My Illlustrated Travel Journal with Essays about Roman and Mediaeval History and some Geology
My blog is celebrating its 12th anniversary this year. This makes it one of the rare species of Neanderthal blogs surving the rise of Homo Facebookiensis and Homo Instagramis - though I can still find some other Neanderthal blogs on my blogroll.
Standing stones of Stenness, Orkney (visited in 2013)
I tried to teach my layout some modern tricks of flint knapping, but it didn't work out with that odd mix of travel journal and history blog, and the comprehensive archive I've accumulated over the last 12 years. So I only merged some posts - I tended to write more but shorter posts during the first years - and decluttered and restructured the sidebar archives. Plus I added a Featured Posts
item which I will change every 2-3 months. Most modern blogs have those.
View from the Fløyen to Bergen
I've traveled a fair bit during those last 12 years, even if a lot of it took place in my native Germany. But we got plenty of beautiful nature, lots of castles and a number of charming old towns, so I haven't tired of exploring this country yet. But of course, going abroad is a lot of fun.
Honnigsvåg, north of the Polar Circle
One of the most memorable tours was the one I did in April 2011 when I traveled from Copenhagen via Oslo to Bergen and then took the Hurtigruten Cruise
. If you like snow and want to escape the big tourist groups, a spring voyage is the best time.
Another great voyage was the Baltic Sea Cruise
with the MS Phoenix Albatross
in May 2012. The weather was perfect, warm and sunny. Returning to Stockholm where I lived for 18 months in the late 80ies was a trip back the memory lane, and St.Petersburg was just splendid. It was the time of the white nights, which made it even more beautiful.
St.Petersburg in the evening sun
The UK, especially Scotland, never fail to attract me. I've been there serveral times, and the archive shows a number of posts about Scottish history and Scottish castles (or Welsh castles, for that matter).
View from Stirling Castle to the Scottish Highlands
No wonder, with views like this.
So I'll keep traveling, and blogging with those old flint tools of mine, and hope my readers will continue to enjoy my little corner of the internet.
Roman and Mediaeval Vestiges in Tongeren
On my way back, I spent a day in Tongeren, a smaller town that often gets missed by tourists focussing on the Big Three, though it is well worth a visit. It is a nice place with some impressive Roman walls, a must see Roman museum, and a fine Gothic basilica. The sun decided to come back as well, so it was fun to walk around. (No boat tour this time, there are not so many canals.)
The 2nd century Roman wall
Tongeren started out as a Roman municipium
called Atuatuca Tungrorum, a town situated on the crossing of several military roads. It lies futher east than the cities of Ghent
, at the foothills of the Ardenne mountains. But the documented history of the area goes back to this chap who defeated several of Caesar's legions in a place called Atuatuca in 54 BC.
Statue of Ambiorix
Ambiorix, chieftain - sometimes also called king - of the Eburones got his own statue on the market square in Tongeren. Of course, Caesar came back with more legions and conquered the tribes of the Belgae. Ambiorix disappeared into the woods and into legend, and another tribe, the Tungri, gave its name to the settlement that soon grew near a Roman fort.
Another remaining piece of the Roman wall
Like every Roman town, Atuatuca Tungrorum got a town wall. Luckily, some parts of it survive until today, though only the inner ashley and mortar kernel remains; the outer stone blocks went into the Mediaeval town wall, the old Romanesque basilica and other places. It is still impressive, though.
Exhibits in the Gallo-Roman Museum
Rich Gallo-Roman citizens and owners of the villae
soon surrounding the town liked impressive burials. That way, lots of finds have come to light during various excavations. They are presented in the Provinciaal Gallo-Romeins Museum
, together with other finds from the area all the way back to the Neanderthals.
Celtic torques and coins
Of course, there are exhibits from the culture of the Celtic tribes as well, like these gold torques and coins.
The remains of the burials have been moved into the museum, where the colours and decorations can be preserved better than on the original sites of the finds.
Roman tombs in the museum
The museum is located directly beside the Gothic 'Basilica of Our Dear Lady'. That church may be less spectacular than the cathedral in Antwerp or St.Bavo in Ghent, but I liked it better because the interior is unmarred by chubby Baroque angels and Rococo frills. There are also less tourists around.
Basilica of Our Dear Lady
The basilica is based on the foundations of older churches. A cathedral chapter and monastery existed here since Carolingian times. The construction of the present three naved basilica with transept started in 1240 and took until the 16th century, thus the influence of the late Brabantian Gothic is stronger in some parts, like the main tower.
