2000 years of history

Tournai, through the centuries

With its 2000-year history, Tournai is the oldest city of Belgium

From the origins to the 12th century

Its history goes back as far as the 1st Century B.C. A royal city under Childeric I, the Merovingian king of the Salian Franks, it was under Clovis I to be the first capital of what was later to become France. The appointment of Bishop Eleutherius as Clovis’ representative in Tournai was to be the starting-point for a government made up of bishops which held civil and religious powers for several centuries, during which Tournai was to suffer the scourge of Norse invasions and of plague.

Golden Ages

From about the 12th to the 16th century, the population grew, trade prospered, new ramparts rose from the ground, construction of the cathedral began, followed by that of the Belfry and of the «Pont des Trous» bridge. The city, through the privileges it obtained, freed itself from religious control and was now part of the Kingdom of France. The arts flourish

Decline and period of disruption

From the 16th Century onwards, Tournai was a key city and an entrance point into the Kingdom of France, and it was coveted by the great powers of the time: it spent time under English control, then French (several times), Spanish, Austrian and lastly Dutch. The «new Geneva of the North» was to experience repression during the Inquisition.

Tournai, Belgian city

From 1830, Tournai opened itself up to progress. World War II left the city badly damaged. But Tournai dusted itself down, and is rebuilding in the spirit of the past. In 1977, Belgium merged its municipalities. Tournai now encompasses the 29 villages surrounding it and is the biggest geographical entity in Wallonia.

More information

Relive Tournai’s 2,000-year history with the film «Le Couloir du Temps», which is shown in the projection room at the Tourist Office.