There are two World Heritage Sites here; a magnificent Romanesque-Gothic cathedral and a Belfry that has stood since the 12th century. One of Belgium’s oldest cities has a central square over a Gallo-Roman cemetery, and was the birthplace of Clovis I (466-511), founder of the Merovingian dynasty. Grand Place, lovingly reconstructed after firebomb raids in 1940, has a rare concentration of historical buildings.

1. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Tournai

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. 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.

2. Grand Place

At that time this expansive space was a Gallo-Roman cemetery, and only became a market place in the Carolingian era, around the 8th century, when European trade was reborn. Grand Place, restored after devastating incendiary bomb attacks by the Luftwaffe in May 1940, has an almost unending row of cafe and restaurant terraces on its north side, under historic gabled facades.

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3. Belfry

The story of Tournai’s belfry begins around 1188, after Philip II of France granted a town charter, part of which allowed for a communal bell. The tower was used as a vantage point to spot attacking enemies, as well as fires within the city.

4. Maison Tournaisienne

All walks of life and every social stratum is covered, from nobility down to Tournai’s orphans. You can learn all about Tournai’s inhabitants at this museum in a 17th-century house on a little lane off Grand Place.

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5. Église Saint-Jacques

This church on Rue du Palais Saint-Jacques would have been built for pilgrims in the 12th century, and was enlarged in the 13th and 14th centuries in a transitional style unique to this city and known as Tournai Gothic.

6. Hôtel de Ville

This Neoclassical building, completed in 1763, was in fact the residential palace for the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Martin. In a sweet formal park, Tournai’s city hall sits opposite the Museum of Fine Arts, and has an interesting past.

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7. Pont des Trous (Bridge of Holes)

Hailed as one of Belgium’s greatest Medieval military vestiges, the Pont des Trous is a bridge and water gate constructed between 1281 and 1329. The bridge was partially demolished by retreating British troops in 1940 and was rebuilt after the war with taller arches to facilitate water traffic, before undergoing its latest round of renovation.

8. Musée d’Archéologie

The museum’s cache of Gallo-Roman artefacts has grown with recent excavations of the necropolis under the Grand Place. The old-school museum, showing off Tournai’s Gallo-Roman and Merovingian finds, is in the 17th-century building of the Mount of Piety, a charitable pawnbroker.

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9. Jungle City

A couple of kilometres north of Grand Place, Jungle City is for children up to the age of 13 and has more than 2,500 square metres of amusements and animal enclosures. Jungle City also has a mini farm with domestic animals, as well as all sorts of exotic birds including an emu, macaws, parakeets and owls.

10. Musée d’Histoire Naturelle de Tournai

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 invertebrat

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11. Museum of Fine Arts

The famed Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta designed this art museum, built on the site of the Abbey of Saint-Martin in 1928. The Museum of Fine Arts has a considerable collection of painting and sculpture, beginning with Medieval Flemish primitives and paying special attention to Impressionism.

12. Musée de la Tapisserie de Tournai

There’s also a conservation and restoration workshop, where you can find out about the slow and meticulous process of preserving this art, while the documentation and study centre is open to teachers, students, researchers and the general public.

13. Église Saint-Quentin

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. The bare, castle-like facade of this Romanesque church is hard to miss among the gabled buildings on the west end of Grand Place.

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14. Maisons des Jésuites

The Maisons des Jésuites is a set of four adjoining limestone houses, at No. 12, 14, 14b and 16, all put up at the beginning of the 13th century. Any walking tour of Tournai has to take in the cobblestone Rue des Jésuites, along which can be found some of the oldest secular buildings in the city.

15. La Halle aux Draps

This commercial building is from the 1610 and replaced a 13th-century wooden hall that collapsed in a storm. The building has come through difficult times, after collapsing in 1881, and being hit by incendiary bombs in 1940, but was fully restored in the second half of the 20th century and is now an exhibition and event space.

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