the gram or gramme as a unit of measurement in the metric system was named after Zénobe Gramme. The metric system was first adopted (in France) a quarter century before Zénobe Gramme was even born, and the word gram or gramme was derived from the late Latin word grámma, meaning a small weight.
By the way, as I have explained in one of my Bacharach tips, the French writer Victor Hugo was a fierce opponent of the metric system. He preferred to weigh things in terms of gros, onces and livres, not grams and kilograms.
Second photo: This part of the monument shows Gramme at age 18, during his apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker.
Third photo: Here is Gramme at age 40, deep in thought about how to make a workable industrial dynamo.
Fourth photo: Here at the top of the monument is Gramme with his invention, being admired by a mythological lady.
>>Next: Palais des Congrès (Convention Center)
- Historical Travel
Palace of the Prince Bishops
For over eight centuries, from 980–1795, a large swath of what is now Belgium was ruled from Liège by a succession of Prince Bishops, who as the name implies were both the secular and the religious rulers. Separation of church and state was a concept whose time had not yet come (and would no doubt have horrified these rulers if they had ever heard of it).
Victor Hugo had mixed feelings about this palace when he visited in 1840. While walking around in a labyrinth of narrow streets “adorned here and there with Madonnas above which like concentric circles there were large ribbons of tin covered with pious inscriptions”, he suddenly came upon “a vast and somber wall of stone” which he recognized as the rear façade of a medieval palace. He went in and looked around the courtyard, of which he wrote:
Nowhere have I seen an architectural ensemble that was more bizarre, more morose and more superb. Four high granite façades topped by four wonderful slate roofs, carried by four galleries of arched arcades that seem to expand and collapse under the weight, limit the view in all directions. Two of these façades, perfectly intact, present a balanced combination of arcs and flattened arches that characterize the end of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth.
But he didn’t like the more modern parts:
Unfortunately the other two façades, which were destroyed by the great fire of 1734, were rebuilt in the sickly style of that era and somewhat spoil the overall effect. However, their dryness has nothing that completely contradicts the austerity of the old palace.
After looking for a long time at all the architectural details of the arcades, Hugo left the courtyard by the main gate where he could “contemplate the current façade, a glacial and emphatic work by the disastrous architect of 1748. It was like seeing a tragedy by Lagrange-Chancel in marble and stone.”
Evidently Victor Hugo was not at all an admirer of the now-forgotten French playwright François Joseph Lagrange-Chancel (1677–1758). He was also not a fan of modern architecture, modern for him being anything that was built after about 1710 or so.
>>Next: Pont de Fragnée
- Historical Travel
Hôtel de Ville
The City Hall turns out to have been built from 1714 to 1718 on the site of an earlier building called “La Violette” that was destroyed by French artillery in 1691.
Second photo: City Hall from the Market Square.
>>Next: Place du Marché (Market Square)
- Historical Travel
Le grand Curtius
This striking red building is now a museum which opened in 2009, featuring “7000 years of art and history”.
Unfortunately I never managed to be there at a time when the museum was open, and I was particularly sorry that I missed their temporary exhibit that was called “Liège in the time of Victor Hugo”, which illustrated the great changes that took place in Liège in the middle of the nineteenth century, between Victor Hugo’s two visits in 1840 and 1864.
Second photo: A corner of the newly renovated Grand Curtius building.
Third photo: A narrow lane (not very clean) along the side of the Grand Curtius.
Fourth photo: A handwritten sign on the side door, informing people who urinate or defecate here “(Yes, that happens!!)” that they should smile because they are being filmed.
Fifth photo: An iron grate on one of the windows.
By the way, people who post photos on the internet have a tendency to confuse this red building with another one just a few blocks away. So please note, this one by the river is the Grand Curtius and the other red building up by the Market Square is the City Hall, okay?
>>Next: City Hall
- Museum Visits
Museum of Walloon Life
This museum has been totally redesigned in recent years, and now gives a thorough and attractive picture of all aspects of life in the French-speaking part of Belgium.
Of course this includes the boom of heavy industry in the nineteenth century and the painful process of de-industrialization in the twentieth.
There are also comprehensive exhibits on social and religious issues and on the development of education in the region, including an authentic elementary school classroom from the early twentieth century.
Quite a bit of space is also devoted to the history of Walloonian activism, which led to the establishment of the semi-autonomous Walloon Region in 1980.
I left the museum feeling that I had learned a lot about this corner of Europe, but my impression is that life in Wallonia is not particularly unique, in fact it seems quite similar to life in the neighboring regions of Germany, France and the Netherlands and even (Shhh! Don’t tell them I said this!) quite similar to life in the rival Belgian region of Flanders, just up the road.
Second photo: Courtyard of the monastery of the Friars Minor, where the museum is located.
Third photo: Inside the Museum of Walloon Life.
>>Next: Le grand Curtius
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
Salomé in the opera tent
The opera I saw in Liège was Salomé by Richard Strauss, but sung this time in French, not in the original German. This took a bit of getting used to, since I have heard it so often in German, but it works fine either way.
So this time the first line of the opera was: Comme la princesse Salomé est belle ce soir! instead of the familiar Wie schön ist die Prinzessin Salome heute Nacht! (How beautiful is the Princess Salome tonight!)
