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Visiting Beaumont, Belgium and its Salamandre Tower: Medieval monumentality and memories
Historic tower and a catalogue of local disasters
Beaumont, in the Belgian province of Hainaut, being situated near the border with France, foreign armies have come and gone for centuries.
The monumental structure of the Salamandre Tower at Beaumont, has its origins in the 10th century. A defensive structure was erected by Richilde, Countess of Hainaut but fortifications were greatly expanded in the 12th century by Counts Baudouin IV and Baudouin V in the 12th century.
The plague decimated the town's population in 1632 and in 1637 the town was besieged. French troops set the town on fire in 1655 and the Salamandre Tower and most other structures were ruined, as well as a substantial proportion of fortification walls around the town; English troops, in turn, contributed to damage at the Salamandre Tower in 1691.
In World War Two, following the Nazi German invasion of May 1940, there was further devastation.
Supposed 'bad luck'?
Fire, foreign armies, plague, fire, World War Two devastation: the apparent quietness of this small Belgian town masks a tumultuous past: a past in which local people have repeatedly drawn attention to the bad fate which has befallen them. A short poem, known locally, describes the bad fate. In relation to the hanging of three men by the troops of Emperor Charles V, the poem says:
'A place of bad luck is the town of Beaumont,
Arriving at noon, you'll be hanged there at one.' Tr. by MJFenn (1)
(In fact, Beaumont's situation in an historic borderland district has probably had a significant connection with many of the tumultuous events which have befallen the town over the centuries.)
New role for the Tower
The Medieval walls of the Salamandre Tower have thus witnessed a lot of unhappy history.
However, today, these walls serve a function other than defensive: within the walls of the Tower is a historical museum. Local enthusiasts are also accustomed to carrying out regular historical reenactments.
(1) Original French:
'Beaumont, ville de malheur.
Arrivés à midi, pendus à une heure.'
Also worth seeing
Also at Beaumont, the Caraman-Chimay castle is an 1845 reconstruction of a structure incorporating 18th century elements. Previously, a 16th century castle stood on the site. This building now houses a religious institution and is not usually open to the public.
Montignies-St.-Christophe (distance: 6.8 kilometres) has a well-preserved Gallo-Roman bridge, close to the French border.
Jeumont, France (distance: 14 kilometres); parts of its 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.
Maubeuge, France (distance: 27 kilometres) contains the Porte de Mons (Mons Gate), as part of the extensive fortifications substantially erected by Vauban in the 17th century.
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 Beaumont (distance: 99 kilometres). 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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