Wallonia in pictures
Charles I, the Great, (742 or 747 - †Aix-la Chapelle, 814) was the son of Pepin the Short. He was King of the Franks from 768 onwards. A great conqueror, legislating prince, restorer of civilisation, his reign was marked by a series of military victories enabling him to build up a formidable empire that stretched from the Ebro in Spain to the Elba in Germany.
His coronation as Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III in Rome at Christmas in the year 800 was a tribute to a sovereign who, by extending his empire, had considerably increased the domain of Christianity. At the same time as watching over the development of Christianity, he re-established trade contacts with the East.
Charlemagne created a far more organised administration than that used by his predecessors. He regulated the institution of the Missi dominici (envoys of the king), who were responsible for keeping a watch on the counts, requested advice from the Grands (members of leading noble families) by convening the Champs de mai spring hosting and had a great many Capitulaires (legislative acts) enacted by his chancellery. The emperor was the architect of a real cultural renaissance and drew the most learned men of his time to his court: Paul Diacre, Eginhard and Alcuin, whom he gathered together in a kind of Academy known as the École du Palais. He had schools opened in cathedrals and monasteries and increased the number of art workshops. He prompted a revival in sacred and secular studies. From the 11th century onwards, legend made him the hero of several chansons de geste or songs of heroic deeds, including the Chanson de Roland – the Song of Roland.
Blanche of Namur
Blanche was not truly a native of Namur. She bore the name of Namur as she was the daughter of the Count of Namur, Jean I, and his second wife, Marie d'Artois, the great-grandniece of St Louis, King of France. She was probably born in 1316, perhaps at the castle of Wynendaele near Bruges, and spent part of her youth here as well as in the Namur region. She was apparently a pretty woman, elegant and gentle, and received a refined French-style education. When she was 18 years old, she met a young king from the north and fell in love. In 1334, she married Magnus Erikson, King of Sweden and Norway. The king was reputed to be soft, and dominated by his favourites! Despite facing difficulties, Blanche remained by the side of her husband, who had to cope with Danish and Slav armies, a disastrous financial situation, excommunication because of debts owed to the Church, an epidemic of the Black Death and rebellions led by his sons. Blanche passed away at the court of her son, King Haakon, in 1363. She did not witness the wretched end of her husband Magnus, poisoned by his cousin Albert of Mecklembourg.
Blanche of Namur introduced western culture to her adopted country, but also left her mark in Namur. She is still to be found in Namur in the 21th century at festivals and historical processions. She is the subject of a play by J. Evrard and her name is associated with a local secondary school. A beer is also named after her.
Father Dominique Pire (1910-1969) was a Dominican, a doctor of moral theology (1936). He completed his studies as the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences at the Catholic University of Louvain and then became bursar and professor of moral philosophy at the Couvent de la Sarte (1939-1949). In 1939 he set up a family support service for vulnerable families and also started the open-air stations of Huy which were to nourish hundreds of children during the war, when he was chaplain of the secret army of the Resistance.
After the war he gave up teaching to devote himself to the priesthood. In 1949, he launched a service to assist displaced persons and undertook wide-ranging action to help the most destitute. His Europe des cœurs (Europe of hearts) campaign earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1958. Following the foundation of the University of Peace in Tihange in 1960, he put third-world aid into practical effect with the Iles de Paix (Isles of Peace - 1962). His Foundation still continues his work today and makes its own one of his now famous sayings: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Ernest Solvay (1838-1922) had a curious mind, but illness prevented him from going to university. He began his professional life working at his uncle's factory, where he proved very inventive. He conducted an experiment that produced sodium carbonate. He took out a patent (1861) and eventually, after endless formalities, succeeded in developing the industrial production of sodic carbonate in Couillet which was to become known as Solvay sodium. And thus he created an empire in the chemicals industry in Europe and in the United States.
Ernest Solvay was a great industrialist but also a man with a strong sense of social justice. Very early on he took initiatives in this area: retirement for manual workers (1899), limitation of working time to eight hours (1908), paid holidays (1913), ongoing training, etc. He set up a number of social works, including the Committee for Aid and Food (1914). He was also a patron.
E. Solvay founded the Institute of Physiology and Sociology of the Free University of Brussels as well as international institutes of Physics and Chemistry.
