Liège grew from a humble chapel built on the Meuse in 558. In 705 the Bishop of Tongeren-Maastricht was murdered at the chapel and from then on it became a pilgrimage destination. Was his murder the start of the city becoming a capital of crime? Probably not, but Liège did have Europe’s highest crime rate in 2001, according to European Commission figures.
In the 10th century, Liège became the capital of a principality ruled by prince-bishops who had both religious and secular powers. It managed to remain independent for the next 800 years, right through the reign of Burgundians, Spanish and Austrians. When rumblings broke out in Paris in 1789, revolutionary desires were whetted in Liège, and the locals, with the assistance of French soldiers, ousted the last prince-bishop, Antoine de Méan. In 1794 the long-independent principality was swallowed by France.
Liège entered the industrial age with verve. Coal mining had started here as early as the 12th century, and when the Industrial Revolution swept through in the 19th century, Liège developed its natural assets. Although the steel industry still survives, coal mining has ground to a halt and the city’s periphery is dotted with the abandoned remnants of its prosperous past.
The Liègois are known for their liberal, left-wing passions. They were the first to lend their support to Brussels during the 1830 revolution against Dutch rule, and later that century fought heavily for better working conditions. After WWII, they were at the forefront of the campaign that eventually brought down King Léopold III.