Famous medieval bridge in Belgium under threat from canal project

The Pont des Trous, a 13th century bridge in the city of Tournais, could be torn down and replaced as part of large project to create a canal that would link France with the Low Countries.

Pont des Trous - photo by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT

The Seine–Nord Europe Canal would cost €4.2 billion to create a 105-kilometre-long canal, connecting the Seine and Scheldt rivers. It would allow for increased transportation of trade goods between between Paris, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Part of the project would involve tearing down and replacing the Pont des Trous, in order to allow larger ships to pass through the canal. However, local inhabitants and heritage experts are upset by the proposal and have started a public campaign to preserve the monument.

Pierre-Emmanuel Lenfant, who runs the website and is one of the people leading efforts against the project, explains that it “is not a bridge in the classical sense of the term. It is a water gate: a defensive structure that was part of the City walls and its function was to control and protect access to the city by the river (The Scheldt). The name comes from the presence of a lock located nearby and was called ‘Les Trous’ (Holes) by Tournaisiens.”

The Pont des Trous  is flanked by two towers: one known as The Bourdiel (1281) on left bank and the other, known as The Thieulerie, on the right bank (1302-1304). The curtain wall is perforated with bays and arrow-slits. The connecting bridge was destroyed during the Second World War and rebuilt in 1947. During this reconstruction the towers and pillars were elevated by 2.4 metres in order to facilitate the passage of the ships.

In November local authorities outlined a plan to have this bridge replaced with a new version. Local heritage groups have complained that they were not consulted about the plan.

How the Pont des Trous might look if it is rebuilt
How the Pont des Trous might look if it is rebuilt

Lenfant adds, “as many historical monuments, the Pont des Trous has evolved over the centuries without losing the elements that define it as a fortified gate. With the towers of Saint-Jean and Marvis , the ‘Pont des Trous’ is one of the few witnesses still visible from the second wall (thirteenth century) but also one of the last water gates in Europe. Due to its heritage and historical interest, the Bridge has been classified by the Walloon Region in 1991. The classification decision concerned not only the building, but also the docks and the Garden of the Queen (Le Jardin de la Reine).

“With the Cathedral of Our Lady – Roman Catholic church, see of the Diocese of Tournai in Tournai, Belgium, classified both as a Wallonia’s major heritage since 1936 and as a World Heritage Site since 2000 – and the belfry – freestanding bell tower of medieval origin; one of a set of belfries of Belgium and France registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List -, the ‘Pont des Trous’ is part of local identity. It is a strong symbol for the city and its inhabitants. Since the nineteenth century, in fact, a majority of postcards and photographs illustrate the City of Tournai with the Bridge of holes in the foreground and the Cathedral and the Belfry in the background.”

You can learn more about the Pont des Trous from

Click here to read and sign up for a petition to block this project

Click here to see the Préservons l’identité du Pont des Trous, Monument emblématique de Tournai Facebook Page

Click here to read a statement from local politician Marie Christine Marghem

Click here to watch an interview with Belgium’s Minister of Public Works Carlo Di Antonio

Click here to learn more about the Seine–Nord Europe Canal project

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