François Bovesse (1890-1944) was a politician who played a significant role at municipal, provincial and national level. A lawyer by training, he was proclaimed doctor of law of the University of Liège in July 1914. Called to arms, he was injured near Antwerp and thereafter posted to the Auditorat militaire (Military Hearing) in Calais. Returning to Belgium in January 1919, he was appointed deputy of the provincial military examiner before registering with the bar of Namur. He was already campaigning for the Walloon cause and, in 1923, he established a committee in Namur responsible for organising the festivals of Wallonia.
François Bovesse took an active part in politics within the liberal party. From 1921 to 1937, he was a municipal councillor and, from 1929 to 1937, he held the position of alderman in charge of the register of births, marriages and deaths and of Fine Arts. Between 1921 and 1937, he was twice elected member of parliament and held ministerial portfolios on four occasions (Postal services and telecommunications; Justice; State education, Letters, Arts; Justice). He defended the positions of the Walloon Movement: maintaining the Franco-Belgian military agreement, refusal of the amnesty law and the fight against the Rexist fascist movement. In 1937 he was appointed governor of the Province of Namur but was to be removed from his post by the occupying Germans. He resumed his career as a lawyer and argued uncompromisingly vis-à-vis the occupying forces or collaborators. This was an attitude that was to cost him his life. He was assassinated by the Rexists on 1 February 1944.
François Bovesse left a considerable body of literary work, much of it unpublished.
Georges Simenon (1903-1989) wanted to become an officer, but the illness of his father prompted him to give up his studies in order to earn his living. Working first as an apprentice pastry cook and then as an assistant in a bookshop, he found a vocation as a journalist. He worked on the Gazette de Liège under the pseudonym of Georges Sim, where he discovered the atmosphere of police stations, theatres, conference rooms, etc. The scene was set. G. Simenon turned his attention towards a career as a writer, particularly after the publication of his first work, Au pont des arches (1921). He produced works to earn a living and settled in Paris. He worked at a steady pace, publishing tales, short stories and novels. Commissaire Maigret appeared on the scene in 1931 and became the central character in his novels. The Maigret series comprises over 300 titles written over a period of 34 year. After the fashion of Honoré de Balzac or Émile Zola, Georges Simenon painted a realistic picture of the society of his time. He demonstrated an exceptional gift for observation combined with deep psychological insight.
G. Simenon lived in the United States from 1945 to 1955 before settling in Switzerland for the rest of his life. From 1972 to 1989 he worked using a tape recorder and produced 21 volumes of his reflections, published under the title Dictées.
Albert Dandoy (1885-1977) was a member of a dynasty of Namur painters. Having trained at the Namur Academy of Fine Arts, he was mainly versed in the techniques of decorative painting. In 1918 he was appointed professor of drawing at the Academy of his city and in 1930, professor of painting (until 1955).
He was a local painter, and two major exhibitions of his work were organised at the Maison de la Culture (Cultural Centre) in 1967 and 1985. The vast majority of his work sings the praises of urban sites and the surrounding countryside. He was also interested in the life of his city: festivals, folklore, markets, etc. He was so prolific that it would be difficult to produce a catalogue of his work. His painting is characterised by swift strokes and light colours. Some link him to the impressionist tradition.
Enlivening the whole
Besides the great figures that have fashioned Wallonia as we know it, the designers livened up their creation with six windows on the ground floor of the town hall gable as well as more specific elements that reflect the cultural diversity and multi-facetted richness of the Region.
The painter Albert Dandoy is seated, together with his dog, quietly in front of his easel, busy capturing a typical corner of the old Namur he loved so much. He is wearing a suit, while a wide-brimmed hat provides protection from the sun. His only observer is a young housewife, in this instance Sophie Lestrate, who has just finished her shopping, since her wicker basket is brimming with fruit and vegetables, probably from the cotelis, the market gardeners of Jambes.
