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France & Belgium: UNESCO listed belfries

The Belfries of Belgium and France are 56 bell-towers, built between the 11th and 20th centuries. They are mostly found in town centres and connected to the local town hall or church.

While most UNESCO heritage sites relate to a specific site or area, there are some listings which focus on a collection of related things – such as the work of an architect or an area of ancient rock art.

One of the more usual collections is the ‘Belfries of Belgium and France‘, which is a group of 56 historic buildings that served a civic role (rather than church) and symbolise emerging independence from feudal and religious influence. The initial 32 belfries that were listed by UNESCO were all in the Flanders and Wallonia regions of Belgium. Later, 23 belfries, located in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy were added.

I decided to visit a few of these belfries as we headed through northern France. I hope to visit more on future trips. The three we visited are below.

Finding these belfries or towers is relatively easy, but the towns they lie in have grown up around them so it may take a bit of exploring to track them down. UNESCO provides a map on their website with GPS coordinates.

The UNESCO information is a bit formal and hard to wade through. Another more useful source is provided by ‘Spottinghistory.com

1. ST RIQUIER, PICARDY, FRANCE

Symbol of the civic freedoms acquired in 1126, this belfry is a square tower of stone and sandstone standing on medieval foundations. 16th century elevation, 18th century bell tower. The interior comprised a prison and 4 rooms, one above the other, reflecting the town’s rich history. This UNESCO World Heritage site houses the Tourist Information office.

Address : Rue de L’Hopital, 80135 Saint-Riquier, France

GPS: N50 8 4.00  E1 56 45.00

2. ABBEVILLE, PICARDY, FRANCE

The belfry of Abbeville is one of the oldest in France, built in 1209. On 20 May 1940, during a bombing, its roof was damaged and it was only in 1986 that it was rebuilt. The belfry is one of the fifty-six belfries of Belgium and France registered in 2005 by the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO in recognition of its testimony to the rise of municipal power in the region and its architecture. It has housed the museum of the city since 1954.

Address : 24 Rue Gontier Patin, 80100 Abbeville

GPS: N50 6 27.00 E1 50 3.00

3. AMIENS, PICARDY, FRANCE

Constructed between 1406 and 1410, Amiens’ massive square belfry has a mid-18th-century top reaching 52m, which was rebuilt after it was damaged in 1940 by German bombing. The tourist office runs two guided tours per month, one including a cathedral tour, plus night-time visits in July and August – check the website and reserve well ahead.

Address : Rue de L’Hopital, 80135 Saint-Riquier, France

GPS: N49 53 45.00  E2 17 47.00

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