The opera Salomé was first performed in German in 1905. The composer himself was involved in preparing the text of the French version, which debuted in 1907. His intention was to follow as closely as possible the original French text of the play Salomé by Oscar Wilde (who wrote it directly in French, not English), while at the same time making sure it fit the music.
Since there is no orchestra pit in the tent, I was afraid the 110-piece orchestra might be too loud and drown out the singers, but this was not the case. What did happen was that the orchestra was spread out more than usual across the whole width of the tent, so it was easier to hear the individual instruments and groups of instruments, rather than a compact mass of sound. (I liked this, but some people prefer the usual arrangement.)
I have written about the opera Salome before, especially in a travelogue on my Heidelberg page entitled "Zehra Yildiz (1956-1997)".
Also on my Heidelberg page I wrote a Warning/Danger tip called Don't let your stepdaughter read this! This tip includes the biblical text (Mark 6:21-28) about Salomé demanding the head of John the Baptist from her stepfather, King Herod.
Second photo: Seating in the opera tent in Liège. In the opera tent there are 1100 seats -– more than in the old opera house. From all the seats there is a good view of the stage. The acoustics are surprisingly good, but during part of the performance of Salome there was a heavy rainstorm outside and we could hear a low rustling sound of the rain falling on the tent. (This was irritating at first, but it was all right as soon as I realized what it was.)
Third, fourth and fifth photos: The lights in the tent are concentrated on two lighting towers located in the middle of the audience. Before the performance the two lighting man climbed up the towers and stayed up there throughout the evening.
>>Next: Musée Grétry
- Theater Travel
Foyer of the opera tent
The opera tent is actually a group of tents, of which the front ones serve as a roomy and elegant foyer.
On my Kassel page I showed a different (smaller) opera tent, the “Kuppeltheater”, which so far has been used in four different German cities so far while their opera houses were being renovated. There are some photos of this in my Kuppeltheater tip. Besides Kassel, the Kuppeltheater has been used as a temporary opera venue in Freiburg, Erfurt and now Heidelberg (as of 2011).
Second photo: Refreshments in the opera tent in Liège.
Third photo: People in the foyer of the opera tent, after the performance.
>>Next: Salomé in the opera tent
- Theater Travel
Palais Opéra de Liège
While the opera house is being rebuilt, the Royal Opera of Wallonia is performing in the “Opera Palace”, which is actually a large tent that was set up “in record time” in the district of Outremeuse (meaning The Other Side of the Meuse) on the now-vacant site of the former Hospital of Bavière.
The General and Artistic Director of the Royal Opera, Stefano Mazzonis, is quoted on the opera’s website as saying: “When we were searching for a hall that could accommodate our performances during two seasons, we looked at thirty-some places. None of them fulfilled our technical requirements. Then I remembered this big tent which had welcomed Venetian opera goers during nine seasons after the fire that destroyed the Opera Fenice in Venice. It turned out that the tent was for sale. So we bought it!”
Second photo: The opera tent aka Palais Opéra de Liège from outside the fence.
Third photo: A derelict building next to the opera tent, with mysterious graffiti. Secu means Social Security and Rire Vivre Libre means “laugh live free”, but I’m afraid I’ll have to pass on the rest. (Perhaps some local person can explain?) This is a building that was left over from the old Bavière Hospital, because it was still used for a while longer, after most of the hospital buildings were vacated in 1985.
Fourth photo: To me, the words on the front of the old hospital building were just as puzzling as the graffiti, because some of the letters were woven together in a way that was fashionable in the Art Nouveau period. I finally figured out that the main word was Stomatologie, which is the French word for (you guessed it) stomatology. This turns out to be the branch of medicine that deals with the mouth and its diseases, though most people today would go to a dentist for this sort of thing instead of saying “Take me to a stomatologist.”
Since 1985 there have been numerous projects and proposals for the development of this site where the hospital used to me, but for various reasons they have all fallen through up to now. (Details in the website below, in French.)
>>Next: Foyer of the opera tent
- Historical Travel
- Theater Travel
Théâtre Royal de Liège
The Royal Theater, home of the Royal Opera of the Wallonia, is currently (as of 2011) being reconstructed and enlarged. So far it seems that the original building will be dwarfed by the new tower for stage machinery which is under construction at the rear.
The theater was originally built in 1816, so it had already been there for nearly a quarter century when Victor Hugo first saw it in 1840. Evidently he didn’t like it very much. In his book Le Rhin he wrote:
Liège no longer has its Dominican convent, that dark cloister with such a superb reputation, that noble edifice with such a proud architecture. Instead it has, at precisely the same site, a theater embellished with columns crowned with ornamental capitals in the style of Le Conte, where they play comic operas. The cornerstone of this theater was laid by Mademoiselle Mars.
You can almost hear the sneer in his voice when he mentions comic operas and especially Mademoiselle Mars, a prominent French actress of the Comédie Française in Paris whose real name was Anne Françoise Hyppolyte Boutet Salvetat (1779-1847).
Second photo: In front of the opera house is a statue of the composer André-Modeste Grétry (1741-1813), who was born in Liège and became an incredibly successful composer of comic operas in Paris. Today his operas are rarely if ever performed. Grétry was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, but fifteen years after his death his heart was allegedly removed and taken to Liège where it was placed inside this statue. (I wonder how much of the heart was still there after fifteen years of burial. Maybe it had been embalmed in some way? I’m always rather skeptical about this sort of story, but never mind.)
>>Next: Palais Opéra de Liège
- Theater Travel
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