While meandering through Flanders in 2002, the Monkey happened across the town of Tongeren. While not necessarily on the beaten path, it certainly rewards a visit.
Tongeren is a pleasant medium-sized town in the northeast of Belgium, not far from Maastricht, Netherlands. Like that city, Tongeren began as a Roman military outpost in the northern reaches of the empire. Founded in the 15th Century BCE, Tongeren is said to be the oldest town in Belgium.
In this photo, the Monkey poses by Tongeren’s 13th Century (and onward) Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek, which rests atop the foundations of a 4th Century church purportedly begun by Saint Servatius (who has a church named after him in nearby Maastricht). Its 64 meter bell tower dominates Tongeren’s skyline.
Tongeren has a wealth of interesting outdoor sculptures, from the large statue of its famed 1st Century BCE resistance fighter against the Romans, Ambiorix, to this funky little number, which the Monkey couldn’t resist getting a closer look at. Near the church in the photo above is another intriguing sculpture, a detailed scale model of the basilica complete with braille explanation so that the blind can experience the building, too.
The Monkey spotted this pretty-in-pink beauty parked in central Tongeren, and had to climb aboard for a photo. It’s the strange and iconic Citroën 2 CV, designed by the French car firm as a rugged, yet affordable car for all. A natural rival to Volkswagen’s Beetle, the “Tin Snail” or “Deux Chevaux” was manufactured from 1948 through 1990, and has a certain cult following the world over.
The Monkey takes in the streetscape of the Begijnhof, a sort of medieval gated community for the Beguines, members of a mystical Christian religious movement that was quite common in medieval Belgium. Somewhat akin to nuns and monks though less ascetic and less bound by their vows, the Beguines of Tongeren lived in their own separated section of the town centered around the church in this photo, alternately called Sint Catharinakerk or Begijnhofkerk. It dates from the late 13th Century, but was heavily modified in the 18th Century.
Tongeren by night. The Monkey finished up one night at the bar and decided to have a stroll around the old Begijnhof. Here, he poses by some of the city’s medieval defensive walls, which also feature a moat. The semicircular part in the center of the photo is the “lakenmakenstoren” tower, a Dutch name indicating that this defensive tower was manned and maintained by the Clothmakers’ guild. Today, the buildings along this stretch serve as an art gallery and cultural center; the abstract sculpture at the top of this page is on the other side of these buildings in the warren of streets that make up the Begijnhof.
Interestingly, these walls are nearly a thousand years newer than the original Roman walls, much of which are still in evidence ringing the town center.
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