Beffroi de Tournai
The oldest belfry of Belgium invites you to discover all rooms along its 257 steps. A multi-media exposition about its history, plates to illustrate its different roles, the room of the bell ringer and the carillon lead you to the top of the tower and to one of the greatest panoramas of Tournai and its surroundings.
The Belfry of Tournai is a freestanding bell tower of medieval origin, 72 metres in height. The construction of the belfry began around 1188 when King Philip Augustus of France granted Tournai its town charter, conferring among other privileges the right to mount a communal bell to ring out signals to the townsfolk.
The tower in its original form was evocative of the feudal keep, with a square cross section and crenelated parapet. It served in part as a watchtower for spotting fires and enemies.
The growing city saw fit to expand the belfry in 1294, raising it by an additional stage, and buttressing its corners with four polygonal towerlets. A soldier statue was placed atop each towerlet, and a dragon icon surmounted the entire structure. The dragon, symbol of power and vigilance, also adorns other old tower tops in Belgium, including those of the Cloth Hall of Ypres and the belfry of Ghent.
A fire damaged the building in 1391. In the following years, the city obtained new bells to replace the ruined ones, and affixed gilded decorations to the newly restored top part of the tower: mermen, banners, and a new dragon. The largest bell of this period, called Bancloque, and the fire bell or Timbre, have been preserved to this day. A carillon was added in 1535.
In addition to its other roles, the belfry also served as a jail; some of its chambers housed prisoners until 1827.
The building underwent a major restoration in the mid-19th century. Another renovation campaign began in 1992, and lasted roughly a decade.
The Belfry of Tournai is one of the 32 “Belfries of Flanders and Wallonia” (Belgium) that the UNESCO inscribed onto its list of world cultural heritage in 1999. In 2005, the belfry of Gembloux in the Walloon Region of Belgium and 23 belfries from the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardie régions in the northern tip of France were appended to the renamed list. Today this group is called “Belfries of Belgium and France”.
Built between the 11th and 17th centuries, they showcase the Roman, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles of architecture. They are highly significant tokens of the winning of civil liberties.
While Italian, German and English towns mainly opted to build town halls, in part of north-western Europe, greater emphasis was placed on building belfries. Compared with the keep (symbol of the seigneurs) and the bell-tower (symbol of the Church), the belfry, the third tower in the urban landscape, symbolizes the power of the aldermen.
Over the centuries, they came to represent the influence and wealth of the towns.