Visiting Avenue du Luxembourg, Liège, Belgium: a gracious thoroughfare, some Belgian history and a grammar lesson
A Belgian sense of place
Now for some French grammar. This gracious, tree lined avenue in the city of Liège, in Belgium's Walloon region (French: Région wallonne), is named for Luxembourg. In English one might simply say: 'Luxembourg Avenue'.
However, French is more complex and precise.
In order to express the sense 'Luxembourg Avenue' in French, one needs to know precisely which Luxembourg it is to which one is referring.
Because there is both the City of Luxembourg (French: Ville de Luxembourg) and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (French: Grand Duché de Luxembourg), of which the City of Luxembourg is the capital.
So it would seem to follow that the name Avenue de Luxembourg (i.e., without the article) refers to the City of the name, while Avenue du Luxembourg (i.e., with the article, contracted into the preposition de) denotes the Grand Duchy.
This road, then, is called Avenue du Luxembourg . The matter solved, then?
What I said, above, is perfectly true for French as spoken in France.
But Liège is in Belgium.
The fact is that in Belgium if people speak in French of le Luxembourg, that is, with the article but without further qualification, they are often not actually referring to the Grand Duchy, as could reasonably be assumed in France itself.
Why is this? It is because there is another Luxembourg in Belgium.
In Belgium itself, there is a province of the same name as the neighbouring Grand Duchy, Indeed, in area this procvince is even larger than the contiguous Grand Ducal territory, which is an independent state. For Belgians, then, le Luxembourg, not further defined, is first and foremost the Province of Luxembourg, and it is for this Province that this gracious avenue in the City of Liège is named.
But in Belgium does it really matter whether one is careful to distinguish which Luxembourg it is to which one is referring?
Well, the answer is, yes. One the one hand Belgians are renowned for their commitment to European integration, the doing away of European borders, and so forth.
On the other hand, Belgians have sensibilities about the integrity of their national territory. We should bear in mind, also, that part of the Belgian Province of Luxembourg has speakers of Létzebuergesch, designated the national language of the Grand Duchy. Some years ago Luxembourg's Minister of Culture managed to get herself into diplomatic hot water, so to to speak, when she inadvertently made a statement seemingly supportive of a secessionist political group within Belgian Luxembourg, whereas what the minister had intended to say was that her ministry backed cultural solidarity for the Létzebuergesch language and literature in a border area of Belgium.
So does it matter what le Luxembourg really means? Yes, it does!
The area around the suburb of Fétinne, where Avenue du Luxembourg (1) is situated, was built up in preparation for the Universal Exhibition (French: Exposition universelle), Liège, 1905. Along the Avenue, a number of the private houses are noted for their somewhat ornate, style.
In the second photo, right, the domed church of Saint Vincent, dating from 1930, may be seen in the distance; this edifice was designed by architect R. Toussaint.
April 24, 2013
(1) My tenuous, personal connection with Avenue du Luxembourg is that when I went to live in Liège many years ago I looked at accommodation in a house there; although, in the event, I chose to reside elsewhere in the city.
Also worth seeing
In Liège itself, other notable sights include: the Fragnée Bridge, situated near to Avenue du Luxembourg; the Zénobe Gramme Monument; the marina at the Quai de Rome; the Cointe Basilica, the Bueren Mountain; 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. Please check with the airline or your 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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