Opposite him, a young man (the son of Jean-Luc Martin, director of the Namur Academy of Fine Arts) watches a stilt-walkers contest. In fact, the French term for stilt-walker (échasseur) has its origin in the Walloon word “chacheu”, used to refer to jousters on stilts. Stilt-walkers contests are one of Namur's oldest folk customs. The stilt walkers are divided into two groups, the Mélans (from the old town) and the Avresses (from the new town), who try to knock one another over using a variety of techniques: pushing shoulders, knocking elbows, “côps d'pougn è stoumac” (punching the stomach), blocking the stilts, using their knees, and many others.
Very close to François Bovesse, and seen in profile at a first-floor window, a bold cock against a background of gold stands proudly on an architectural projection. This is the cock found on the Walloon flag. It was designed in 1913 by the painter Pierre Paulus (Châtelet, 1881 – Brussels 1959). This artist was a Walloon painter from the expressionist movement. He became famous at the age of thirty during the exhibition of Walloon Art in Charleroi.
Between the second and the third floors, a winged creature casts its shadow on the simulated French stone wall. Another bird should have been in evidence higher up on a background of slate, but this has now been concealed! On the edge of a stone cornice, at the top towards the right, a blue pigeon (the vî bleu) can be seen.
In the central part of the gable, a huge pane of glass frames the three pipes that stand out like a monument in stainless steel. Foliage is reflected on this glass surface, but on the left a macrâle (witch) is surprised in full flight.
A fabulous animal in yellow and black, on the right, with a long tail that slides between the pipes and reaches right to the top of them, is a character from a cartoon created by André Franquin (Spirou, No 72, 31 January 1952). This is the marsupilami, a oviparous animal that in fact belongs to the group of prototype mammals, more commonly known as monotremes. With a highly developed caudal appendage, he laughs, uses tools, is amphibious and imitates human speech. His usual cry is "houba” for the male, “houbi” for the female and “bi” for the young, which tend to repeat it (“bibi”).
Another cartoon character, placed very close to the marsupilami, is a smurfette who stands out from the foliage. Peyo created these blue imps in 1958 (Spirou No 107, 23 October 1958), with smurfs, smurfettes and baby smurfs who speak a strange language. Originating in the world of traditional fairy tales, this series draws on the popular mythology of woodland creatures and presents a virtually ideal society inhabited by the Ruler (Papa Smurf who has both power and wisdom) and his uniformly identical subjects.
In a different vein, Muriel Sarkany engages in the sport in which she excels, rock climbing. She can be seen climbing the building, and has almost reached the top. This native of Brussels, born in 1974, first began rock climbing in 1991 and the very next year became female junior world champion in Switzerland. Since then, she has collected a constant stream of European and world titles.
The left-hand window
Winning Wallonia (La Wallonie qui gagne - ) is known for its sportsmen and -women, its adventurers, its singers, its creators (fashion, etc.) and its folklore. The left-hand window depicts a condensed version of all this.
Justine Henin can be seen a the top. She was born in Liège on 1 June 1982 and grew up in Rochefort where she played at the local tennis club. She held the world number one spot in the WTA rankings for 45 weeks. She has won several Grand Slams. John McEnroe considers that she has the best backhand in the world.
Other sports are also represented, such as motocross (the Citadelle de Namur race), cycling, football, running, swimming, weight-lifting, mountain climbing, athletics, canoeing and kayaking, etc. The names of sportsmen and -women can be seen on the backs or the covers of books.
This window is also intended to highlight the chanson française with Francofolies in Spa. Salvatore Adamo has a place of honour on a record cover, while Maurane is found on the sleeve of a CD. A number of other famous names are also mentioned.
Wallonia is also a region of festivals and folklore. A poster depicting a “gille” from the Binche carnival shows several facets of the region's traditions. A Blanc moussi mask (meaning ‘clad in white) from the Stavelot carnival, a Molons hat from Namur and a figurine representing the folkloric marchers of Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse complete this depiction of Walloon folklore..
The left-hand window (on the side)
French-speaking cinema is well worth a window all to itself. In fact, it earns Belgium and in particular Wallonia a mention at international festivals, including the most prestigious of all, Cannes.
The poster of the Festival international du film francophone de Namur (Namur international French-speaking film festival) bearing the names of a number of talented young actors has a place of honour near a photograph of Benoît Poelvoorde. A frame also holds a photograph of the Dardenne brothers, who have twice won awards at Cannes. A clapperboard and book spines judiciously display the names of a number of directors who contribute towards the wealth and diversity of French-speaking cinema in Belgium.
