KORTRIJK, LEUVEN and LIER: things to see

Kortrijk : Belfry, Broel towers, city hall
Leuven : university, city hall, InBev, Arenberg, old Market
Lier : Zimmer tower

Kortrijk - Courtrai

During the Middle Ages, through a thriving flax and textile industry, Kortrijk developed into one of the most prosperous cities of Flanders. The city is also famous for the Battle of the Golden Spurs, that took place in 1302 on the Groeninge Kouter. Even today, Kortrijk is still an important center in the textile industry.

The earliest documentation of the Belfry goes back to 1307, as part of the "small Cloth Hall", but only the lower portion of the tower still dates from this period. Since the tower threatened to collapse, it was rebuilt during the 15th century, and in 1900 it was completely restored.

Kortrijk Belfort en de grote Markt Kortrijk : stadhuis
Belfry and Grand Place
city hall

The Broel towers are a symbol of medieval Kortrijk, and the last remnant of the ancient city walls, dating from the 14th century.

The Broel Bridge however dates from around 1949. This bridge was destroyed in both World Wars, but every time it was rebuilt.

The City Hall dates from around 1520.

Kortrijk : Broeltorens
the Broel towers


The earliest reference to Leuven (Loven) dates from 891, when the Frankish king Arnulf of Carinthia defeated the Normans. Between the 11th and 14th centuries, Leuven became the main trade center of the Brabant dukes. During the 14th and 15th centuries, the typical Leuven linen was called "lewyn" !

In 1425, the Catholic University of Leuven was founded, which is now the largest and oldest university in the Low Countries ! The city hall was built between 1439 and 1469, and it is a masterpiece of late Gothic architecture. After the 18th century, Leuven developed even further by the rise of the Artois brewery, which later became the InBev and Interbrew brewery.

Also important became the Farmers Union (Boerenbond), and the University Hospital Gasthuisberg (Mount Hospice Hospital). In Leuven, the latter is sometimes irreverently called "Mount Slaughter Hospital"... Both World Wars brought great destruction to the city.

Leuven : University Library Leuven : City Hall
University Library
City Hall

The Arenberg castle was built in the 16th century, but after 1612 it became the property of the German dukes of Arenberg. Since then, it underwent numerous changes and improvements. Now it is the property of the Catholic University of Leuven, and it is used as the campus faculty for engineering and exact sciences.

The Old Market of Leuven counts dozens of bars and café's, and the students call it "the longest bar in Belgium"...

Leuven : brewery Stella Artois
brewery Stella Artois
Leuven : castle Arenberg Leuven : Old Market
castle Arenberg
Old Market


Around 800, a settlement was founded at the confluence of the Great and Little rivers Nete. The further historical development of Lier is not exceptional, except for an invasion of the Normans in 837, and the remarkable and most romantic wedding of Joan of Castile and Philip the Fair, in 1496...

Their marriage was arranged as a political alliance between the Low Lands and Spain. As the daughter of the Catholic Kings Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, Joanna was accompanied by a court of 20,000 people, such as chamberlains, attendants, pages, maids, valets, treasurers, waiters and other personnel. Her fleet of 130 ships certainly contained more than enough food, with 85,000 pounds of smoked meat, 50,000 herrings, 1,000 chickens, 6,000 eggs, and 400 barrels of wine...

In Antwerp, a grand reception awaited her, and on October 19 Johanna took up residence in Lier. The next day, Philip arrived, who had been hunting with his father in Tyrol. Barely had the future spouses exchanged a glance, when sparks went flying ! Against all protocol, they silently walked out the door - they didn't speak each other's language - and left their court behind. Outside they looked for the nearest priest, and in the middle of the street Johanna ordered him to marry them on the spot ! Without any regard for their court, the young people proceeded to their house (the Court of Aragon) and closed the door behind them !

Not until the next day they reappeared, and with a grand ceremony they were bound in matrimony all over again, but this time according to protocol... The wedding was followed by a grand ball, folk festivals, and a huge banquet, where 1,200 liters of wine were consumed ! There were so many spectators, that a bridge over the river Nete collapsed under their weight...

The Zimmer Tower is located in the restored medieval Tower Cornelius, that was part of the first city wall, and it was built before 1425. In 1812 the city council sold the tower, but in 1821 they reacquired it, to have it demolished. However, in 1928 clockmaker Louis Zimmer donated an extraordinary clock mechanism to the city (the Jubilee Clock), that indicates several time zones, cosmic and other periodic phenomena. It was decided to accommodate this fabulous mechanism into the Cornelius tower, and so this was restored, and since then it is called the Zimmer tower.

The Wonder Clock, which is located in a pavilion next to the Zimmer Tower since 1960, is the masterpiece of the watchmaker of Lier. It has one of the slowest moving mechanical pointers in the world, - one revolution per 25,800 years ! - and later, Zimmer even expanded the mechanism with a planetarium. Even Albert Einstein congratulated Zimmer for this extraordinary piece of art !

Lier : Zimmer Tower Lier : Wonder Clock
** Continue reading with a look at Mechelen, Ooidonk and Ostend **
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