Interior of the basilica
The loveliest part is the cloister which is still Romanesque. It can be accessed via the Teseum
, a museum that displays church treasures and which is located in the former chapter hall and a remaining Romanesque tower. The golden bling is fun to begin with, but it was the cloister where I spent most time, just sitting in the garden and enjoying a quiet moment.
The lovely Romanesque cloister
One should take the eyes off the bling for a bit and have a look at the architecture of the chapter hall and the tower. Next year, a glass floor will show more of the foundations of the older churches that have been discovered during renovations.
Chapter hall of the basilica
Tongeren has a béguinage as well, though it is smaller than the ones in Ghent and Bruges. There is a restaurant hiding in one of the gardens, a modern art exhibition in the chapel and some pretty vistas in the sun. Unfortunately, the little museum that shows the living conditions in one of the houses was closed.
Tongeren once had six town gates, but only the Moerenpoort from 1379 survives. The worst setback of the town, which played a larger role in the Middle Ages than today, was the sacking by the French troops of King Louis XIV in 1677 where large parts of Tongeren were destroyed.
The Mediaeval town wall was built in 1241 after an attack by Duke Hendrik of Brabant. Some of those Roman stones came quite handy for its construction. Parts of the wall luckily survived the French attack from 1677.
The Mediaeval town wall
Today, Tongeren is a place to see for people interested in Roman history, and worth a stop if you like Mediaeval history and architecture as well.
A Virtual Tour through Mediaeval Bruges
The weather turned into a mix of sunshine and clouds during the days I spent in Bruges, but despite the dramatic appearance of some of those clouds, it never rained.
A tour on the canals is very popular
Bruges has even more canals than Ghent
, so one of the first things I did was to take a tour on the water, which was almost as crowded as the roads. A bicycle taxi proved the fastest way to get to my hotel. (Ghent has recently closed its old town for most cars which makes walking the narrow lanes easier.) And this is Bruges in April; in summer you'll better get a Nimbus 3000 to move around. *grin*
Old houses at the canals
There are a lot of old houses along the canals, and bits of green wherever it manages to grow. It is a lovely way to explore Bruges. I got a bunch of photos and will post more of them in a separate post some day; this one shall show you most the highlights of Bruges, also those not along the water.
There are a lot of bridges
There are a lot of bridges as well. When you stand up to take a photo over the heads of the other people in the boat, you need to watch out for those and duck in time, because most of the bridges are very low. In the Middle Ages, cogs could reach the former Water Hall at the market place, but on the smaller canals, transport was done by barges.
When the sun disappeared behind a layer of grey clouds, the vista reminded me a bit of the 19th century Bruges desribed in George Rodenbach's novel Bruges-la-morte
(published 1892) with its grey houses, dark waters and mists. At that time, the town had lost its connection with the sea due to silting of the Zwin river, and the industry didn't take hold like fe. in Antwerp
But today, tourists enliven the picture in most places even on a dreary day. Though there are spots where few tourists go (and miss out on some pretty and interesting places).
Sometimes the sun came out
And when the sun came out, the canals were a most lovely place. This charming spot can be found behind the choir of the Church of Our Dear Lady, Bruges' main church (more below).
Cloth Hall with belfry
Bruges has its Cloth Merchants' Hall with a high belfry, too, dating to the 13th century. It is 83 metres (272 feet) high and can be ascended by 366 stairs. The view from top is probably spectacular, but I don't like heights and I didn't fell like ascending 366 stairs, either. Plus, those vistas never come out as grand on photos. In summer, people sometimes wait for an hour and more to get inside, because the number of people allowed in the tower is limited.
Pretty old houses at the Market
The belfry dominates the market square, but on the opposite side is a row of pretty old houses, another postcard motive.
Under those green sunshades hides a whole row of restaurants with yummy, albeit somewhat expensive, Belgian food. Yes, I did try the famous mussels and loved them.
The hall of the Provincial Court at the market
The third side of the market square is framed by the Hall of the Provincial Court, an 19th century Neo-Gothic building erected on the site of the old Water Hall, a roofed-in harbour in the Middle Ages.
The well in the foreground shows the figures of Pieter de Coninck and Jan Breydel, two men who led a Flemish uprising and successfully fought against the French occupants at the batte of Kortrijk, also known as the Battle of the Golden Spurs, in 1302.
