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Introducing Tournai

Enjoyable Tournai (pronounced tour-nay, Doornik in Dutch) has Wallonia’s most memorable Grand Place and one of Belgium’s finest cathedrals. The region has been inhabited since ancient antiquity. Tournai grew to prominence as the Roman trading settlement of Tornacum, and was the original 5th-century capital of the Frankish Merovingian dynasty. Clovis, the most celebrated Merovingian king, was born here in 465, and while he soon decamped to Paris via Soissons, he left Tournai as the region’s spiritual centre. Autonomous from France as of 1187, the city retains two towers (St-Georges and Prends-Garde) from the first 1202 city wall and a curious fortified bridge (Pont des Trous) from the wall’s later expansion. In 1513 Tournai was conquered by Henry VIII of England and the town even sent a parliamentary representative to London before being sold back to France in 1519. Just two years later it was swallowed by the Hapsburg-Spanish Empire. Tournai found renewed wealth as a centre for tapestry making (in the 16th century) and porcelain manufacture (in the 18th century) but was devastated in 1940 by WWII fire bombing. While the cathedral largely survived, almost all other historic buildings had to be painstakingly restored. Restoration was so complete that the lovely Grand Place now looks somewhat more medieval that it did before the war.

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