Visiting Mons University, Belgium: Distinguished 19th Century Foundations
A mature seat of learning
The city of Mons is located in Hainaut province, in Belgium's Walloon region. Mons University (French: Université de Mons ) is a recently founded (2009) academic institution which quite properly may be described as a re-foundation of well-established, centres of learning. Thus, Mons-Hainaut University (French: Université de Mons-Hainaut) has, with the addition of other institutions, become known as Mons University.
The main building of the University is located at Place Warocqué, with a mansard domed entrance, topped by a striking statue of Mercury. This building also houses the Economics and Business faculty.
The mining industry was formerly very important in Belgium. A statue sculpted by Louis-Henri Devillez stands at the entrance of the former mining faculty, which is part of Mons University. This statue represents Théodore Guibal and Alphonse Devillez, who were 19th century founders of the school. French-born Théodore Guibal (1814-1888), who studied in Paris, was notably the developer of ventilation equipment which rendered possible deep mine exploitation, hitherto made difficult by lack of oxygen.
Another founder of the School of Mines in 1836, sometimes known at the Polytechnic Faculty of Mons (French: Faculté Polytechnique de Mons ) was Jean-Baptiste Thorn (1783-1841), which developed into an engineering school. One of the teachers at the mining school was Jules Cornet (1865-1929) who discovered in the former Belgian Congo a mineral named for him: cornetite; he and his team also produced cartographically precise resources showing geological distribution of copper in the Congo.
A museum exists in the Polytechnic Faculty with exhibits specializing in minerals, fossils, porcelain and glassware.
The University Library contains a copy of Gutenberg's Bible.
My own contact with what is now Mons University goes back nearly 30 years, because of a presentation from faculty at the School of Interpreters, now also part of Mons University. Belgium having many international organizations based in it, not least the European Union, the need for highly qualified linguists has long been paramount, which need this School has long striven to supply. Languages studied at the Interpreters' school include English, Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Danish, Portuguese, Polish, Norwegian, Swedish, Hungarian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and Modern Greek.
In addition, medical, pharmaceutical, scientific, psychological and educational schools and faculties, and other associated subjects and departments of study thus combine to form a new institution of learning, but built solidly on 19th centuries foundations: Mons University.
Also worth seeing
In Mons itself, the collegiate church of Sainte-Waudru is a monumental, stone building built in Gothic style in the 15th century. A 17th century belfry in Baroque style, which stands nearby, is 87 metres tall and contains a 49 bell carillon. The City Hall (Hôtel de Ville), in predominantly Gothic style, and Medieval in origin, but which underwent damage and additions, has a notable 18th campanile.
Also worth seeing
Tournai , Belgium (distance: 50 kilometres), has a large cathedral with magnificent 12th century towers, and much other church architecture of note.
Antoing , Belgium (distance: 45 kilometres) is situated on the Scheldt River (Escaut ) and possesses a fine castle, belonging to the de Ligne Princes.
Valenciennes (distance: 40 kilometres) has a city hall with a striking façade and a well-appointed Fine Arts museum (musée des Beaux-Arts ).
Saint-Amand-les-Eaux , France (distance: 55 kilometres) has an ornate Abbey tower, within which is situated a museum of ceramics and religious art.
Brussels , Belgium (distance: 70 kilometres) The outstanding historical and cultural sites worth visiting in Brussels are too many to mention properly here, but while in Brussels be sure to visit the Grand' Place . The Royal Palace (French: Palais royal ; Dutch: Koninklijk Paleis ) has an impressive façade, seen from the Park of Brussels (French: Parc de Bruxelles ; Dutch: Park van Brussel ); a wing of the Palace, the Hôtel Bellevue, contains a superb museum of the royal dynasty which has reigned in Belgium since the 19th century. The Palace of Justice (French: Palais de justice ; Dutch: Justitiepaleis ) is a gigantic — if controversial — landmark. The Erasmus House (Maison d'Erasme; Erasmushuis), Anderlecht, is a museum dedicated to the great Renaissance scholar, Erasmus of Rotterdam.
How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ; distance: 79 kilometres) from where car rental is available. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. 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