Other book spines or covers can be seen at the bottom of the window bearing the names of a variety of leading figures: Delhaize, Julie Billiart, Isabelle Brunell, Netta Duchâteau, etc. This native of Namur born in 1921 was to be considered the most beautiful woman in the world at the Miss Universe contest organised in Galveston in the United States in 1940. One–metre seventy tall and weighing 58 kg, with green eyes and dark brown hair, she certainly made an impression on the judges.
The central window (left)
History, science, technology and industry – this sums up one of the central windows in just a few words.
The man of Spy, Godefroid de Bouillon, the four Aymon sons, Hugo d'Oignies (with the reliquary of the rib of St Peter) evoke the region's distant past, as do the names seen on the spines of certain books. La lettre au Roi by Jules Destrée can be seen clearly, as can the portrait of Count Hubert Pierlot, a remarkable politician, Prime Minister of six successive governments from 1935 to 1945, before becoming Minister of State.
The talent of Wallonia's scientists and industrials could not be overlooked, given their significant work and discoveries. Etienne Lenoir's engine, Renquin Sualem's Marly machine, Zénobe Gramme's dynamo-electric generator, Edouard Empain and the Paris metro, Edgard Frankignoul's stakes, etc. are all Walloon creations. But other names need mentioning, too: Raoul Warocqué, Jules Mélotte, John Cockerill, Jean Jadot, Nestor Martin, Georges Nagelmackers,... as well as Glaverbel/Saint-Roch and the Fabrique nationale d'Herstal.
Jules Bordet was the first Walloon scientist to receive the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology (1919) for his work on studying immunity mechanisms. Other scientists also have their place in this circle of Wallonia: Georges Lemaître (astronomer, physician, author of the Big Bang theory), Ovide Decroly (doctor and neurologist firmly imbued with the ideas of Darwin), Willy Peers (doctor, advocate of the decriminalisation of abortion), etc.
The central window (right)
The central window (right)
The other central window covers the plastic arts, music, literature and cartoons.
Félicien Rops, an artist much maligned by his contemporaries, took his revenge and freely exhibited his Pornokrates. A watercolour by Pierre-Joseph Redouté depicting a superb rose can be seen in the middle distance. There are any number of Walloon artists, from Joachim Patenier and Henri Bles to Paul Delvaux, and the wall painters give their names on the backs of books.
A sculpture by Constantin Meunier at the centre of the composition alludes to this aspect of Wallonia, hard-working but gifted with know-how, as is borne out by this Val-Saint-Lambert crystal vase and this lace from Marche-en-Famenne.
The right-hand side is devoted to music, with CD sleeves, a saxophone, the programme for a concert by César Frank and a score of Li bia bouquet by Nicolas Bosret.
Henri Michaux takes his place among the other great poets, Geo Norge, Achille Chavée, Charles Plisnier, etc. Literature, like cartoons, is mentioned but not covered exhaustively.
The French grammar Le bon usage by Maurice Grévisse is among the works that could not be left out.
The right-hand window (on the side)
This window, located discreetly on the right, gives a list of the initiators and designers. The project initially took shape on the basis of an idea of the Alderman for Heritage, Mr Jean-Louis Close. The wall painters of Lyon and their colleagues from Namur are mentioned, along with the support committee and the partners.
The bottom of the window displays a collection of CDs and books mentioning writers, historians and a abstract sculptor from the region.
Some spaces have been left blank to allow for the further evolution of the fresco.
The right-hand window
Wallonia is rich in delicacies of all kinds. Its local produce (foie gras, cold and cured meats, cheese) are renowned beyond the borders of Belgium. They can be savoured with a range of good beers, a list of which invites you to place an order. And should you overindulge, the water of Spa or Chaufontaine should make you feel more comfortable, unless of course you prefer Eau de Vilée (fruit liqueurs) or a P'tit Peket (gin).
Other specialities include Jacques chocolate, “Biétrumé” chocolates from E. de Hucorne (Fronville), ‘langues de chat' chocolates from Galler, Materne jams and Bister mustard.
Head Curator-Director of the
Museums Department of the Province of Namur