History of Tournai
Info on Belgium
Nicholas Verdun's Shrine of Our Lady
Saint Brice quarter
The Statue of Christine de Lalaing, on Tournai's market square. She was the wife of Tournai's Governor . According to legend, she played an important role in the defence of the city during the 1581 siege by the Spanish.
Around the year 50 A.C. a large commercial road
was traced by the Romans between the cities of Cologne (Germany) and
Boulogne (France). Alongside this road an habitat arose in an agricultural
area on the left bank of the river Scheldt. The new habitat soon
became the center of a new province, the 'Civitas Turnacensium'.
During Roman times the new city Tournai was protected with a large wall.
Tournai did not escape the same fate that numerous other European cities had to suffer during the decline of the Roman Empire in the West. The city was often plundered by the different outer-empire tribes that gradually took over the Roman possessions. Around the year 432 the Frankish tribes conquered the city and promoted it to their capital. The Merovingian kings Chlodio, Merovech, Childerik and Clovis not only transformed Tournai into a royal city, but also named it a cathedral city where a bishop had his seat.
As from the 11th century Tournai participated in the spectacular development of Northern-Europe. Tournai was the religious center of Flanders and a very important trade center. Numerous pilgrims and tradesmen visited the city. During the 15th century it also grew into a premium center for the production of splendid wall tapestries. Architecture and painting flourished. Some of the most important 15th century painters of the Low Countries came from Tournai: Jacques Daret, Robert Campin (the master of Flémalle) and above all Roger de la Pasture, who became famous as town painter of Brussels under the name Rogier van der Weyden.
In 1513 Henry VIII of England conquered Tournai and, later, the city became part of the 16th century Netherlands (now Belgium and Holland). The city suffered during this century of Spanish rule, like most other cities of the Low Countries, from the religious troubles between Catholics and Protestants. At the end of the Spanish era, Louis XIV of France, managed to occupy Tournai in his attempt to conquer the entire Spanish Netherlands. However, in 1713 the Peace Treaty of Utrecht was signed and the former Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium), including Tournai, were given to the Austrian Habsburgs. Cut off from France, Tournai became isolated and lost a large part of its commercial hinterland.
During and after the French Revolution, the city lost a considerable part of its cultural heritage to the plundering French troops. In 1830 the independent kingdom of Belgium was proclaimed. Tournai became part of this new country. In the 20th century, the city which had fallen victim to so many destructions and plundering was once again severely damaged during the raids of the Nazi-occupants in May 1940. Carefully rebuild, Tournai now again ranks among the historically most important cities of Belgium.