Heritage and folklore

A land of history shaped by the constant movements that have characterised this European crossroads, Wallonia has a rich heritage. From the vestiges of prehistoric activity to the most modern-day achievements, each era continues to live in the heart of its landscapes, illustrating the activities that have forged the Walloon area through the ages.

Les mégalithes de Wéris - Guy Focant © SPW-Patrimoine

Megaliths of Wéris

Wallonia is home to several remarkable archaeological sites, including the caves of Sclayn and Spy, famous for their Neanderthal fossils, but also the Neolithic flint miners of Spiennes, classified Heritage of Humanity for the illustration it provides of an "industrial" stone mining operation from 4300 years to 2200 years B.C. The region also has a large number of burial mounds, megalithic sites such as that of the dolmen at Wéris and several Gallo-Roman sites (Basse-Wavre, Liberchies, Brunehaut, Furfooz).

Wallonia is also a land of castles. From the fortified castle of Bouillon from where Godefroid led out his first crusade, to the citadels of Dinant, Namur and Huy, not to mention the ruins of the Mosan castles of Montaigle and Poilvache, standing testimony to all eras: medieval strongholds, feudal keeps (Romanesque tower of Amay, Crupet and Villeret keeps), castle farms (La Ramée farm in Jodoigne, castle farms at Ohey and Sombreffe) and large mansion houses (Castles of the Princes of Mérode in Rixensart, the Princes of Ligne in Belœil, the Princes of Chimay, the Princes of Croÿ in Rœulx, the Counts of Marchin in Modave, the castles of Jehay in Amay, Freÿr in Hastière, Vêves in Houyet and the Castle of Seneffe).

Le château de Bouillon

The castle of Bouillon

 

La cathédrale de Tournai - https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cath%C3%A9drale_Notre-Dame_de_Tournai#/media/File:Tournai_pan.jpg

The cathedral of Tournai

Among the many churches that punctuate the Walloon landscape, the most notable are the Romanesque and Gothic, Notre Dame Cathedral in Tournai, a World Heritage Site, the Saint-Aubin Cathedral in Namur and the Saint-Paul Cathedral in Liège, the collegiate churches of Sainte-Gertrude in Nivelles, Sainte-Waudru in Mons, Saint-Vincent in Soignies, Notre-Dame in Huy, Sainte-Begge in Andenne, Saint-Perpète in Dinant and Saint-Feuillen in Fosses-la-Ville as well as the churches Saint-Ursmer in Lobbes, Saint-Jacques in Tournai, Saint-Bartélémy and Saint-Jacques in Liège and Saint-Loup in Namur, a world famous baroque masterpiece. Similarly, Wallonia remembers the power of its abbeys, with the ruins of the abbeys of Aulne and Villers-la-Ville and with the ancient abbeys of Val-Saint-Lambert in Seraing, Floreffe and Gembloux. Furthermore, the Walloon countryside is dotted with chapels and traditional alcoves which are familiar witnesses to Wallonia's popular local heritage.

Meanwhile, the memory of the early power and decisive influence of the citiesis illustrated through the remains of walls, such as the Henri VIII Tower in Tournai or the ramparts of Binche, but also through the belfries, symbols of municipal liberties. Those of Charleroi, Gembloux, Namur, Mons, Thuin and Tournai are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In the centre of the ancient principality of Liège, the monumental fountain of Perron also symbolises these urban freedoms. Liège's civil architecture is illustrated by its Prince-Bishops' Palace, its town hall (La Violette) and the Curtius House which is today home to the rich collections of Liège's museums. It is also worth noting the interesting town halls of Binche, Charleroi, Mons and Verviers, as well as the former Halle al'Chair (meat market) in Namur. The most notable private homes include the Hotel de Groesbeeck de Croix in Namur and, in Liège, Gustave Serrurier-Bovy's Villa l’Aube which is a famous jewel of the Art Nouveau.

La place Saint-Lambert et le Palais des Princes-Evêques de Liège © Daniel Van Acker

The Saint-Lambert Square in Liège

Le Mardasson, commémorant la bataille des Ardennes à Bastogne © SPW-SG/J-L CARPENTIER

The Mardasson in Bastogne

At Europe's crossroads, Wallonia was also for a long time one of its main battlefields, a fact to which its citadels, of Dinant, Huy and Namur, still testify. Alone they summarise the centuries of fortification from the Middle Ages to the modern day, particularly with the fortifications of Vauban. The stage for the Battle of Waterloo which would reshape the European continent, Wallonia promotes this exceptional, internationally famous site and many other places that bear witness to the Napoleonic saga. Plunged into the middle of two world wars, the Walloon land retains traces of these dramatic periods and the memory of their lessons. Thus, Liège gives the message of resistance, while Bastogne shares the reality of combat by remembering the Battle of the Ardennes which ended the final German offensive.

