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St. Donat's church, Arlon (© Jean-Pol GRANDMONT - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)
St. Donat's church, Arlon.

Introduction

Arlon (Aarlen in Dutch, Arel in German, Orolaunum in Latin ; pop. 26,000) is the capital of the province of Luxembourg. It is the third oldest city in Belgium after Tournai and Tongeren.


History

Before the Roman conquests of Gaul, the territory of Arlon and a vast area to the south-east were settled by the Treveri, a tribe of mixed Celtic and Germanic origins. The local population adapted relatively easily to Roman culture. The number and quality of sculpted stones and monuments that have been unearthed in the area demonstrate that the vicus of Orolaunum quickly became a vibrant commercial and administrative centre of Roman civilization.

During most of the Middle Ages, the earlier buildings such as the thermae were still being used by the population. In 1060, Waleran I of Limburg, Count of Arlon, built a castle on the Knipchen hill. In the 13th century, the only Cistercian abbey for women known to date was built in nearby Clairefontaine, and another castle was built in Autelbas.

When Philip II of Spain inherited the Netherlands from his father in 1555, a troubled period started for the whole region as continuous wars opposed France, Spain, and soon also the Protestant community of the Netherlands who revolted against their Catholic rulers. In 1588, nearly half of the city, including its castle, was destroyed by the French troops of Francis, Duke of Guise.

In the 17th century, Capuchin monks built a convent on the ruins of the castle and the French strengthened the defensive walls designed by Vauban. An accidental fire destroyed a large part of the city again in 1785.

Sightseeing

Arlon is a fairly ordinary town, with an architecture that already blends into the styles found in Luxembourg and Lorraine. The town is dominated by St. Donat Church, standing on top of Knipchen hill, where the castle and the Capuchin convent once stood.

Part of the 3rd-century Roman city wall can still be seen. The main reason to come to Arlon is to visit the Archeological Museum, one of the richest in Belgium. It houses numerous examples of Roman sculpture and Merovingian funerary art.

The adjoining Gaspard Museum exhibits a collection of furniture, paintings, ceramics, and religious art from various historical periods.

How to get there

Arlon is only 5km away from the border of Luxembourg. The E411 motorway between Brussels (190km) and Luxembourg City (30km) passes just south of town. The nearest French town is Longwy, 25km to the south on the N81 road.

Arlon is on the Brussels-Namur-Luxembourg train line. Express trains take 2h30min to the Belgian capital, 1h30min to Namur, and a mere 17min to Luxembourg City. There are a few direct trains to Metz (1h).

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