Tournai is a city and municipality located in Hainaut Province, Wallonia, Belgium. The city is located 85 km southwest of Brussels.
Grand Place, lovingly reconstructed after firebomb raids in 1940, has a rare concentration of historical buildings.
There are two World Heritage Sites here; a magnificent Romanesque-Gothic cathedral and a Belfry that has stood since the 12th century.
Tournai, with close streets that beckon you down to quaysides on the River Scheldt, is a city that demands exploration.
1. Grand Place
The main square of the Tournai triangle was outside the city walls in its early days some 2,000 years ago.
At that time this vast chamber was a Gallo-Roman cemetery, and only served as a market in the Karoling era, around the 8th century, when European trade was reborn.
Grand Place, restored after the devastating incendiary bombing of the Luftwaffe in May 1940, has an almost endless array of cafés and restaurant terraces on its north side, beneath a historic triangular-roofed facade.
2. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Tournai
Tournai Cathedral is a magnificent blend of Romanesque, and Gothic and easily recognised by its five solemn square towers.
More than 130 metres long and with a maximum height of 84 metres, the proportions of this monument are vast when you consider its age.
The nave went up at the very beginning of the 12th century, while the Gothic choir is a transitional transept with both Romanesque and Gothic elements from the turn of the 13th century.
3. Musée d’Histoire Naturelle de Tournai
Since 1839 it has been housed in a Neoclassical building on the site of the former Abbey of Saint-Martin, which was dissolved in 1797.
This was the first museum in Belgium to be accessible to the public, and owed its early growth to the patronage of King Leopold I and the leading botanist/politician Barthélemy du Mortier.
A favourite for younger visitors is the Vivarium, which keeps live Chinese alligators, tarantulas, chameleons and all kinds of other reptiles and invertebrates.
The 72-metre freestanding bell-tower on Grand Place is one of 56 belfries in France and Belgium that have earned a single UNESCO World Heritage listing.
The tower was used as a vantage point to spot attacking enemies, as well as fires within the city.
The chambers within, on five different floors, were used as a prison until 1827 but also held the town hall for a time.
5. Museum of Fine Arts
The Musée des Beaux-Arts in Tournai, Belgium, is an art museum. The museum began in the early 20th century when Henri Van Cutsem, a Belgian art collector, offered his collections to the city of Tournai in 1905.
The Museum of Fine Arts has a considerable collection of painting and sculpture, beginning with Medieval Flemish primitives and paying special attention to Impressionism.
Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Manet and Seurat are all represented, but there are also earlier pieces by masters like Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Peter Paul Rubens and Jacob Jordaens.
6. Maison Tournaisienne
You can learn all about Tournai’s inhabitants at this museum in a 17th-century house on a little lane off Grand Place.
All walks of life and every social stratum is covered, from nobility down to Tournai’s orphans.
In 23 different exhibition rooms you’ll get to indulge your curiosity for Tournai’s carnival traditions, its military history, fashion, religious customs, medicine, societies, processional giants, education and its societies.
7. Musée de la Tapisserie de Tournai
Tournai was a major center for the art of tapestry weaving (In the 15th and 16th centuries), and you can see some amazing examples from that period in this museum.
These historic tapestries are remarkable for the size and richness of the narrative, but the museum also keeps textile art here and today alive.
So that you can get to know more about the work of artists from the 1940s to the present, such as Roger Somville, Edmond Dubrunfaut, and Louis Delfour.
8. Église Saint-Jacques
This church on the Rue du Palais Saint-Jacques was built for pilgrims in the 12th century, and was enlarged in the 13th and 14th centuries with a transitional style unique to the city known as Tournai Gothic.
The centerpiece, hallway, and transept date back to the first decades of the 13th century, while the choir expanded more than a century later.
Standing in the center, see the capital city leaves in giant columns, and, just above it, see the many columns of the triforium (interior gallery), which are connected with other galleries on the transept.
9. Église Saint-Quentin
The bare, castle-like facade of this Romanesque church is hard to miss among the gabled buildings on the west end of Grand Place.
Église Saint-Quentin grew up in the 12th century, and was linked to the enormous Gallo-Roman cemetery that used to be Grand Place.
The oldest section is the nave, austere and unadorned, while the pointed vaults in the transept and the choir show a transition between the Romanesque and Early Gothic styles.
10. Hôtel de Ville
In a sweet formal park, Tournai’s city hall sits opposite the Museum of Fine Arts, and has an interesting past.
This Neoclassical building, completed in 1763, was in fact the residential palace for the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Martin.
The history of that monastery goes right back to the 11th century, and it was dissolved little more than three decades after the new palace was completed.