Mons (Bergen in Dutch, pop. 92,000) is a university town and the capital of the province of Hainaut. The name of the city derives from Latin "Montes", meaning "Mount", from the geographical feature where it stands, although it is really just a hill.
Despite the lack of extraordinary monuments, Mons is without contest one of the most beautiful and pleasant city in Belgium, thanks to its architectural homogeneity, its clean streets and its warm atmosphere.
Mons was settled since the Neolithic period. During the Classical Antiquity, it was the heartland of the Nervian (Nervii in Latin) territory when Julius Caesar invaded Gaul. The Romans built a fort on the hill of Mons which they called "Castri locus".
The city itself was founded in the 7th century when a noble Frankish woman named Waltrude decided to dedicated her life to god there. Waltrude became a Saint after her death in 688 and the place became a pilgrimage destination.
In the mid-12th century, Count of Hainaut Baldwin IV ordered the construction of a 1 kilometre citywall around the castle and Mons became a fortified city.
St Waltrude's Collegiate Church
St Waltrude (Sainte Waudru in French) church took over 200 years to complete. In 1450, the decision was made to replace the old Romanesque church by a new Gothic one. The construction ended in 1686. A 190m-high tower was planned in 1549, but was never completed due to the financial strains brought destructions caused by French troops in the 1691 siege.
The church's treasury houses religious goldsmith's works, textiles, books, sculptures and paintings dating from the 7th to 19th century.
St Waltrude's official website offers a virtual visit as well as more detailed information (in French only).
St Waltrude is open all year round from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm (from 7:00 am on Sundays). Admission is free.
The Treasury room is open from March to November everyday from 1:30 pm to 6:00 pm (until 5:00 pm on weekends).
Mons being originally a place of pilgrimage, most of the historic buildings are churches, chapels, convents or abbeys. But the beauty of Mons lies in its narrow paved streets and its traditional houses.
The two most interesting non-religious buildings are the 15th-century Renaissance style H˘tel de Ville (town hall) and the 87m tall Beffroi (belfry), erected in 1661. The belfry is the only Baroque-style belltower in Belgium and was listed as a World Heritage site by the UNESCO in 1999. Note the youth hostel at the foot of the belfry - probably the only one in the world !
The Neolithic Flint Mines at Spiennes, 2 km south-east of the city centre, are another UNESCO World Heritage site. They are the largest (over 100 ha) and earliest (6,000 years old) concentration of ancient mines in Europe. The first Neolithic farmers who came from the Near East via Greece and the Danube valley (Linear Pottery & R÷ssen cultures) were probably those who dig the mines. Mines were progressively replaced by pits. The pits are from 8 to 11 metres deep, except from the Camp-Ó-Cayaux pit, which reaches the considerable depth of 16 metres. The site was exploited for 1,800 years, until the arrival of the Indo-Europeans and bronze technology around 2200 BCE.
The site is open from March to November on Sundays only, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission is 2.5 €. Group visits (min. 12 people) can be arranged any time with a reservation.
How to get there
Mons is on the E19 motorway (Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam), about halfway between Valenciennes and Nivelles. The N6 (N2 in France) links it to Maubeuge, 20 km south.
Mons can be easily accessed by train from Brussels (45 to 60min), Tournai (23 to 41min), Lille (45 to 55min), Namur (1 hour) or Liege (1h45min to 2h15min).
The Thalys bullet-train links Mons to Paris twice a day, although it may be more convenient to first go to Lille by ordinary train and change to a frequent French TGV from there to Paris.
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