Day trip: Namur
Namur, flanked by its imposing citadel, was once a thriving shipping and road hub at the confluence of the rivers Sambre and Meuse.
Its strategic military importance since Roman times meant it has been beseiged and occupied countless times (much like Luxembourg City), which has led to an unusual mix of architecture.
At a travel time of one-hour and forty-five minutes from Luxembourg City, Namur, or Namen in Flemish, is a great destination for a day out or weekend away. There are plenty of historical sights, museums, art exhibitions, parks and river cruises, walks and cycle tours, plus a good few bars to taste some Trappist beer.
From 18-20 May 2023 the streets of the city will be transformed into a giant street fair as part of the Fairground Arts festival. There'll be acrobats reciting poetry, and more than 100 street performances from 300 artists (with many shows for free).
The Citadel which stares down sternly over the town was first fortified in Roman times and was home to the Counts of Namur. One of the few citadels in Europe to be so well preserved, it has architectural elements ranging from a keep built in the Middle Ages to parts dating from the 19th century. It was fortified in 1692 by none other than Sébastien Vauban, the French military engineer who also worked to fortify Luxembourg.
You can explore the barracks, subterranean tunnels and get great views from the ramparts or from its bridge. Napoleon once called it a termite mound, thanks in part to its underground passages which cover some 500m. Within them you can witness a sound and light show. You can also visit the Terra Nova Centre to learn about Namur’s 2,000 year history.
The walk up is steep, and the gates close at 18.30, but you can also take a cable car to spare your legs.
The Cathedral Saint Aubain, located on the square of the same name, dates back to 1751, and has a domed roof, although the original church is thought to have been built in the 11th century. The one you see today was erected by Italian architect Gaetano Pizzoni in neoclassical style. The interior houses a 12th century altar (portable in case a quick exit was requires) belonging to the Counts of Namur and a crown belonging to Philip of Namur said to include thorns from Christ’s own crown.
It’s the only Cathedral to be built in the Low Countries after 1559. So be prepared to be dazzled by the decorative elements including columns, pilasters and cherubs, as well as paintings from Antoine Van Dyk and Jacobs Jordaens.
The Cathedral treasury is a diocesan museum with 900 years of religious history and a collection of sculptures, paintings, medieval manuscripts and textiles.
The Church of Notre-Dame is east of this treasury, and contains the monumental tombs of the Counts Wilhelm I and II of Namur in its crypt.
The Baroque Church of Saint-Loup was built in the first half of the 17th century by Peter Huyssens. It has a three-storey stucco façade and Doric pillars made from Meuse limestone. The carved confession booths and the vaulted ceiling inside make it well worth a look.
The Palais des Congress is the old stock exchange building of Namur and is a fine display of Belgian architecture, set on the main town square. You can take a look at the statues, or settle at one of the cafes or restaurants. Namur’s city walls are gone but by Place d’Armes you’ll find a belfry, the remains of the Saint-Jacques Tower which was once part of the Medieval city wall.
For a bit of Belgian humour, the town square has statues of two bronze snails, one on a lead and one caged. Beside them are the figures of Françwès and Djoseph, characters created by cartoonist Jean Legrand. The statues represent the pace of life in Namur, slower than a snail. Hence, the creatures are captured so they don’t go too fast for the people of the city.
Probably the most eye-catching statue or maybe even sculpture, is “Searching for Utopia” by Jan Fabre, which looks over the city from the Citadel and depicts a giant turtle, ridden by a man.
Where the rivers meet, you’ll also find a statue of a flying horse – Le Cheval Bayard, from the epic tale sung by troubadours in the times of Charlemagne. Four brothers rode on a unique and exceptional horse, Bayard, who could gallop at great speed and jump canyons. Unfortunately, when the brothers were captured Bayard was drowned in the Meuse.
You’ll find a bronze sculpture on the roundabout at the entrance to Pont des Ardennes that pays homage to the stilt walkers, who not only walked, but jousted on stilts. Their games date back to the Middle Ages. The tradition remains, and is on display at the Wallonia festival in September, with stilt-jousting taking place outside the Cathedral.
