Visiting Bergues, France, with its Belfry: memories of a prosperous Flemish town in the Middle Ages

Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
The Belfry of Bergues
The Belfry of Bergues | Source
Bergues' Town Hall viewed from the rear, and, behind, the Belfry
Bergues' Town Hall viewed from the rear, and, behind, the Belfry | Source
Map location of Bergues in Dunkirk (Dunkerque) 'arrondissement'
Map location of Bergues in Dunkirk (Dunkerque) 'arrondissement' | Source

The Belfry: still standing watch, despite the battering of centuries

Like many Medieval Flemish towns, Bergues acquired a Belfry. While destroyed on various occasions in the town's history, the Belfry at Bergues has been repeatedly rebuilt and still towers above the town's rooftops. Its carillon with 50 bells is particularly noted.

Some history

The town was already prosperous before it came under French influence. Historically, it belonged to the County of Flanders. The original Belfry dated from the 13th century.The town received a charter in 1240 and the Belfry was symbolic of Bergues's status as a chartered town.

After France invaded in 1381, the Belfry needed to be rebuilt. Further restoration was accomplished in the 16th century and subsequently also in the 19th century. War damage occurred in 1940 and then in 1944 it was destroyed, being rebuilt in 1961.

While the town has various highly prized architectural features, the Belfry is Bergues's most famous feature, in keeping with the Flemish character and Medieval memories evoked by the town's history.

Other noted architectural features of the town

In Bergues itself, other interesting features of the town include its Town Hall (built 1871). Louis XIV's celebrated army engineer Vauban fortified the town, and these approx. 5 kilometres of walls may still be seen, as may be also the noted gates: named the Cassel, Hondschoote, Dunkirk (French: Dunkerque ), Bierne and Boules gates. St Winok's Abbey (French: l'abbaye de Saint-Winoc ) was a Medieval structure, part of a tower of which has survived. The Municipal Museum (French: Musée municipal ) is housed in a striking, Baroque-style building dating from the 17th century.

A linguistic note

Generally known as Bergues, the town is strictly called Bergues-Saint-Winoc. Like many towns in the northern part of France close to Belgium, it has a Dutch equivalent: Sint-Winoksbergen: this long form in Dutch tends to be used more frequently than the French longer form.

Also worth seeing

Esquelbecq , France (distance: 10 kilometres) has a castle, Medieval in origin, restored in the 17th century.

Dunkirk , France (distance: 9.3 kilometres); this major city's architectural heritage includes two belfries, the Leughenaer tower, and St. Eloi church.

Calais , France (distance: 50 kilometres), with its Medieval tower, Tudor-style church, Flemish-style town hall belfry and lacemaking craft tradition.

Cap Blanc-Nez , France (distance: approx. 65 kilometres) and nearby Cap Gris-Nez are major landmarks and picturesque cliff areas along the Côte d’Opale (Opal Coast).

Bray-Dunes , France (distance: 17 kilometres) is France's northernmost town. A resort on the North Sea (mer du Nord ), it has associations with a former Icelandic fishing fleet.

Adinkerke , Belgium (distance: approx. 25 kilometres); the tower of its Adomaruskerk dates partly from the 12th century; its ornate railroad station also serves the neighbouring Belgian resort of De Panne. There is a number of thought-provoking war cemeteries in the area.

De Panne , Belgium (distance: 29 kilometres); this is a popular resort on the Belgian coast, with its bracing winds. Land yacht competitions have long been a frequent activity on its extensive sands. The Calmeynbos nature reserve is in the vicinity.

Sint-Idesbald , Belgium (distance: 31 kilometres), another resort on the relatively narrow, Belgian coast, has an interesting museum about the artist Paul Delvaux.

Veurne , Belgium (distance: 29 kilometres); this town's architectural heritage includes a Renaissance-style market square, a noted belfry, and two Medieval churches. Nearby Beauvoorde castle is Medieval in origin, rebuilt in the 17th century.

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How to get there: A number of North American airlines fly to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, where car rental is available, and the French SNCF railroad company maintains a service from Paris to Bergues (distance between Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and Bergues: 262 kilometres). But the nearest large international airport is Brussels Airport (Brussel-Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), where car rental is available (distance between Brussels Airport and Bergues: 173 kilometres). Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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