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NamurNamur: The entrance to the Ardennes. From here the hills and valleys of south eastern Belgium form a distinct change to the rather flatter areas of Flanders. French is very much the language of preference in this part of the country, and at times it is hard to remember that this is not an outpost of the French Republic but a country in its own right. No doubt easy for the Belgians to notice, but hard enough for someone who cannot tell the difference between French and Belgian accents.

The city is strategically situated at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers. Its massive citadel perched high on the bluff overlooks this important junction. Namur is a good place to use as a centre to visit the entire area. There are plenty of hotels, and restaurants, and even a certain amount of night life.

L'entre Sambre et MeuseThe citadel is the main attraction in the town. It is sited within the V of the two rivers and from the east was all but impregnable. For centuries though the problem for the military planners was always one of how to protect the town from the west.

There are two ways of reaching the top - on foot through the park or following the road from up behind the Casino on the banks of the Meuse - or secondly via the telepherique cable car, which runs from April to November. I parked my car behind the Casino and made my way up that way. At least it looked shorter on the map - my legs decreed otherwise.

Namur citadelleComing up then from the Casino side you come to the Joyeuse tower on the right. The road then cuts under itself as it enters the Donjon, there then follows a platform from which you have a commanding view over the confluence far beneath you. Following the road round you cross over between the two towers and into the Mediane Fortress. The Mediane dates from the 15th and 16th centuries and was reinforced by the Spanish in 1640 by yet another bastion - the Terra Nova which is reached next.


For all their attempts to strengthen the Citadel, Namur fell in 1692 to the army of Louis XIV of France, following a month long siege by Vauban the military engineer and mind behind many of France's fortresses. Vauban added more structures to the Citadel, but to no avail, for in 1695 William III of Orange recaptured the place for the Allies after a siege which lasted two months.

Citadelle viaductInside the Terra Nova you can visit the underground fortifications and see passages used by Louis XIV. There is an audio visual guide, but make sure that you have plenty of time to make the visit.

During the period of the French Revolution and Napoleon the fortress was taken by the French and began to fall into disrepair as the frontier was pushed further and further back. The position had lost much of its importance.


On the 4 August 1914 war broke out across Europe. The empires of France and Germany found themselves face to face in conflict. Both sides believed that this was going to be a swift war. It would be all over by 1915.

The French Army believed that it could retake Alsace Lorraine and march on the Rhine with relative ease. But whilst her armies rushed into Germany, the German army stormed into Belgium.

Germany's plan was to make a fast sweep through Belgium avoiding all of France's eastern fortresses, and thus descend upon an unprotected Paris - war won.

They had not realised the strength of opposition from the Belgian people, and from the moment that the German Army set foot on Belgian soil the Franc-tireur sharpshooters took in to them as best as they could. This constant picking off of soldiers roused the indignation of the German High Command who felt that if they could beat the Belgian Army that should be the end of the matter. In retaliation for these atrocities as they were considered the Germans had a habit of holding entire villages to blame and raising them to the ground massacring the population.

On 19 August the German Army reached Namur following the capture of Liege to the east - a fortress even larger than Namur's. Five Divisions lined up against a mere 27.000 defenders. The Allies could only hope that the famous Citadel would hold out for at least a few days in order to get relieving troops to the front line.

The following day, Brussels fell. At Namur the superior German artillery continued to wreak havoc. On 23 August (less than 3 weeks since the opening of the war), the German Army had advanced over a hundred miles and were almost to the Atlantic ports of Oostende and Dunkerque. Namur was on the verge of falling


and to the west the British Expeditionary Force had come face to face with Germans at Mons.

Two days later Namur fell.