Citywalk in Namur
Ready for a walk?
Not far from the House of Tourism, we arrive in Rue de Fer, the main shopping street leading to the city centre where the Town Hall is also situated. At No 42, the old Town Hall, lodged in the Hôtel Kegeljan (1878) houses the Burgomaster’s Offices.
A little further down, still on Rue de Fer, at No 24, is the Musée des Arts Anciens du Namurois, in the Hôtel de Gaiffier d’Hestroy where it has been since 1964. To allow exhibitions of an international nature to be held there, the caretaker’s lodge was recently fitted out and it enjoys the most advanced museum technology.
Let’s now go over the crossroads, and in the direct continuation of Rue de Fer we find ourselves on Rue de l’Ange and then in the Place de l’Ange. The poet and artist Henri Michaux was born there at No 50. This square gets its name from the old public pump (1791) standing below an angel which we can admire there. A little farther on, after passing the shopping mall of the Jardin d’Harscamp, we walk by the Belfry and come across the magnificent Royal Theatre, one of the last in Europe fitted out in Italian style (XIX century). Following a fire, the theatre was rebuilt in1863 insandstone, a rare material inNamur. Completely renovated in 1998, it has the most sophisticated modern stage techniques. The “Théâtre” fresco by the French painter Garouste has decorated the ceiling of the Foyer since 1999.
Opposite the place du Théâtre is the place d’Armes, where executions were carried out in olden days… Until 1914, dominated by the Town Hall, it was called Saint-Remy market or even the “Grand’ Place”. During the First World War, the Town Hall and part of the quarter were destroyed and a new square was built in 1923. Bombed again in 1944, it was reconstructed between 1946 and1950. In1999, it was given a major facelift characterised by a wooden floor. Looking over the square is the old Namur Stock Exchange built in1932 inneo-Renaissance style, and is now a centre for seminars and congresses. Its new infrastructures at the leading edge of technology and design ensure a high comfort level for congress participants.
Let’s now go back to the heart of the city and stop at the place Marché aux Légumes, also called the Place du Vieux Marché or even the Place du Vieux by the youngest among us. Well-known to all Namurois, it has had the same charming appearance since the XVIII century. It is here that the locals come to relax and have a drink on the terrace or inside one of its many cafés.
Built in Gothic style in the XVI century, Jean-Baptiste church is one of the oldest and most popular ofNamurchurches. Every year here, on the Monday of the Walloon Feast Days, is held the traditional and now famous mass in Walloon. Bonnes Fiesses!
A few streets farther on we find Saint-Loup church. In Baroque style, formerly Saint Ignace church, it was constructed between 1621 and 1645 by the Jesuits with materials prepared by Namurois stone-cutters.
The façade is made of stone andMeuselimestone in the style of the Catholic reformation and the alcoves contain painted wooden statues representing, on the right, Saint-François de Borgia and; on the left, Saint François Xavier. Inside, the vault is stone-hewn and is supported by columns of red and black mottled marble. When he visitedNamur, the poet Charles Baudelaire met the Namurois painter and engraver Félicien Rops. The writer called this beautiful building a “sinister and gallant marvel”. TheRopsMuseumand the House of Poetry are close by, on Rue Fumal.
At the end of the street is the Place Saint Aubain, where we can admire theProvincialPalaceor Governor’s Palace. A former Episcopal palace, it was built in 1728-1732 on the initiative of Monseigneur Thomas de Strickland, a prelate of Scottish origin. This palace in the classical style served him as a residence. Its administrative vocation goes back to the French Revolution. At present, the complex houses the Governor’s private apartments and the offices of the provincial Government, whilst the old Episcopal chapel is home to the Provincial Council. Just opposite, in classical style with a little Baroque influence, is Saint-Aubain Cathedral, replacing the collegiate church founded in 1047. It became a cathedral in 1559 following the creation of the Bishopric of Namur by Philippe II. In 1740, destroyed by the major flooding when the Sambre overflowed its banks, it was rebuilt in its present form between 1751 and 1767 by the Italian architect Pizzoni. The double-strutted cross reminds us that the Cathedral has fragments of the real cross of thorns of Christ, brought fromConstantinoplein 1206. Its rich furnishings, its confessionals, stalls, grilles, sculptures, baptismal fonts and paintings give the building its personal stamp and a visit can be completed by going to theDiocesanMuseum.
Behind the Cathedral is the Bishopric quarter, the former refuge of the Malonne Abbey. This Hôtel de maître from the second half of the XVIII century is built in a U-shape. After the French Revolution, it became the Episcopal Palace replacing that in Place Saint-Aubain, which became a prefect’s residence and then the seat of the Provincial Government.
Let’s now leave the Bishopric quarter and go to the neighbouring district, that of the University where we find the Arsenal, between the buildings of the Faculties and the Sambre. It was built in seven months, between 1692 and 1693, during the periods of the great sieges, whenNamurplayed a leading military role. Vauban, a military engineer for Louis XIV who took part in the siege of 1692, was given the task of constructing this building. At the time it served as a logistical depot and a warehouse for provisions and fodder. Bought by the Notre Dame dela Paix UniversityFaculties in 1977, it was restored by one of the most talented Belgian architects of the time, Roger Bastin (1913-1986). The latter was also responsible for the library and the Law Faculty, in the University quarter.
Following the banks of the Sambre round to the left, we end our historical walk in the district of the Confluence, called the “Grognon”. On the other side of the bridge is the superb building which houses the Walloon Parliament and Saint-Gilles Hospice: a “Hospital” founded in the Middle Ages, the building had several different names over the course of its history until the XVIII century when it became the Saint-Gilles Hospice, with reference to the Saint-Gilles en Provence pilgrimage which used to be made by the Namurois. This charitable institution played a role of primordial importance in Namurois social life, taking in the poor, the sick, orphans and the elderly with no resources and even serving as a maternity unit and a heated public rest place. Two parts from the XVI and XVII centuries survive today, whilst the large building of brick and limestone was built in 1668. Recently restored, it now houses the seat of the Walloon Parliament.
Here we can contemplate the impressive Halle Al’Chair (former meat market), which is one of the rarest and most beautiful examples of civil architecture of the XVI century, with on its façade the coat of arms of the King of Spain, Felipe II.
It now houses the tourist reception centre and theArchaeologicalMuseum.
Going back towards the city centre, taking the Rue du Port, we arrive, on the left, at the Rue des Brasseurs, which has many restored XVII and XVIII century houses.
At the end of the street, on the left, we have the Place Saint Aubain and the Groesbeeck de Croix Museum (p.28), a remarkable Hôtel de maître from the XVIII century which is an absolute must for a visit! Crockery, decorative arts, furniture, paintings, sculptures, etc, all reminders of Namurois life in the Age of the Enlightenment… Once we cross the threshold we enter another universe!
Information centre: Archaeological museum, Rue du Pont 21, 5000 Namur. Tel: +32 81 246448.