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Visiting the belfry at Douai, France: Gothic structure dating from the 14th century

Updated on March 20, 2012
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Douai's City Hall belfry
Douai's City Hall belfry | Source
Map location of Douai
Map location of Douai | Source

80 metres of impressive, Medieval architecture

Work on this striking belfry in Douai, northern France, began 1380, although an earlier tower is known to have existed on its present site. Its conspicuous Gothic features, including prominent turrets, have thus been part of the skyline of Douai for many centuries.

Among its features, the 80-metre high belfry, executed in stone, is known for its 62 bell carillon; some of the bells are hundreds of years old. During World War One, Douai was occupied by Imperial German troops, and, to add to the tragic human cost of the war, some of the priceless bells were removed for their metal value in the war effort.

Guides of the belfry are sometimes available, and I was interested to climb the tower and drink in the sense of history. The belfry forms part of the city hall (French: Hôtel de ville ) building and thus may be said to provide a somewhat historically and aesthetically intense perspective to this hub of municipal affairs.

An English College at Douai, Roman Catholic in affiliation, sponsored an Old Testament translation in 1609, at first widely regarded with distrust in England; this volume was added to an English New Testament produced at Reims some decades later; this widely used edition became known as the Douay-Rheims Bible (1) and has historically been regarded as the Roman Catholic edition equivalent to the Protestant King James Bible.

Douai is situated in the Nord department of northern France. The city did not become definitively a possession of France until 1667, when the armies of King Louis XIV took the city from the Habsburgs; this was confirmed in 1668 by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Coalmining was formerly an important, local industry. Thus, this ancient belfry may be said to have witnessed both Spanish (2) and Austrian administration before the city actually became part of France.


(1) Note on spelling: the modern, French spelling of the town is 'Douai', used in this article. A former spelling, which continued to be used in English writings, was 'Douay'. 'Rheims' is also an archaic spelling which is usually rendered 'Reims' in France.

(2) It was the Spanish authorities which received the religious exiles in Douai at the time of the Reformation in England.

Also worth seeing

In Douai itself, the Valenciennes Gate (French: Porte de Valenciennes ) is a noted structure which has survived from the 15th century.

Vimy (distance: 34 kilometres) has the National Canadian Vimy Memorial, with its impressive monument to the Canadian fallen of World War One.


How to get there: Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Douai : 170 kilometres). The French railroad company SNCF maintains a service between Paris-Nord station and Douai . Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.You are advised to consult with appropriate consular sources regarding border crossing visa requirements for citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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