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Visiting Bousbecque, France: striking ecclesiastical architecture and memories of a 16th century herbalist

Updated on November 27, 2012
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Bousbecque, France, with its 15th century St. Martin's church and 19th century tower.
Bousbecque, France, with its 15th century St. Martin's church and 19th century tower. | Source
Map location of Bousbecque
Map location of Bousbecque | Source
Tulips near the Parliament of Canada, Ottawa
Tulips near the Parliament of Canada, Ottawa | Source

Historic locality on the Lys River

The church of St. Martin at Bousbecque, in France's Nord department, is an impressive example of 15th century architecture. (It was the church which caught my eye as I travelled through the district.) The building contains a number of ancient gravestones.

The tower dates from the 19th century and from adjacent Belgium over the Lys River it is visible as a looming landmark.

A crossroads of history

A Roman road is known to have passed through the locality. Numerous fierce conflicts have occurred in the vicinity of Bousbecque. In the 15th century a chamberlain in the service of the Holy Roman Empire was beheaded locally by warriors from Bruges.

In 1658, French Marshall Turenne defeated the forces of the Prince de Ligne at Boesbecque. From the 20th century, cemeteries in the vicinity mark French, British and especially German military graves from World War One.

Remembering the man thought to have introduced tulips to Europe

A local man, Ogier Ghilain de Busbecq (1522-1592), is often credited as being the person who introduced tulips to Europe. He grew up at the former castle of Bousbecque and later served in Constantinople as ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire to the Ottoman Empire. He was known for his interest in herbalism and while in Turkey he obtained tulip bulbs, which he is reputed to have sent to his friend the Flemish botanist Charles de l'Écluse , and the cultivation and sale of the tulip eventually became a huge industry, especially in The Netherlands. Canadians in particular will remember Ottawa's strong links with The Netherlands as having been important in the inception of that city's Tulip Festival.

Ogier Ghilain was a noted writer, and, included in his various writings, his Turkish Letters are a valuable historical source. A French society Amis de Busbecq (Friends of Busbecq) exists as a focus for students of his legacy.

A note on spelling

The place name has been given various spellings. In relation to Ogier Ghilain, the phrase de Busbecq is traditionally appended, although one also sees Auger de Bousbecque . The spellings Boesbeke or Busbeke are essentially Dutch, and it may be noted that the international border with the Dutch-speaking Belgian Region of Flanders is literally a stone's throw over the Lys River, on the southern bank of which Bousbecque is situated.

Also worth seeing

Menen, Belgium (distance: 6.9 kilometres), which is situated just inside the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders, has a noted, 17th century octagonal tower, on its Town Hall.

Lille , France (distance: 22 kilometres); its cultural attractions are too numerous to mention in full, but these include the most picturesque place du Général de Gaulle , with its former Stock Exchange (la vieille Bourse ) and a belfry in the vicinity which belongs to the Chamber of Commerce; the birthplace museum of General Charles de Gaulle is also in Lille, at rue Princesse .

Roubaix (distance: 15 kilometres) has some distinguished buildings, including a 1911 City Hall and the Medieval St. Martin's church.

Tourcoing (distance: 10 kilometres) has many noted buildings, which include a belfry, and the City Hall dating from 1885.

Antoing , Belgium (distance: 55 kilometres) its Medieval castle belongs to the de Ligne Princes.

Armentières , France (distance: 19 kilometres) has a remarkable belfry in Neo-Flemish style at its town hall (Hôtel de ville): this was destroyed in World War 1, but later rebuilt. At the nearby Meadows of Hem there is a nature park and a large, artificial lake close to the Belgian border.

Ploegsteert , Belgium (distance: 19 kilometres) has an impressive Commonwealth war memorial, and associations with Sir Winston Churchill, who served here in World War 1.

Ieper , Belgium (French: Ypres ; distance: 20 kilometres), has a rebuilt Medieval Cloth Hall and the Menen Gate, commemorating the fallen of World War 1.


How to get there: To Bousbecque , Brussels has the nearest large international airport. 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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    • MJFenn profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Paradise7: There is indeed plenty to see; Bousbeque is in France, but right on the border with Belgium. Thank-you.

    • Paradise7 profile image


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Yeah! Let's go to France!


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