Visiting Armentières, France, and Its Belfry: Flemish Renaissance Distinction by Louis Marie Cordonnier
Extensive war damage, and a new building
The fine belfry which the Town Hall (French: Mairie) of Armentières, France, possesses, is actually the latest among various belfries which have existed in the town.
The original, Medieval belfry was demolished in the 15th century.
Then, in 1510, another belfry was built.
Subsequently, it was integrated into a town hall building in 1724. So far, so good.
But then came World War One. It is a moot point whether the Imperial German army can be blamed more for the destruction of the belfry than French King Louis XI could be regarding the demise of the previous belfry in the 15th century. Because under Louis XI, Armentières's belfry was destroyed deliberately. Whereas the later structure was probably destroyed by the German army through war damage, although they were indeed the aggressors.
From a practical perspective, however, destroyed it was, and after World War One Armentières needed a new belfry. The town and its district, and the neighbouring area of Belgium, underwent wasting and destruction amidst scenes of immense desolation, that it took many years for the town to be rebuilt (1).
It was thus that architect Louis Marie Cordonnier (1854-1940) was commissioned to built the exisiting belfry and town hall, completed in 1934. Architect Cordonnier was responsible for a number of other belfry projects in northern France; these included those at the Lille Chamber of Commerce and the Town Halls at Bailleul, Comines, Dunkirk, Loos-lez-Lille and La Madeleine.
Armentières was for centuries a centre for the textile industry and its different belfries have served as symbols of the town's prosperity. The Town Hall is situated at 4, place du Général de Gaulle.
(1) While one can in hindsight appreciate the warnings of John Maynard Keynes and others in 1919 for the Treaty of Versailles not to be dangerously vindictive, yet from a French perspective the wholesale destruction of many parts of northern France at the hands of the German invaders and undoubted aggressors called for very significant reparations. Few places more than Armentières suffered such huge war damage in World War One.
Also worth seeing
In the northern outskirts of the town of Armentières , the Hem Meadows are a well-appointed recreational area, formerly a battle-site, close to the Belgian border.
Ploegsteert, Belgium (distance: 5.1 kilometres) has a striking Commonwealth War Memorial.
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 Armentières (distance: 146 kilometres). Please note that facilities may change without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to 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