Notes on the Geography of Belgium: Mons
A quick stroll through this town of 100,000.
The walls were torn down in the 19th century, but the minute you cross their alignment you step back centuries in town planning. We've parked at the Place de Flandre and, inside the area once bounded by the wall, are walking up the Rue D'Havre.
Sidestreet; don't be diverted.
We continue straight on, past the oddity of a building that has stepped into modern dress. Beyond it, the parish church of St. Elizabeth.
The belfry was erected early in the 18th century after a fire destroyed the existing church; in the 19th, copper shingles replaced the original tiles.
A statue of Leopold II is around the corner. He's not the only reminder of Belgium's colonial past.
The Grand Place, with St. Elizabeth in the background.
The Grand Place again, this time with the Town Hall on the left.
The Town Hall is from the mid-15th century. Between then and now, Mons belonged to Spain, France, and Austria as well independent Belgium. The city is now the capital of the province of Hainant.
If the steeple seems incompatible with the rest, that's because it's from the 18th century. The entrance tunnel has some interesting plaques.
Here's one, a vestige of someone's imaginary Congo, the one where natives contentedly picked cocoa pods so their Belgian friends can enjoy hot cocoa.
In 1930, of course, the Congo was still Belgian, and the schoolchildren of Mons were presumably taught a francophone version of the White Man's Burden.
Unrelated to these colonial memories, another plaque commemorates the generous support received from the United States during World War I.
Another monument in the same entranceway.
We push on past an alley descending to the Rue de La Chaussee.
That very street, pedestrianized.
For every taste.
Enough shopping: we've climbed to a hilltop with the city's iconic (and Belgium's only baroque) belfry. It dates from the 1660s and sits atop the Square de Chateau, a relic of the castle of the Counts of Hainault. It's been a World Heritage Site since 1999.
As with all such monuments, maintenance work is everlasting.
Sharing the hiltop with the belfry is the Saint-Calixte Chapel, begun in 1051 and the oldest church in Mons. It supposedly houses the remains of Calixtus, a pope martyred in the 3rd century.
Looking easterly, this time over the city's grandest church.
It's the eerily modern Church of Sainte-Waudru, finished in 1506. Towers were planned but never built.
Perhaps the most sacred spot in town is the suburban Saint-Symphorien military cemetery.
The Germans began the cemetery and erected this central monument. "In memory of the German and English soldiers who fell in the actions near Mons on the 23rd and 24th August 1914."
Another German monument, this time exclusively to the Royal Middlesex Regiment, whose bravery won the deep admiration of the Germans.
The central monument.
A later cluster of four graves and a monument.