Visiting Givet, and Its Quayside: Seemingly Unique Character Elements of a Town at an Extremity of Northern France
Juxtapositions: centuries of history taken in at a glance
The French town of Givet is situated in the Ardennes department (within which the canton of Givet is located; see map, below), which shares a border with Belgium. Even more significantly than this, it lies within walking distance to Belgium, along the banks of the historic Meuse River.
The photo I have supplied, above, really expresses a lot about the situation of Givet.
The view from the quayside at Givet shows the Meuse to the right of the photo, and wooded hills beyond which are in Belgium (as one remembers also that what is now Belgium did not exist as an independent state before 1830; after the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, what had been briefly the southern portion of the Kingdom of The Netherlands had, prior to that tumultuous period been the Austrian Netherlands and, previously, the Spanish Netherlands).
But Givet itself has for centuries been French in character. The Charlemont fortress (on a hill behind the camera), dating from the time of Charlemagne, had been reinforced in the 17th century, and constituted a northern outpost of the French kings. France today is very firmly republican in character and indeed the composer Méhul (1), who wrote a celebrated song, Le chant du départ, sung by the French Revolutionary armies, was from Givet: today, Méhul's birthplace and a statue in his honour can be visited at Givet.
Such was the Republican character of, and secularist revolutionary fervour at, Givet after the French Revolution that Roman Catholic priests on the visible Austrian Netherlands' side of the border venturing anywhere near the border with France at Givet — if dressed in their clerical garb — were liable to seizure and execution.
Givet is indeed literally right on top of the border of what is now Belgium.
This brings us to another highly relevant aspect of Givet's character: being so close to the border with the Belgian state of Wallonie — where, in addition to French, the local Walloon language (le wallon) is spoken, Givet has also traditionally been Walloon-speaking: a mainly oral language used in the past alongside standard French by local people. The philologist Charles Bruneau (1883-1969), who published extensively on the Walloon language as spoken in the region, was born in Givet.
And so Givet has its architectural treasures: visible in the photo is the centuries' old, stone Saint-Hilaire church. But it has truly been centuries since the former influence of the Roman Catholic Church — formerly so strong and in practical terms long allied with the French kings — has actually been exercised to any preponderant extent at Givet.
Behind the trees in the centre-right of the photo — with its base visible — is a stone, former customs tower dedicated to Saint-Antoine: a reminder also of the French kings' former exercise of commercial control over the river traffic up to this point on the Meuse River. Since the Coal and Steel Community and Rome treaties several years after World War Two, the trade and economy of France has been increasingly linked with those of other Continental European states particularly, and — here, at Givet — with the Benelux countries.
With one gaze of the eyes, standing at the quayside of Givet on the Meuse — known to the Romans as the Mosa — at a northern extremity of French territory, something of the history of France and of the town can thus be taken in at a glance.
May 9, 2020
(1) Étienne Nicolas Méhul (1763-1817), born at what is now 11, rue Méhul, Givet, is depicted in the picture, below. See also (in French) : http://maisons.natales.over-blog.com/2014/05/ardennes-08.html
Some sourcing: Wikipedia
Also worth seeing
In Givet itself, the imposing Fort Charlemont overlooks the town; Givet has some interesting ecclesiastical architecture and a striking Town Hall; the Tour Victoire has watched over the Meuse River since the Middle Ages.
How to get there: The nearest large, international airport to Givet is Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), Belgium, to which Brussels Airlines flies from New York. Car rental is available from Brussels Airport. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. For any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities, please refer to appropriate consular sources.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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