The old town hall
The oldest square in Bruges is called Steen
, after the castle that once stood there. The town hall - now its outstanding feature - was completed in 1421. It is the oldest example of a minicipal building in the Brabantine Gothic style in Belgium. The town halls of Ghent and Leuven followed its example.
Town hall, interior: the great hall
The interior was restored about 1900 in the Gothic revival style. The two halls were joined into one and the ceiling renewed with some Gothic looking beam constructions. The murals show scenes from the history of Bruges.
Holy Blood Chapel, interior
The Chapel of the Holy Blood started out as a two storeyed chapel adjacent to the old castle. In 1150, Thierri of Alsace, Count of Flanders, returned from the second crusade with a relic of the Holy Blood; until today one of the most venerated relics in Catholic Flanders. It is presented in a famous procession every year.
The upper chapel was transformed in Gothic style in the 15th century, and altered again in the 19th, this time in Gothic revival style. The chapel is now a - to my taste - overdecorated mix of styles. It is also full of tourists.
St.Basil's Chapel, interior
The lower chapel, known as St.Basil's Chapel, was never changed and therefore kept its Romanesque style. Regular readers of my blog know that this is my favourite style in architecture, so I really enjoyed this beautiful example. The place was much quieter, too.
Tower of the Church of Our Dear Lady, seen from one of the canals
The tower of the Church of Our Lady is the second tallest brick tower in the world. It rises to 122.3 metres (401 ft.). The cathedral was erected in several stages from the 13th to the 15th century; its dominating style is Gothic.
Unfortunately, the tower was pretty much the only part not scaffolded in right now. Most of the interior is not accessible due to renovation work, either.
Michelangelo's Madonna with Child
What can be seen is the church's most famous treasure (and they charge the full fee for it even during renovation); the Madonna with Child sculpted by Michelangelo in 1504. Merchants from Bruges bought it during the artist's lifetime and gifted it to the town.
I almost missed it. The madonna is a small part of a huge Baroque altar setting with pillars of black marble which I walked right past because I'm not a fan of that style. I had to ask a guide where the statue was hiding.
Old St.Johns Hospital
St. John's hospital dates back to the 11th century and was expanded during the Middle Ages, eventually incorporating a monastery and a convent. Further wards were added in the 19th century. It was a place where the sick too poor to pay for private treatment by a physician, including pilgrims and travellers, were cared for. It was in use as hospital until 1977. Today, the buildings house a congress centre and museums.
Béguinage Ten Wijngaerde, the inner court
Of all the béguinages in Flanders, the one in Bruges is the most beautiful, especially in spring when the narcisses on the central lawn are in bloom. It was founded in 1245 by Margaret of Constantinople, Countess of Flanders and Hainaut. Fun fact aside: she had a few too many sons from two marriages, which led to a nasty little succession war.
Most of the pretty white houses date to the 16th - 18th century. Beguines lived there until 1927, since then it is a convent of Benedictines, and a place of quiet despite the tourists (most of them respect the signs that ask for silence).
The Ghent Gate
is one of the remaining gates of the Mediaeval town fortifications. The town walls date to 1297 (little of them remains), but several of the gates are from the early 15th century, including the Ghent Gate. It includes a little museum which unfortunately was closed for lunch; and I didn't have the time to return.
Jerusalem Chapel, interior
One of the places missed out by the busloads of tourists is the Jerusalem Chapel and the town manor of the Adorne family, who some may know from the Niccolò
series by Dorothy Dunnett. A member of the Adorne family - which had moved from Genua to Bruges in the 13th century - commissioned the chapel in 1470. An existing chapel was altered to resemble the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem Chapel, the crypt
The main room with the stone altar and stone-carved calvary is flanked by two staircases leading to a second floor with another altar. Hidden behind the stairs is the entrance to the crypt which in turn leads to a narrow corridor and a small room with an imitation of the holy sepulchre.
There were no other tourists around and I found the chapel to be a nice and peaceful place. Some rooms of the former manor house include a small museum about the Adorne family.
House Ter Beurze
The place in front of the inn run by the family van der Beurze
was used as stock exchange market since the 14th century, when purely financial transactions were introduced from Italy. The family also worked as brokers and agents for visiting merchants. The house and square gave the name to the German word for stock exchange market - Börse. The house with its Gothic façade dates to 1493, though the inn existed since 1276.
