High towers built in the heart of urban areas, often dominating the principal square, the belfries are essential elements in the organization and representation of the towns to which they belong. The site inscribed on the World Heritage List comprises 33 belfries located in Belgium (26 in Flanders and 7 in Wallonia) and 23 belfries located in northern France.
A symbolic element in the landscape in ancient Netherlands and the north of France, the belfry represents, in the heart of urban areas, the birth of municipal power in the Middle Ages. A practical building housing the communal bells, conserving charters and treasures, where city council meetings were held, serving as a watchtower and a prison, the belfry has, over the centuries, become the symbol of power and prosperity of the communes.
The belfries are, together with the market hall, significant representatives of civil and public architecture in Europe. The evolution from the “seigneurial keep” to the “communal keep” is noteworthy. The church belfries bear witness to the relationship, within the community, between civil and religious power. Closely associated with the expansion and government of European towns in the Middle Ages, the belfries, by the variety of their type and the evolution of their appearance, and the complexes with which they were often associated, represent an essential element in public architecture from the 11th century onwards.
Beyond their architectural structure, the belfries present a wide typology linked both to the history of the communities, the period of construction, the materials used and the personality of their master builders. In the urban configuration, they can be isolated, attached to a marketplace or to a town hall. In several cases, the civil function is exercised by the church belfry. The period of construction of the belfries extends from the 11th to the 20th century, presenting a wide diversity of style, from Roman art to Art Deco.
Bearing a strong identity, the belfries have suffered much damage from armed conflict but their regular rebuilding, occurring to this day, expresses their exceptional symbolic role and the communities’ attachment to them.
Overview of the Belfries of Belgium and France
Technically speaking, I could have claimed a visit to this site as early as 2009, but I held off until I could make a more purposeful visit. At the time I visited Bruges I wasn’t aware that I was looking at the belfries inscribed on this site.
This is a serial site which is scatted all across Belgium, both Flanders and Wallonia, as well as Northern France, in Picardy and Nord-Pas de Calais.
There are 55 belfries in total which have been placed in this serial nomination. Some of them, like the Belfry of Bruges, is actually part of more than one world heritage site.
Here is the complete list of all the cities which an inscribed belfry and where it is located.
- Bruges: Hallentoren belfry and halls
- Diksmuide: City Hall and Belfry
- Kortrijk: Hallentoren Belfry
- Lo-Reninge (Lo): Town Hall with Belfry
- Menen: City Hall and adjacent Belfry
- Nieuwpoort: Stadshalle grain hall with Belfry
- Roeselare: City Hall, Stadshalle and Belfry
- Tielt: Hallentoren belfry, Cloth Hall and Aldermen’s Chamber
- Veurne: Landhuis and Belfry
- Ypres: Cloth Hall with Belfry
- Aalst: Aldermen’s House with Belfry
- Dendermonde: City Hall with Belfry
- Eeklo:City Hall with Belfry
- Ghent: Belfry, Cloth Hall and Mammelokker
- Oudenaarde: City Hall with Belfry
- Antwerp: Cathedral of Our Lady
- Antwerp: City Hall
- Herentals: Former City & ‘Laken’ Hall
- Lier: City Hall and Belfry Tower
- Mechelen: St. Rumbolds Tower of the Cathedral
- Mechelen: Old Cloth Hall with Belfry
- Leuven: St. Peter’s Church and Tower
- Tienen: St. Germanus Church with Stadstoren
- Zoutleeuw: St. Leonard’s Church
- Sint-Truiden: City Hall with Tower
- Tongeren: Basilica of Our Lady with Stadstoren
- Binche: Belfry of the City Hall
- Charleroi: Belfry of the City Hall
- Mons: Belfry
- Thuin: Belfry
- Tournai: Belfry
- Gembloux: Belfry
- Namur: Belfry
- Armentières: Belfry of the City Hall
- Bailleul: Belfry of the City Hall
- Bergues: Belfry
- Cambrai: Belfry of the St. Martin’s Church
- Comines: Belfry of the City Hall
- Douai: Belfry of the City Hall
- Dunkirk: Belfry of the City Hall
- Dunkirk: Belfry of Dunkirk
- Gravelines: Belfry
- Lille: Belfry of the City Hall
- Loos: Belfry of the City Hall
- Aire-sur-la-Lys: Belfry of the City Hall
- Arras: Belfry of the City Hall
- Béthune: Belfry
- Boulogne-sur-Mer: Belfry of the City Hall
- Calais: Belfry of the City Hall
- Hesdin: Belfry of the City Hall
- Abbeville: Belfry
- Amiens: Belfry
- Doullens: Belfry of the former Municipal Hall
- Lucheux: Belfry on the remaining City Gate
- Rue: Belfry
- Saint-Riquier: Belfry
Belfries in Belgium
Belfries in France
It should be noted that the vast majority of the belfries are not religious or associated with a church. Most of them were constructed as part of a town hall.
To date, I have visited the belfries in Ghent, Bruges, and Antwerp. I will be adding more visiting in the future.
Visiting any of the individual Belfries of Belgium and France is usually as simple as visiting a town and looking for the tallest structure.
View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Belgium.
View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.