The tragic act of insanity on December 13, in which a lone man attacked a Christmas-market crowd with grenades and gunfire, is all the more shocking considering its location. The Belgian city of Liège deserves a far better distinction for its historical and cultural wealth, and its friendly residents.
The city is the capital of its province, also called ‘Liège,’ located in eastern Belgium. It sits on the river Meuse, not far from Cologne in Germany or Eindhoven in the Netherlands. It is the economic capital of Wallonia, the Francophone part of Belgium, and is the third-largest city of the land, behind Brussels and Antwerp.
Although the birthplace of Charlemagne, King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor, remains a mystery, some historians suggest it was in Liège or the nearby town of Herstal; others propose it was in one of half a dozen other (German) cities.
Liège’s location so near to Germany, the Netherlands and France has been a boon to its economy and relations, but it has also placed it in the middle of heavy battles over the centuries past. In particular, the famous ‘Battle of the Bulge’ in WWII was fought around the area and principally in the nearby Ardennes (‘Ardenne’ in Belgian) forests.
There are still buildings preserved with bullet-holes from the war. Other buildings of note include many churches, the cathedral and the palace of the Prince Bishops. This last one is located on the main square, ‘Place St.-Lambert,’ named after the bishop martyred c. 700AD. This is the square in which the attacks of December 13, 2011 occurred.
The Place St.-Lambert hosts a Christmas market, among the oldest and biggest in Europe. More than one million visitors pass through each year. A third of this number visits the city mid-August for ‘The Feast of the Assumption’ (the celebration of the Virgin Mary) and the fête of ‘Tchantchès,’ a folkloric character from the 19th century.
This character has puppets, a statue and a museum dedicated to him. There are several other museums, as well as festivals and holidays to entertain. Finally, Liège also offers a superior and varied culinary experience.
Liège waffles are found all over Belgium; meatballs are particularly popular; French fries are reckoned to have been created in the Meuse valley –they are especially good here; and ‘jambonneau,’ tender leg of ham, is a popular dish –the brasserie ‘L’Industrie’ specializes in these and in mussels, another Belgian forte, both with French fries.
It must be mentioned that there are over 500 types of Belgian beer, many of which can be found in Liège –sometimes in the cooking. Belgian truffles are also easily found and enjoyed here. Liège’s accessibility and its attractions have made it a popular stop in many European travels. With luck, the recent tragedy will not dissuade people from visiting this city.