Wallonia is ultimately inextricably linked to the Industrial Revolutionduring which the country was at its peak and which in return, marked Wallonia's landscapes. The mining sites of Grand-Hornu (Mons), Bois-du-Luc (La Louvière), Bois du Cazier (Charleroi) and Blegny-Mine (Liège) have also been listed as world heritage sites, as have the hydraulic lifts of the Canal du Centre, a technical achievement of its time. Similarly, the former industrial buildings of the Grand Hornu and the coal-mining town of Bois-du-Luc show the society which was structured around these production relationships.

Les ascenseurs à bateaux du Canal du Centre historique © SPW-SG/J-L CARPENTIER

Ship lifts of the Historic Channel of the  center


 

Walloon heritage is like a thread, weaving through places and times, from the natural curiosities of a land with a wealth of diversity like the caves of Remouchamps, Han, Dinant, Rochefort, Hotton or Engis or the meandering Semois surrounding the Tombeau du Géant (Giant's Tomb), to the modern-day human achievements which demonstrate Walloon civil engineering (cable-stayed bridges of Wandre and Ben-Ahin) or Wallonia's architectural expression, such as Liège's Santiago Calatrava railway station.

 

 

La gare de Liège-Guillemins © SPW-SG/J-L CARPENTIER

Wallonia's intangible heritage

Wallonia also boasts a rich intangible heritage, its traditions and folklore the origins of which often date back through the centuries.

La Ducasse de Mons © SPW-SG/J-L CARPENTIER

The Ducasse of Mons

The custom of giants, legendary heroes, local figures or animals, is reflected in the religious processions of the late 14th century. Today, they are accompanied by largely secularised processions and appear during the ducasses, the annual town festivals that take place in Wallonia and Northern France. Among the most famous are the ducasses in Ath and Mons which have been named as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO and awarded the Walloon Merit. Giants are also found in Walloon Brabant, Lessines, Messines (Mons) and Soignies.

Other regions of Wallonia move to the beat of carnival preparations which go on all year. Mainly focused on the Shrovetide days (from Sunday to Tuesday) which precede Christian Lent, the carnivals go on until Easter, depending on the localities, incorporating the Laetare in the middle of the Lent period. Originally a pretext for permitted cathartic excesses, today they are epitomized by the custom of masks and costumes developed around traditional groups representative of their region. A symbol of a tradition which is both living and authentic, the Binche Carnival, with its Gilles figures, has been listed by UNESCO. Those of Malmedy (Cwarmê), Stavelot (featuring the Blancs-moussis) or Fosses-la-Ville with its Chinels are some of the most famous, but carnivals are in full swing across the region from the Centre, to Bastogne, Marche-en-Famenne, Andenne, Tilff, Tournai, Charleroi, Nivelles, Jalhay and in the valleys of Geer and Viroin.

Les Chinels de Fosses-la-Ville © SPW-SG/J-L CARPENTIER

The Chinels of Fosses-la-Ville

Marche Saint-Roch de Thuin © SPW-SG/J-L CARPENTIER

The Saint-Roch Procession of Thuin

Marches are processions dedicated to a patron saint of the city and accompanied by an armed escort. There are many marches in the Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse region, taking place between May and October. The military escort for many of these marches honours the Napoleonic uniforms highlighting the lasting impact of this period on Wallonia. Fifteen of these events have been listed by UNESCO for their authenticity: marche Saint-Roch and Saint-Frégo in Acoz, marche Saint-Pierre in Biesmerée, marche Saint-Pierre in Florennes, marche Saint-Feuillen in Fosses-la-Ville (seven-yearly), marche Sainte-Rolende in Gerpinnes, marche Saint-Roch in Ham-sur-Heure, Tour de la Madeleine in Jumet, marche Saint-Éloi in Laneffe, marche Saint-Pierre in Morialmé, marche Sainte-Anne in Silenrieux, marche Saint-Fiacre in Tarcienne, marche Saint-Roch in Thuin, marche Saints-Pierre-et-Paul in Thy-le-Château, marche Saint-Pierre in Villers-Deux-Églises, marche de la Trinité in Walcourt.

The Grand Feu festival which generally takes place on the first Sunday of Lent dates back to ancient times and is expressed in various forms throughout the Walloon area. The Grand Feu refers to a rite of purification, designed to ward off evil from the village for the coming year. It frequently culminates in the burning of an effigy, supposed to embody evil or the passing of winter. The Grand Feu in Bouge is a fine example.

Le Grand Feu de Bouge © Confrérie du Grand Feu de Bouge

The Grand Feu of Bouge

Many other traditions mark the Walloon folkloric calendar. Thus, we still have: the Maitrank festival in Arlon, the Goûter Matrimonial in Ecaussines, the Sabbath of the Witches of Ellezelles and Macralles in Vielsam, the Cavalcade of Jemappes, the Crossage in Western Hainaut, the Molons and Echasseurs in Namur, the 14 July celebrations and Outremeuse festivals in Liège and the feast of Saint-Hubert.

Tchantchès et Nanesse - Wikipedia

Tchantchès and Nanesse