From 1999 to 2005 UNESCO designated 56 historical bell towers in and near historic Flanders as a World Heritage site. Built between the 11th and 17th Centuries, the Belfries of Belgium and France are recognized by UNESCO as the architectural manifestations of the region’s emerging civic independence from Europe’s feudal and religious influences. Their construction symbolized the growing degree of local democracy in the region, a significant event in the history of humankind.
It would be a major endeavor to see all 56 of the UNESCO belfries. (Flanders covers over 5,000 square miles.) As a start we explored a few, in Calais, in Boulogne-sur-Mer, and in Amiens, on our returned to France from the south of England via the “Chunnel” in late 2012.
We quickly learned that no two belfries are identical. Some of the towers stand-alone and others are part of a building, often a town hall or a church. There are grand belfries like the one in Calais that reign over their old towns and more humble versions like the one in Amiens that now blend in to the city that has developed around it. It is emblematic that these bell towers are often the only rivals to the grandeur of the historic churches in the old towns.
We’ll visit more belfries in the future; traveling through old Flanders they’re hard to miss. Indeed we spotted Cambrai’s belfry by chance when visited in months later in June of 2013. Four down, 52 left to see.