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Visiting Bouillon, Belgium: memories of Godefroid, styled King of Jerusalem, and his castle

Updated on March 14, 2016
Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
The castle and Semois River at Bouillon
The castle and Semois River at Bouillon | Source
The Semois River, and the castle, beyond, at Bouillon
The Semois River, and the castle, beyond, at Bouillon | Source
Map location of Bouillon in the Belgian province of Luxembourg
Map location of Bouillon in the Belgian province of Luxembourg | Source

The Medieval castle dominates this Belgian Luxembourg town

So this Medieval castle is in Luxembourg?

Well, yes and no.

Some geography

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, with its many castles, is an independent state, which neighbours Belgium. Whereas the province of Luxembourg — larger than the Grand Duchy, in fact — is part of Belgium, and it is in this Belgian province that the town of Bouillon, with its Medieval castle associated with Godefroid de Bouillon , (c.1060-1100) is situated.

Some history

So who was Godefroid de Bouillon ? Well, he was a Crusader, who was styled King of Jerusalem. To put his significance into perspective, the history of France has its Crusader King Louis IX — known as Saint-Louis . The history of what is now Belgium has Godefroid as another leading Crusader, who died in Jerusalem in the year 1100.

I might as well say that I honestly struggle with the whole concept of the Crusades...but this is maybe another example of the Old European blurring of the temporal and spiritual realms. However, the latent reverberations of Godefroid 's Medieval rôle have survived into relatively modern times. Go to the place Royale (Dutch: Koningsplein ) in Brussels and you will see a 19th century equestrian statue by Eugène Simonis of Godefroid , bearing the caption, Premier roi de Jérusalem (First king of Jerusalem).

Forward to the 20th century, and Léon Degrelle , Belgian Rexist leader, was born in Bouillon in 1906.

The Semois River...and Franco-Belgian spelling variations

I could not fail to be impressed by the way this ancient castle dominates the town at a scenic location overlooking the Semois River . At least, this is how you spell the river at Bouillon. So what is meant by this?

Well, the meandering Semois River flows into France and eventually joins the Meuse River , which later flows into Belgium...but not before it starts to be called the Semoy River at the border with France. Why?

This is a good question, except that it is not unusual for toponyms to change their spelling at the Franco-Belgian border. So we have Quiévrain (Belgium) and Quiévrechain (France) joined by the border and divided by spelling. So we have the word Ardenne (sing.), used in Belgium to denote the large forested area of southern Belgium, while in France the phrase Les Ardennes (plural) refers to the French department of that name. So we have La Flandre (sing.), which in Belgium refers — in French — to the state of that name, while in France the term les Flandres (plural) is used to denote an even wider historic area, some of which is in France.

Oh well, one might say. So at least Semois River is the correct spelling in Belgium.

Well, yes and no. Because the Semois is also known as the Simwès (that is, in the Walloon language spoken in some of southern Belgium).

Back to Godefroid...

So, anyway, when he was not at the Crusades, we surely can say that Godefroid must have appreciated his fine, monumental castle? Well, not exactly. Why not? Because Godefroid sold the castle to the Bishop of Liège to pay for the Crusades...

Also worth seeing

Givet , France (distance: 53 kilometres), a town in a picturesque setting on the Meuse River , has notable fort and church architecture.

Charleville-Mézières, France(distance: 42 kilometres) has an impressive place Ducale (ducal square).


How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. 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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