Visiting the Sart-Tilman estate of Liège University, Liège, Belgium: a well-planned campus with woodland walks
Literally the glades of academe and not a fascist in sight
Even by the 1930s, Liège University, founded in 1817, was outgrowing its main site at Place du 20 août, in the Downtown area of Liège, in what is now Belgium's Walloon region (French: Région wallonne).
Already in the 1930s, there were proposals for a planned, out-of-town campus to accommodate some of the Univerisity's faculties and students, on the edge of the Ardennes hill country, in an area known as the Condroz.
'Planned' is an operative word. Planning was a salient theme of Socialist government minister Henri de Man (1885-1953)(1), who prior to World War Two was advocating systematic planning as part of a political doctrine and at the same time waxing lyrical about new, planned urbanisation for the Sart-Tilman estate on the city's outskirts.
Then he became a fascist.
Or, to put it in a more nuanced way, after the Nazi Germans invaded Belgium in 1940, de Man found it opportune to collaborate with the new, fascist powers, even though Belgium's legitmate government had gone into exile. De Man advocated a planned, corportativist form of administration which seemed to his former colleagues to be too much in tune with the discourse of the fascist invaders.
When World War Two and all its bloodletting and upheavals were all over in Belgium, officially, the dream of Henri de Man and others for a new suburb at the Sart-Tilman estate (French: Domaine Sart-Tilman) — known almost universally as le Sart-Tilman — was disconnected from de Man himself. Plans were duly reasserted, without former minister de Man's assistance and encouragement. The site being chosen for the expanding Liège University, the 1960s and 70s saw a large program of building and landscaping to a wooded campus located near the south of the city limits (2). Claude Strebelle (1917-2010) was one of the principal architects involved in the Univesity's expansion at the Sart-Tilman estate.
Species of tree in the Sart-Tilman estate include oak, beach, birch and pine (3).
Facilities of the Sart-Tilman campus include a university teaching hospital, large auditoria and an experimental farm. The University's greenhouses exist under the rather grand name of Observatory of the World of Plants (French: Observatoire du monde des plantes). The Château de Colonster, within the Sart-Tilman estate, belongs to the University. An Open Air Museum (French: Musée en Plein Air du Sart-Tilman) has a large collection of sculptures.
In a sense, Liège University has the best of both worlds, with historic architecture at its Downtown, Place du 20 août site, and its spacious, wooded Sart-Tilman campus, which gives new meanings to what exactly may be denoted by 'urban'? (4)
December 27, 2013
Addendum: I enjoy citing some of Liège University's alumni: Enver Hoxha, Yasser Arafat, and, in a much lesser league, myself.
(1) Henri de Man (sometimes written Hendrik de Man), a professor of social psychology, succeeded Emile Vandervelde as leader of Belgium's Workers' Party in 1938. After a distinctly chequered career in World War Two, he lived in exile in Switzerland until his death — family sources suggested by his own hand —, disillusioned by the lack of interest in his planning ideas on the part of post-war Belgian society, which remembered too clearly his dubious assertion that in 1940 Belgian working people had supposedly been 'liberated' by the Nazis. (Ref.: FLOUQUET Pierre-Louis, À propos de l'urbanisation du Sart Tilman. Interview de M. le Ministre Henri de Man, in Bâtir, n° 83, Bruxelles, octobre 1939, pp.438-441.)
(2) Until the 1970s, the Sart-Tilman estate was situated within the then independent municipality of Angleur.
(4) The Sart-Tilman campus reminds me of the Ontarian City of Mississauga, which has been partly build amidst existing woodland, and where a thriving branch of the University of Toronto is also situated.
Some sourcing: Wikipedia
Also worth seeing
In Liège itself, other notable sights include: the Fragnée Bridge; the Zénobe Gramme Monument; the marina at the Quai de Rome; the Bueren Mountain; the Cointe Basilica, and many examples of fine, church architecture; the former Prince-Bishops' Palace; the 'Perron' steps; and many others.
How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York (JFK) to Brussels Airport, where car hire is available (distance from Brussels Airport to Liège : 94 kilometres). The Belgian railroad company SNCB / NMBS maintains a service from Brussels to Liège. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Travellers are advised to check with the airline or their travel agent for up to date information. It is also advisable 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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