Five museums are located in close proximity just streets away from each other in Namur, if you fancy an afternoon of cultural and historical exploration. These include the Diocese museum, the Museum of Ancient Art, MusAfrica, the Archeology Museum and the Museum of Decorative Arts.
On Rue de Fer you’ll find the Museum of Ancient Art, located in the 17th century Hotel de Gaiffier d’Hestroy. It has exhibitions on artefacts from the region from the Middle Ages and Renaissance times, including the work of local goldsmiths, copper utensils and ivory.
The museum also contains the treasure from the monastery of Oignes (gold smithery), including two significant works by Pater Hugo who lived in the monastery in the 13th century. One of these is the gospel of 1230 decorated in enamel, the other the goblet of Gilles de Walcourt dating back to 1238.
On the same road you’ll find the Provincial Museum Félicien Rops, dedicated to the 19th century artist and displaying his works and those of his contemporaries. The museum houses his etching La Mort Qui Danse from 1878, which shows a skeleton in woman’s clothing dancing. It was inspired by the Gothic romantic works of Charles Baudelaire, with whom Rops had a friendship. Rops was also a well-known caricaturist, with lithographs on social and political satires which were published in Belgian newspapers. The displays are themed and make for an interesting tour.
The Archaeological Museum houses a collection from Namur dating back to Roman, Frankish and the Merovingian periods. It is regarded as one of the best collections of first to seventh century artefacts in Belgium. It moved to a new home in 2020 at 7 rue Joseph Saintraint.
At number 3 on the same road is the Museum of Decorative Arts in a private mansion listed as an exceptional heritage site. It houses a superb collection of decorative art from the 17th to 19th century including furniture, clocks, paintings, sculptures and crystal. Many pieces were made by artisans in the workshops of Namur for the local aristocracy.
A small but informative museum, MusAfrica, uncovers the Belgian Congo, with information on culture, weapons, flora and fauna, plus very friendly staff. It’s not supported by the government and asks for donations. The museum is currently closed for renovation, but check the website for its re-opening.
The Computer Museum has a collection of machines from different brands such as Unisys, IBM, but more interestingly, a guided tour (in French) tells you the history of computing from mainframes to mini-computers.
The Strawberry Museum can be found in Wépion, an area of Namur famous for strawberry cultivation. It’s small, with just five rooms that explore the history of strawberries, with plenty of artefacts and objects. The friendly owners can reveal a lot about strawberry cultivation and you can sample fresh strawberries in season or try the fruit’s products, including strawberry ice cream.
Parks & the Rivers
Children will love the Parc Attractif Reine Fabiola located on Route Merveilleuse, which has a huge playground filled with an adventure castle, swings, giant chess, a climbing area, mini golf (with 18 holes), trampolines and go-carts. Entry costs €9.
Parc Louise Marie may not have the family attractions but it is home to some ducks and geese, and is beautifully laid out for a leafy stroll, with the remains of an ornate bridge, and plenty of places to have a picnic. You can hire out a BBQ space for free.
A boat tour is a different way to see the city. Croisieres Namur has heated boats, and a bar on board, and gives live explanations of the sights you pass. It departs from near the Jambes Bridge, and you can ride to Wépion (for the strawberry museum) past some of the city’s prettiest villas. Note that boat tours do not operate from October to March.
You can take a self-guided walking tour of the city with details here.
Pubs & restaurants
Head to Le Ratin-Tot to try their Ratin 16. The café bar was established 400 years ago in 1616 (hence the name for this brew), and the beer is a heady 7.5% alcohol. Le Chapitre may not be as old, but also has a great selection of beer. Tucked away behind the cathedral with its wooden décor, its convivial atmosphere tempts you to stay. You can find a list of restaurants and bars here.
For more information on places to visit and to stay in Namur, visit the tourist office website.
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