Historian Heart: A Day at the Citadelle de Namur (Fall Break Day 1)

27 Oct

I officially started my week of fall break! Since it is a full week and I will be traveling around a great deal, I will be updating my blog almost every day to make sure that I get as much information in as possible (plus, I’m really enjoying writing all of this down!).

On the train from Brussels to Namur

On the train from Brussels to Namur

Today marked my first day trip to somewhere in Belgium. I don’t know what took me so long, but it finally happened! Though my friend Hannah and I were originally going to go to Paris for the weekend, we decided it would be easier and more economically sound to just do two day trips here in Belgium. Today’s adventure was to the historic town of Namur, Belgium in the Namur province of Wallonia. We had a blast walking through the vendor-filled streets as soon as we got into the city (even when my purse strap ripped and I had to buy a new bag) but we spent most of our day enjoying the amazing weather trekking to and visiting the Citadelle! There are three main parts to the Citadelle (The Castle of the Counts, Médiane, and Terra-nova) and the some of the most extensive underground passages in the heart of a citadel in Europe. I’ll go into a little bit of the history of the different parts of the castle, because we had an amazing tour guide and we learned so much!

The Castle of the Counts

The tower is left from the original medieval structure. The bridge next to it was added by the Dutch, and the connecting structure was added later by the Belgian army.

The tower is left from the original medieval structure. The bridge next to it was added by the Dutch, and the connecting structure was added later by the Belgian army.


The Castle of the Counts is the original, medieval portion of the Citadelle. It was built between the 10th and 15th century. It is located between the Sambre and Meuse river, in between the county of Namur and the beginning of the Liege province. The Citadelle was originally the home of the earls of Namur. There are very few pieces of this original castle left. Some of the doorways and arches in the underground passages were taken from the original structure. There are also a few towers and pieces of foundation left. Hannah and I realized we were really meant to be friends when we both got way too excited about touching an archway from the Middle Ages. It was like we were kids in a candy store. It is also interesting to see how these original pieces have been mixed in with other structures throughout time. The Country of Namur and the castle were sold to the Duke of Burgundy in 1421.



The Médiane

A window for soldiers to put their guns out of to shoot. Three soldiers would be assigned to each of the windows along this wall. There was also a set of ventilation shafts to get rid of the smoke from firing their weapons.

A window for soldiers to put their guns out of to shoot.


The Médiane was added in the 16th century. The location of the Castle of Counts at the junction of the rivers and important trade routes made it important strategically, but also made it vulnerable. It was because of this vulnerability that Charles V ordered the Médiane to be built. This area was more equipped to the use of cannons, which was becoming more and more prevalent, as well as have better resistance to bombings. This is also the area where the underground galleries were started. Most of these galleries were used for storage of supplies.  Today, the general outline of the Médiane and a casemate still stands.

There was a specific room in the underground passages that was designed for soldiers to be able to shoot out of to the oncoming enemy. Three soldiers would be assigned to each of these windows and they would take turns shooting. There was also a ventilation system built into the hallway to take the smoke from shooting out of the room.




The highest point of the bluff in Terra Nova.

The highest point of the bluff in Terra Nova.

Terra-nova is the newest portion of the Citadelle. The work to establish this new defensive system was started in 1631. There were numerous improvements and modifications to the site after that time. When Louis XIV came through this area, it took him 3-4 days to take over the county of Namur, but 4-5 weeks to take over the Citadelle. When he did, he asked his military architect (Vauban) to review the Citadelle and improve upon the weaknesses. One of the main areas that Vauban changed is the underground passageways. Not only did they expand them, but they changed the way in which they were formed. Where they were originally formed with limestone, Vauban constructed the new tunnels with double-fired bricks, which was meant to try to keep out the water and moisture that the limestone did not. At the end of the 18th century, the Citadelle was dismantled and abandoned by Napoléon Bonaparte. The area then saw a revival under Dutch rule from 1816 to 1825. The Citadelle eventually lost its military necessity in 1891 and was progressively opened to the general public.

Underground Passages

Officer's barracks (with creepy wooden soldier)

Officer’s barracks (with creepy wooden soldier)

The underground passages, also known as the Termite Nest, are the most well-known part of the Citadelle. They go below the the Médiane and Terra Nova. They range from limestone, brick, and stone covered in concrete (to keep the moisture out). It is clear to see the different impacts each of the previous owners of the Citadelle have had on the construction of these passages. As stated before, you can see the efforts the French made in improving upon the construction of the tunnels. You can also see the specific influence the Dutch made on also waterproofing the tunnels, especially in their specific construction of the stairs with trenches running down the sides to easily rid the stairs of water.

These tunnels were also used by the Belgian army during World War II. Starting in 1939, the Belgian army spent 8 months improving the tunnels to be functional for large amounts of soldiers, as well as their officers. Two different barracks areas were established in the tunnels under Terra Nova and Médiane. The officer’s area was built to hold 20-30 officers and had 3 restrooms available for them. The enlisted men’s area was built to hold 200-300 soldiers and also had 3 restrooms available for them. They also worked hard to design a special ventilation system to support extended stays below ground. Unfortunately, Belgium fell to Germany in only 18 days when the war finally started for them.


All in all, we had a fantastic day in Namur! Here are a few more pictures of our day, and I look forward to writing about my next fall bread adventure!

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One Response to “Historian Heart: A Day at the Citadelle de Namur (Fall Break Day 1)”

  1. Jennifer Thomas October 27, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    That wooden soldier is creepy. Was its purpose to give you an idea of the size of the space? Now this part of the trip is right up my alley! Great stuff!

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