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Tournai (Municipality, Province of Hainaut, Belgium)


Last modified: 2004-04-24 by ivan sache
Keywords: tournai | doornik | procession |
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[Flag of Tournai]by Ivan Sache

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Presentation of the city


Administrative structure

The municipality of Tournai is made of the city of Tournai sensu stricto, plus the 29 former municipalities of Barry, Beclers, Blandain, Chercq, Ere, Esplechin, Froidmont, Froyennes, Gaurain-Ramecroix, Havinnes, Hertain, Kain, Lamain, Marquain, Maulde, Melles, Mont-Saint-Aubert, Mourcourt, Orcq, Quartes, Ramegnies-Chin, Rumillies, Saint-Maur, Templeuve, Thimougies, Vaulx, Vezon, Warchin and Willemeau.

These municipalities were incorporated in the municipality of Tournai by the administrative reform of 1976, which drastically reduced the number of Belgian municipalities.

As a consequence, Tournai is the largest Belgian municipality by its area, c. 20,000 hectares. Its population is c. 70,000 inhabitants. The Dutch name of Tournai is Doornik.

Ivan Sache, 14 September 2003


A. Dumont called in 1832 the first level of Carboniferous Tournaisien. A characteristic fossile of the Tournaisien is Spirifer peracuta, found in the schistous strata of Maredsous. The limestones and psammits from the strata of Etroeungt and Comblain-au-Pont are also worth being mentioned, as well as the Waulsortian facies of the stratum of Celles, and, last but not least, the so famous Tournaisien dolomites, which can also be found in the French Boulonnais.

Ivan Sache, 14 September 2003


Tournai was the biggest Roman city in current Wallonia. It was established on both banks of the river Scheldt. In the IInd century, Tournai was an important crossroads in the province of Second Belgium. St. Piat evangelized the area in the IIIrd century. In the IVth century, Tournai was the seat of a military government and a provincial capital city (Civitas Tornacensium, 375).

In the Vth century, Tournai was the capital city of the kingdom of the Salian Franks. Childéric I (c. 436-c. 481), the alledged son of Mérovée (a more or less mythical Franck chief who gave his name to the Merovingian dynasty), reigned and was buried in Tournai. Jewels found in Childéric's grave in 1653 are the distant source of the bees used as an Imperial symbol by the Napoléons.
Childéric's son, Chlodowig/Clovis (465-511) succeded his father. After having defeated the last rex Romanorum Syagrius in Soissons (486), the Alamans (495 and 505 or 506), the Burgunds (500) and the Wisigoths (Vouillé, 507), Clovis ruled over the whole Gaul and unified the former Frank kingdoms. Since he moved his capital city from Tournai to Paris after having annexed Syagrius' kingdom, it is exaggerated to claim that Tournai was the first capital city of France. Considering Clovis as the founder of the kingdom of France is also historically biased.

In the IXth century, Tournai was incorporated into the County of Flanders. The city was very wealthy because of clothing industry and quarrying of blue stone. In 1059, Tournai was granted a municipal chart.
In 1187, King of France Phillipe-Auguste (1165-1223) seized the city, which was incorporated to the Royal Domain. Charts granted in 1188 and 1211 attempted to exclude the Bishop from the administration of the city. Tournai remained under French control during the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453). During that period, the municipality resisted the king of France, the cathedral's chapter and the bishop, and was suppressed and reestablished several times.

In the XVIth century, Tournai was briefly occupied (1513-1518) by King of England Henry VIII (1491-1547) and eventually incorporated to the Spanish Low Countries in 1529 by Charles V (1500-1558). The new power suppressed the municipal rights and appointed the town councillors, who were placed under the control of a miltary governor and a regional bailif.
Until the end of the XVIIIth century, the area was divided into two provinces, the city of Tournai sensu stricto and the Tournaisis. Tournai welcomed the Calvinist ideas and was seized in 1581 by Alessandro Farnese (1545-1592), appointed Governor-General of the Low Countries in 1578.

In the XVII-XVIIIth centuries, France attempted to conquer Tournai several times. Louis XIV (1638-1715) seized it in 1667 and asked Vauban to fortify it. Tournai was again French in 1745-1748 during the War of Austrian Succession and in 1792. In the meantime, Tournai was incorporated to the Spanish Netherlands by the treaties of Utrecht (1710) and Rastadt (1714). In 1773, the regional bailiwick was upgraded to a Provincial Council by Empress Maria-Theresa (1717-1780).

Tournai hardly suffered from the First World War compared with the damages of May 1940. German bombings destroyed the City Hall, the Bishop's Palace and most Romanic houses.

Sources: Municipal website and Encyclopaedia Universalis

Ivan Sache, 14 September 2003


Since the Middle Ages, Tournai has been a reputed center of art. Sculptors used the local blue stone to make tombstones, baptismal fonts and altarpieces highly prized all over Europe. The painter Rogier van der Weyden (c. 1400-1464, a.k.a. Roger de la Pasture) is one of the most famous Primitive Flemish painters. His masterpiece, the Doomsday's Altarpiece, is currently shown in the H-otel-Dieu in Beaune (Burgundy, France). Tournai was also renowned for its tapestry workshops and the Imperial porcelain factory founded by Maria-Theresa.

The cathedral of Tournai is 134 m long and has five bell-towers. Its building started in the beginning of the XIIth century. In 1243, the choir was deemed too small and a bigger one was rebuilt. The cathedral was consecrated in 1255. The cathedral has therefore a Romanic nave and a Gothic choir. The transept nave is 10 m large and 67 m long, with galleries above the aisles. The Gothic choir has been compared to the High Gothic cathedrals of Ile-de-France.

The belfry of Tournai is the oldest one in Belgium. Along with other Belgian belfries, it was registered on the Unesco World Heritage List. The belfries were built by the free municipalities in order to show their power.

Ivan Sache, 14 September 2003

The Great Procession

On 14 September 2003, the 910th Great Procession (Grande Procession) took place in Tournai. In 1090, Bishop Radbod II vowed to organize every year a procession to thank the Blessed Virgin for having relieved the city of the black plague. The Great Procession has been organized every year since 1092, except in 1566, when the Iconoclasts severely damaged the religious buildings in the city. The Procession Day shall be the second Sunday in September.

Ivan Sache, 14 September 2003

Flags carried during the Great Procession can be seen on that website:

  • page 1: armorial banners of the Cathedral's Chapter, Belgium, and Tournai;
  • page 3: a banner accompanying St Eleutharius's reliquary, which is traditionally borne by the inhabitants of nearby Blandain;

Another page of that website also shows pictures of the Fout Pageants, enacted annually beginning of June. Flags can be seen on:

  • photo 6: rider bearing the banner of the Friends of Tournai;
  • photo 7: drummers of the Conservatory of Music, with drum banners.

In both cases the flags differ from the municipal banner of arms in leaving out the chief of France, i.e. azure three fleurs-de-lis or.

Jan Mertens, 19 September 2003

Municipal flag and arms

The municipal arms of Tournai are:

Gules a tower argent chief azure three fleur-de-lys gold

The municipal flag of Tournai is vertically divided red-white, and is most probably derived from the coat of arms.

The flag can be seen on the Sunday supplement of the Flemish weekly Knack (#33, 13 August 2003). It is shown flying on the Draper's Hall on Town Square.

Ivan Sache & Jan Mertens, 14 September 2003