I am beginning the series „oldest cities“ (not some of the oldest but the oldest). I just feel that I can’t continue showing unpopular places in these three countries – Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany (for Germany it will be part II), if I don’t show now its origins, so to speak.
So, Tongeren in the Flemish Region of Belgium is the oldest city in that country, founded by the Romans as Atuatuca Tongrorum around 15 B.C.
Earlier, in 54 B.C., Ambiorix – the chieftain of the Celtic tribe Eburoni and a Belgian national hero nowadays – won a victory in a battle against Julius Caesar near the place where Tongeren stands today.
King Leopold II himself attended the inauguration of its monument in 1866, since Ambiorix is grounds for national pride.
In my opinion, that ancient pagan warrior stands somewhat strange, facing the Gothic Tongeren Basilica of Our Lady/Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe Basiliek. Even somehow threatening at that.
The construction of the basilica began in 1240 and continued over the next 3 centuries. It was placed on a site of earlier places of worship and, as it is said in the tourist brochure of Tongeren, on the foundations of the first church dedicated to Virgin Mary north of the Alps (I think this is an important piece of information).
Not surprisingly, it carries also the title ‘basilica minor’.
The Basilica houses numerous treasures of great religious and artistic significance, one of which is the Antwerpen Statue of Virgin Mary from 1479.
In 1890, the statue was crowned and from then on, in Tongeren are held every 7 years processions with 3500 participants – that could be a result of the ancient cult of Mary here. And what does Mary hold? A bunch of grapes – this is a reference to one of the theories about the archetype of Jesus – the pagan God Bacchus/Dionysus.
From the 13th century dates also the Begijnhof, or Beguinage. This is something like a settlement within the settlement, intended for the so-called Beguines (in that case they are only women. The word for the masculine gender is beghard/s) – members of a Christian Lay Religious Order who didn’t take monastic vow, but were living in the service of God and in virtue and poverty.
Not that there is something special to photograph in this tranquil neighborhood, but since it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I have to show something of it.
At least three walls were built around Tongeren over the centuries. Initially, the Romans built in the 2nd century a 4544-metre-long wall that was rather a status symbol of the flourishing settlement that they have built. In the 13th century, there was another one, almost in the same place of that of the old Roman one. ‘Moerenpoort’ is the only one preserved of the all in all 6 gate towers of the city and dates from 1379.
And lastly – ‘Rider with Two Giants’, a statue from the 2nd century – a monument with a subject that only one closed society could choose to donate.
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