Visiting Maubeuge, France: borderland city dominated by its fortifications
Memories of many, bitterly fought, border battles
When the French engineer Vauban built its citadel fortifications for French King Louis XIV in 1680, they dominated Maubeuge. The monolithic Porte de Mons (Mons Gate) continues to be a well-preserved landmark in the town, forming part of the fortifications.
They still do.
Between Maubeuge's founding in the 7th century, and its definitive status as a French city from 1678 onwards following the Peace of Nijmegen, it changed hands many times. The Counts of Hainaut possessed it in the Middle Ages, but given its borderland situation, the French kings looked upon it with desirous eyes. Subsequently Maubuege became a Burgundian possession, then Austrian, then Spanish. In the 17th century it passed back and forth between Spain and France, Spain at the time holding the southern Netherlands, which correspond roughly with present day Belgium.
So all relatively quiet since Vauban fortified Maubeuge in the late 17th century?
Siege of Maubeuge, 1914
One of the most bitterly fought episodes of World War 1 on the Western Front was the Siege of Maubeuge in July-August 1914. French troops were dug into the fortifications, but eventually the city fell to Germany, only to be taken again by Allied troops later in the year. Archive photographs taken nearly 100 years ago bear record of the scenes of devastation which were caused by the hotly contested efforts to possess or hold Maubeuge.
Nevertheless, the fortifications are still remarkably intact and may be viewed today, some of them alongside the Sambre River , a still busy Franco-Belgian commercial artery.
City of trees
However, another aspect of Maubeuge which impressed me was the trees. Many mature trees line some of the city's central streets.
The name of Place verte , (Green square) is a tribute to the longstanding concentration of foliage which has long been a feature in the square.
The thought strikes me regarding this borderland city with its long memories of conflict between rival powers: maybe the efforts to plant trees in its central urban areas have helped to give the city an aura of peace which it lacked for so many centuries.
Also worth seeing
Jeumont , France (distance: 12 kilometres), situated on the Franco-Belgian border, and joined to the Belgian town of Erquelinnes, is the nearest French town to Belgium's capital, Brussels. It has some buildings with architecturally distinct features. Parts of the church of St. Martin (Eglise Saint-Martin ) date from the 15th, 16th and 18th centuries. The Riche Institution (l'institution Riche ) is a former hospital in noted Art déco style, built in 1931.
Montignies-Saint-Christophe , Belgium (distance: 20 kilometres) has a well-preserved Gallo-Roman Bridge, which was built on an old road between Trier and Bavay.
Valenciennes , France (distance: 36 kilometres) has a city hall (hôtel de ville) with a striking façade and a well-appointed Fine Arts museum (musée des Beaux-Arts).
Saint-Amand-les-Eaux , France (distance: 51 kilometres) has an ornate Abbey tower, within which is situated a museum of ceramics and religious art.
How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. Brussels is the nearest large airport to Maubeuge (distance: 101 kilometres). The French railroad company SNCF maintains rail links with Maubeuge. 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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