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History of the Citadel

 

The Citadel of Namur has, at all times, held a strategic position in the heart of Europe. First of all as a command centre of an important earldom in the Middle Ages, it was then coveted and besieged by all the Great Powers of Europe between the 15th and 19th century. From 1891, it was transformed into a huge park, a real green lung overlooking the capital of Wallonia.
Today, the tourist is the one that takes the citadel by storm and is the privileged witness of 2,000 years of History. Open-air discovery along pedestrian circuits marked out with historical explanations; underground discovery, travelling through the miles and miles of galleries laid out over the centuries for the defence of one of the biggest citadels in Europe.

 

 

 The history of the site at one go

From its origins to the year 1000

The first traces of human settlements on the site of the confluence go back to about 6,000 BC. Dwellings gradually changed from nomadic to more sedentary settlements. As early as the 1st century, a well-structured village could already be seen on the left bank of the Sambre river and had its own port at the tip of the Grognon. The coins discovered testify to the fact that Namur kept up trading relations with the rest of the Roman Empire. The little town stepped up its development and the port became increasingly important from the 5th to the 9th century. The first fortifications on the rocky spur, which were to become the citadel, date back at least to that time.

Period of the earldom: 10th to the 15th century

23 Counts were to follow one another from the 10th century to 1429. They came from the Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse area, then from the Hainaut, from France and Flanders.
The collegiate church of Saint Peter and the dwellings of the canons were gradually added.
From the second half of the 10th century, Namur was the capital of the earldom. The influence of that earldom, however, spread far beyond the borders: Count Baldwin II of Courtenay was thus to become Emperor of Constantinople, Yolanda of Namur was to become queen of Hungary and Blanche de Namur queen of Sweden.
The town grew and raised stronger defences. It numbered 8,000 inhabitants in the 15th century. Jean III, last Count of Namur, ruined and without a legitimate heir, sold the earldom to Phillip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, who took possession of it in 1429.

Upheavals: 15th to 19th century

Until the independence of Belgium, Namur was to continuously change hands. Coveted by everyone because of its strategic position, captured and recaptured, the town was to be successively Spanish, Austrian, French or Dutch. Its citadel, marked with the seals of Vauban and Coehoorn, became one of the most extensive in Europe. It was to be further protected by a belt of 9 forts around the town, which numbered approximately 20,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the 19th century.

19th and 20th centuries

After the independence of Belgium, the armed forces stayed on that site, which would only be partly demilitarised from 1891 by Leopold II. Major development works were then started at the citadel. In 1975, the Minister of Defence handed over the keys of the citadel to the town and, in 1977, the paracommandos left the last bastions.

1st century ...

Many remains testify to the existence of a village of Namur in Gallo-Roman times, such as those funerary urns from the old graveyard of "Motte-le-Comte". Those urns from the first half of the 1st century can be seen in the Archaeological Museum of Namur.

Fortifications...

The first defensive structure on the site consisted of a barring wall formed of a double row of stakes. If the exact date on which that fortification was set up is unknown, it can at least be affirmed that it was before 890.

23 Counts ...

Bérenger, Count of Namur, is mentioned in 925 but we can only assure that the Counts made Namur their main residence from 974. They established their dwelling on the rocky spur dominating the confluence.
Four dynasties of Counts were going to follow one another in Namur, from Bérenger until Jean III, in 1421:

  • House of Namur (946-1196),
  • House of Hainaut (1196-1212),
  • House of Courtenay (1212-1263)
  • House of Flanders (1263-1429).

The collegiate church ...

The excavations carried out from 1996 to 1998 made it possible to discover the foundation of the apse of the collegiate church, approximately 12.5 metres wide. They also uncovered, around and lower down than that apse, a series of remains of buildings that used to belong to the chapter of Saint Peter's, two of which probably date back to the 12th century: a large rectangular building, on a slightly lower level than the collegiate church, which might well have had a religious function (outside crypt or other), and another trapezoidal-shaped building, built on to the northern curtain, which might have been for residential purposes. It is, moreover, flanked with latrines.
In the 14th century, the approaches to the collegiate church were going to be completely restructured, in accordance with the evolution of the statutes then allowing the canons to have their own accommodation. The central building was filled in and a lane was constructed above it, which was going to lead to the residential area.