Seven houses in seven different styles
Bruges is a town with lots of old houses, often with crow step gables or decorated façades in late Gothic, Renaissance or Baroque style. The ones in this photo represent seven different styles; the houses just happened to end up in a row.
Crow step gabled brick houses
A number of houses are made of brick and reminded me of Lübeck, like the ones in the photo above.
Bruges is a town that is best explored by walking around a lot, also outside the main tourist paths (and a boat tour on the canals, of course).
Van Eyck Square
The Jan van Eyck Square lies on the site of the former toll stop for ships visiting Bruges. At that time the canal, crossed by a bridge, ran all the way to the market. Part of it has been covered in the 18th century, thus creating the square. Today, the pretty vista is included in the boat tours.
Dominated by the Cathedral - Antwerp's Old Town
Antwerp is a bigger city than Ghent or the charming Bruges, with one of the largest ports in Europe and a famous shopping mile, but the historical centre is no larger than in the other towns.
Interior of the central railway station in Antwerp
I visited the city on a day trip from Ghent - the train connections are very good - so the first thing I saw of Antwerp was the railway station, an imposing hall in the Art Nouveau style built between 1895-1905 and renovated in the 1980ies, after the consequences of bomb damage during WW2 and constant vibrations from the fast speed trains had made the building instable.
The spire of the cathedral against the morning sun
It followed a walk along the 'fashion mile' to the old town. Antwerp is famous for its fashion, but since I can get the labels I want in my home town, I didn't stop in any of the stores. I like nice clothes, but I'm not a fashionista. If you want to do some shopping, you need to plan more time for your visit to Antwerp, though.
The towers of the cathedral westwork
One cannot miss the way, because the 123 metres (404 foot) high tower of the cahtedral is well visible, especially in the morning sun. Originally, there should have been two towers crowning the westwork, but at some point the money went out. The story of so many public buildings. ;-)
Cathedral of Our Lady, interior
Like so many other Gothic churches, the Cathedral of Our Lady has been erected in place of an older church. Construction started in 1352, but it took about two hundred years to finish, so most of it is in the Brabantian Gothic style, known as flamboyant style in England. It is an imposing seven-naved building of 120 metres (390 ft.) length and 75 metres (264 ft.) width.
Details of the crossing cupola
The interior of the cathedral was severely damanged in a fire in 1533, and during the Calvinist iconoclasitc fury, much was destroyed as well, but today several paintings of Rubens as well as other works from his compatriots are displayed in the church. Most of the other interior is Neo-Gothic, like fe. the choir stalls.
The cathedral is closely surrounded by houses, so it was difficult to get good exterior shots. But I found a nook between roofs where I got get a closeup of some flying buttresses. I'll save a few more photos for another post about the cathedral.
In front of the cathedral is the Glove Makers' Market, one of several places in Antwerp. It is rather cozy with some pretty old houses with crow-stepped gables.
Fine old houses at the Grote Markt
More of those houses can be found on the Grote Markt
, the Great Market. Those are even more splendidly decorated. Most of them are 19th century reconstructions of old Renaissance and Baroque houses, but they kept the style matching the town hall.
The town hall of Antwerp
The town hall of Antwerp is late Gothic in style, one of the finest town halls in Belgium.
The well in front of it shows the foundation legend of Antwerp - (H)ant werpen
(Hand Throwing). Some evil giant took a toll from every ship passing on the nearby Scheldt river and cut the hand off everyone who didn't pay, until a Roman soldier named Silvio Brabo put an end to it by cutting the hand off the giant. He threw the hand into the river, and on that island Antwerp was built.
The name rather goes back to aanwerp
, a headland. The oldest remaining part of the town is the castle Het Steen
on a headland in the Scheldt river. The castle dates back to the 12th century, though it has been changed in 1520 when Charles V had it altered to accomodate artillery. The keep was also replaced by a palace building.
The Steen was used as prison from the 15th - 19th century; until 2011 it had been a museum.
The Steen, seen from the other side
The Steen looks like the little brother of the Gravensteen, but once it was part of a series of fortifications that protected access to Antwerp and controlled the traffic on the Scheldt river.
The river Scheldt
The river Scheldt which enters the North Sea 60 miles further north-west has always been the heart of Antwerp, its harbour in the Middle Ages, its port nowadays. In the 19th century, more than two million people left Europe for America by ship from Antwerp.
I left the town in direction of the railway station and back to Ghent.