Kortrijk (Courtrai in French, Cortoriacum in Latin; pop. 75,000) is a nice little town on the Lys River in south-western Flanders, only 7km from France.
The town was founded by the Romans as Cortoriacum. The town was destroyed by the Vikings then fortified in the 12th century. It then prospered as a cloth trading centre during the late Middle Ages.
In 1302, Kortrijk was the scene of one of the most famous battle in Belgian history, the Battle of the Golden Spurs.
|Battle of the Golden Spurs|
In 1297, King Philip IV of France set his eyes on conquering the County of Flanders, a fiefdom of the crown that resisted centralist French policies. In 1300, Philip IV took the Count of Flanders, Guy of Dampierre, hostage and appointed Jacques de Châtillon as governor of Flanders. This, combined with the imposition of a new tax, caused considerable unrest among the influential Flemish urban guilds.
After being exiled from their homes by French troops, the citizens of Bruges went back to the city on 18 May 1302, and murdered every Frenchman they could find. This massacre is known as the Bruges Matins (or Brugse Metten in Flemish).
French King promptly reacted by sending an army of well-equipped knights to punish the Flemish folk. Guild members from Bruges, Ghent, Ypres and Kortrijk gathered in front of Kortrijk disguised as peasants. The French knights arrived, unsuspicious of the peasants, were easily thrown down from their horses by the Flemish pikes, and slaughtered.
It was the first time in European history that an army of knights were defeated by an improvised militia. The victory sparkled a sense of Flemish nationalism before its time, and Flemish people still celebrate the events on 11th July each year (which has been decreed a public holiday in Flanders). The 700 years were commemorated in 2002, and there were even talks by separatists that Flanders push towards independent from the rest of Belgium that year, but nothing has happened yet.
Kortijk is not a particularily beautiful city in itself, but it does have a few noteworthy buildings. Starting from the town square (Grote Markt), the two constructions that immediately catch the attention are the late-Gothic, early Renaissance Townhall (Stadhuis), and the Medieval Belfry (Belfort), the last surviving element of the old Lakenhalle (cloth hall). Just north of the square stands St Martin's Collegiate Church, a Gothic edifice originally built around 1300, but reconstructed after a fire in 1382. St Martin's tower is endowed with a 48-bell carillon.
The grey-stoned Our Lady's Church (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk), erected between 1199 and 1203, is probably one of the most beautiful churches in the country. The adjacent St. Elisabeth Beguinage are the most charming part of town. The cute little orange-roofed white houses, with their narrow paved streets, make up a true oasis of quietness in the middle of the city. The Beguinage was founded in 1238 by Jeanne of Constantinople (1200-1244), countess of Flanders and Hainaut, but the present houses date from the 17th century.
The Beguinage and the Belfry have been classified a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.
Further north, the two massive round towers known as the Broel Towers are a reminder of the city's military past. The southern tower, named Speyentoren, was part of the 12th century rampart, destroyed by Louis XIV in the 17th century. The northern tower ("Inghelburgtoren") only dates from the 15th century (hard to tell just from looks !). The small Broel Museum is housed in a white neo-classical building by the northern tower.
The last medieval edifice in the list is Our Lady Hospital (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwehospitaal), built between 1200 and 1204. Also note the Neo-Gothic Schouwburg Festival Hall between the Grand Place and the train station.
How to get there
Kortrijk can conveniently be reached by train from Brussels (1 hour), Ghent (20 to 30min), Bruges (40 to 50min), Tournai (30min) or Lille (30min).
By car, take the E17 from Ghent or Lille (France), or the E403 from Bruges or Tournai.
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