Place Saint-Lambert is the heart of Lüttich. Nowadays it is a wide open space in modern design. This square is about the only area in the city centre which has brand new pavement. Works were still in progress in summer 2012. (For reasons explained on the intro page, the topic of pavement has a special meaning to me. It was on this new pavement where the accident happened. Watch your steps...)
This square is where some of the most important events in Liège's history took place. In the year 705, Bishop Lambert of Liège was murdered right here. Lambert was canonized and the site of his violent death became a centre of pilgrimage. In the middle ages the Cathedral of Saint-Lambert was built over the place. There is nothing left of this magnificent church which is depicted in some of the most famous paintings by Jan van Eyck: it was destroyed in the years after the French Revolution, being considered a symbol of the much hated bishops. The baroque Bishop's Palace on the Northern side of the square still tells of their past power.
The pattern of the pavement in the central part of the square shows the outlines of the cathedral's ground plan, so you get an idea of its size. The upright metal structures represent the pillars in the walls.
The "museum of Wallonian life" occupies the former convent buildings of the Minorite monastery, a renaissance complex of four wings around the cloister plsu some side buildings. The former abbey church is used for temporary exhibitions.
The style of the facades show the typical elements of the Maas/Meuse region's renaissance architecture, very similar to, for example, Maison Curtius: structural elements and horizontal stripes in whiteish stone, the walls built from bricks, regular facades with little decoration, ornated only by the rhythm of the bicolor stonemasonry.
The interior is a modern structure which has been inserted into the old shell. Modern glass elements like the outward staircase and the corridors along the Southern side of the courtyard give testimony of this rather recent refurbishment. (Photographers: reflections in the glass walls make interesting pictures.)
The permanent exhibition presents all aspects of life in Wallonie: daily life, work and leisure, crafts and insdustry, local traditions and festivals, the development of the cities and towns, arts and culture. A part is dedicated to politics and history, i.e. the Wallonian identity and the wish for separation and independence from the Flemish part of the country. The innocent foreign outsider wonders how come these two groups can't simply live together side by side in mutual respect. It seems better, though, not to express this ignorant question towards Belgians, no matter if Wallonian or Flemish. Things are as they are.
All in all this museum is interesting and worthwhile and helps to get an idea of Wallonian identity.
The exhibition begins on the second floor (that's 3 stairs up not 2). The route through all departments of the exhibition is marked by arrows with numbers on the floor. The sequel of the numbers is not always obvious, but the guards will send you back on the right way should you go astray - no matter if you did by mistake or on purpose. In my humble opinion there is no didactic concept that would require following this and no other line. The museum has different departments about various themes that could be visited in any row. However, you better stick with the proposed route to avoid discussions, especially if your French is as poor as mine.
The cloister can be accessed from the street for free. The entrance to the museum is, when entering from the street, in the rightcorner of the cloister. The museum charges an entrance fee of 5 € for adults (summer 2012). The same ticket is also valid for Bonnefanten museum in Maastricht and for another museum in another city which I don't remember, sorry. At the cash desk you will receive a leaflet with this information.
Explanations on the boards and signs are provided in French only. Audioguides are available in several languages.
Photography is strictly banned inside the museum.
This street leads from Ferronstree up the hillside to the quarter au Péri and the citadel. The "street" consists of one single stairway with all in all 374 steps - number according to Wikipedia, I did not count them because I needed my breath for climbing them. The top side of each stair is inclined so the ascent is even more than it seems. The pavement is made from bricks, hence very uneven. Walking down is even worse than climbing up. There is an alternative way down along au Péri and through the back streets to Place Saint-Lambert.
If you still have breath during the climb, look at the facades and doors of the houses along the stairway, and imagine living there, carrying your groceries home every day...
The reward at the top is a bench, the feeling that you made Montagne de Bueren, watching those people who are still struggling with the climb, and the view down the long fight of stairs and to a segment of the city panorama. From the top it is not far to the army monument (Monument de 14e de Ligne) on the hilltop from where you'll have the view over the entire city.
I am mentioning this train station among the "Things to do" instead of the "Transportation" tips because of its remarkable architecture. This station hall is worth a stroll with the camera.
Gullemins is the new central station of Liège, here the high speed Thalys and ICE trains stop. It is an important hub for the international as well as the regional railway network. "Central station" is not the right term, though, because the station is located in a Southern suburb about 4 kms from the city centre. The surroundings are a bit run down, construction works for improvement are in progress.
The new station was opened in 2009. The architect Santiago Calatrava designed the station hall as a shell-shaped roof that covers the platforms and tracks. The sides are open, so there is no facade, just the roof construction. The shell is transparent. A grid of slender white 'ribs' creates the organic shape. Daylight enters through the glass skin so the station is bright and friendly. The tracks are connected by bridges on both sides, accessible by escalators. All offices, ticket counters, shops etcetera are underneath the tracks on the basement-like ground floor. A small supermarket can be found under the arcades towards the station square (not cheap, though - but it was my only chance to buy any food as I could not walk far).
The best overview photos, by the way, can be taken while riding the escalators - be careful, though.
More photos of the station building are in the travelogue.
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
The composer André-Modeste Grétry (1741-1813) was born in Liège, and his birth house has been turned into a small museum.
Grétry was extremely popular during his lifetime. He composed about fifty operas, mainly comic operas, none of which I have ever seen or heard.
Nonetheless, I found the museum very interesting. I went there on a rainy Saturday morning when I was the only visitor. The man in charge was evidently bored just sitting around waiting for someone to come, so when I arrived he was delighted and told me thousands of things about Grétry and the museum and this part of Liège, which is called Outremeuse, meaning The Other Side of the Meuse.
The museum is only open three times a week: Tuesday and Friday afternoons from 14:00 to 16:00 and Saturday mornings from 10:00 to 12:00.
Second photo: A corner of the museum.
Third photo: Instruments in the museum.
Fourth photo: Upstairs in the museum.
Fifth photo: Bust of Grétry in the museum
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.
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 tip, City Hall!
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.
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.