Capital ...

In addition to Namur, the Counts owned 6 other castles. Bouvignes (Dinant) and Viesville (Bons-Villers, province of Hainaut) already existed in 1188. Samson (Andenne) appeared in 1204. Golzinnes (Gembloux) was mentioned in 1210. Montaigle (Onhaye) was acquired in 1298. Poilvache (Yvoir), lastly, was purchased in 1342.

Constantinople ...

How could Namur and Constantinople be governed at one and the same time? Baldwin entrusted the care of the earldom to his wife, Mary of Brienne. It was not to be a bed of roses for the people of Namur, burdened with taxes to pay Baldwin's wars in a constantly threatened Constantinople.

Blanche of Namur...

Blanche of Namur, born between 1313 and 1318, was the eldest of the daughters of Jean I and Marie of Artois. It is told that Magnus II Eriksson, king of Sweden and Norway, was attracted by the grace and beauty of the young girl from Namur during the summer of 1334, while he was travelling to France in quest of a wife and stopped in a castle of Flanders.
The princess embarked for Scandinavia in August 1335. She was accompanied by her brother, the Count of Namur Phillip III, and was never to see the banks of the Meuse again. On 24 June 1336, in Stockholm, Blanche was crowned queen of Norway, Sweden and Scania.
In the course of an eventful reign, marked by the influence of Saint Brigitte, the couple had several children, including two sons, Eric and Hakon, who succeeded their father.
Blanche of Namur died in 1363. She is still very popular in Sweden where she is considered to have introduced French culture and where everybody knows the nursery rhyme "Rida Ranka", which is dedicated to her.


Rida Ranka.
"Chevauche, chevauche en te balançant
Le cheval s'appelle Blanche.
Le si charmant petit cavalier
N'a pas encore d'éperons.
Quand il les aura conquis,
L'insouciance de son enfance aura disparu.
"Chevauche, chevauche en te balançant
Le cheval s'appelle Blanche.
Le petit garçon aux yeux bleus
Obtiendra la couronne royale.
Quand il l'aura obtenue
La tranquillité de sa jeunesse aura disparu.
"Chevauche, chevauche è te balançant
Le cheval s'appelle Blanche.
Un autre baiser que celui de ta mère.
Un jour te réjouira
Mais alors, la paix de ton âge viril te quittera.
Ainsi chantait pour son fils chéri, au sujet de sa destinée
En souriant à travers ses larmes,
Madame Blanche de Namur.
Et lorsque le roi Haakon eut acquis
Et les éperons et le royaume et l'épouse,
Il se souvenait avec mélancolie du chant de son enfance. "


Phillip the Good ...

Phillip the Good took possession of the earldom in 1429.
Namur was integrated into the States of the House of Burgundy.
The strategic and military function of the castle gradually increased to the detriment of housing.

In 1477, the duchess Mary of Burgundy (daughter of Charles the Bold, granddaughter of Phillip the Good), heiress of the States of Burgundy, married Maximilian of Austria to shake off the hold of the king of France, Louis XI. Our regions were then included among all the possessions of the Empire of the Habsburgs.

Upheavals ...

The main sieges, from the 15th to the 19th century.

  • 1488  The people of Namur against the States of Burgundy (1st use of the cannon)
  • 1577  Don John takes the Citadel by surprise
  • 1692   by Louis XIV, Vauban, ...
  • 1695  by the Allies (Dutch + English + Brandenburgers + ...)
  • 1746  by the French
  • 1792  by the French
  • 1794  by the French
  • 1830  by the Belgian revolutionaries

 


 

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