I’m sure you’re all scratching your head while contemplating this vitally important question. And I can relate to your cluelessness as Liege is a city that usually doesn’t make the top of a traveler’s bucket list.
But Liege taught me to never underestimate an under-the-radar destination. It may not be as big or flashy as more renowned places, but discovering the hidden gems of a city can be a pleasure in itself. My surprise was all the bigger as I stumbled upon a railway station designed by a well-known Spanish architect, a never-ending stairway, and a photographer’s paradise that I had entirely to myself.
I only had an afternoon in Liege, and as it so often turns out in traveling, in the end I was sad that I hadn’t had more time to explore the city (and nobody paid me to say that).
But I don’t want to keep you in suspense, so I’ll provide some basic facts about Liege:
Liege is the third largest city of Belgium, and is situated along the river Meuse (Maas) in the mid-eastern part of the country. Its population is about 200.000 inhabitants, and it is mostly part of the Walloon community.
As some of you may know, Belgium is divided along language lines, with the Flemish (a version of Dutch) -speaking population in the north-east, and the Walloon (French) -speaking part in the south-west (and a small German-speaking minority).
Liege is the alleged place of birth of Charlemagne, King of the Franks, then crowned Emperor, and the founding father of Central Europe (8th century). Another famous inhabitant of the city was Georges Simenon (1903 – 1989), the creator of the fictional detective Jules Maigret.
Liege used to be one of the most important industrial centres in Europe, mostly due to its steel-making facilities. But the industrial sector has been in decline since World War II, and the region became impoverished. It is said to be on its way to recovery, due to a more diverse economy.
Now I’d like to show you what lovely places I discovered in Liege.
As we only had a few hours in Liege, we wanted to have an overview of the city and its sights. And the best way to do so is taking a one-hour ride in the Touristram. It starts from the main square, Place St. Lambert.
This is St Lambert Square (Place St. Lambert), which is the main square in Liege.
The square used to be home to an enormous Gothic cathedral, dedicated to the martyr Saint Lambert of Maastricht, who was assassinated in Liege (a. 705). In the wake of the French Revolution, the cathedral was demolished by the citizens of Liege. The metal columns in the square mark out the cathedral’s former outline.
The stately building in the square is the former residence of the Prince-Bishops of Liege, which were the rulers of the city from 985 to 1794. The original palace was built at the end of the 16th century, yet the principal facade on the south was rebuilt after a fire in the Louis XIV-Regency style.
The Palace of the Prince-Bishops is today used as a courthouse and is the seat of the provincial government.
Place du Marché is a lively square lined with sidewalk cafés and beautiful old houses. It is adjacent to Place St Lambert. Opposite Place du Marché is the Baroque City Hall, which was completed in 1714.
The nice cafés in the square are a perfect place to have a rest, but I felt a bit appalled by the big waste containers alongside the sidewalk.
When I traveled to Brussels or Paris by train, I always passed through the Liege-Guillemins railway station. And I was impressed. I didn’t have the opportunity to get off the train at the time, but I always wanted to come back and visit this station.
And my first impression wasn’t deceptive, this building is indeed stunning and remarkable. It turned out to be a design by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, completed in 2009.
It is made of steel, glass and white concrete, and combines organic shapes and geometrical patterns.
Liege is nestled against a lush hillside in the north, which was once crowned with a hefty Citadel. It wasn’t entirely demolished until the 1970s, as a hospital was erected on the site. Where the northern walls of the Citadel once stood, is now a memorial to the Belgians who were executed by German occupiers in World Wars I and II.
This memorial has become an observation point overlooking Liege.
And the ascent is worthwhile in itself, as it leads you through the most ancient alleys of the city.
The following photos show our way to the top of the hill.
We finally reached the top of the hill.
And here’s the view:
And for the descent, the most remarkable sight of Liege awaits you:
The steep stone stairway Montagne de Bueren:
The stairway was completed in 1880 in order to enable the soldiers, who were based at the Citadel, to get quickly to the city centre in case of an invasion or insurrection. And rumour has it that the soldiers were forbidden to take the Rue Pierreuse downhill because the street was home to pubs and brothels.
Tip: I highly recommend to wear flat shoes while going down this stairway. It consists of uneven cobblestones, and one can easily underestimate the inclination.
As the city is hilly, and parts of it consist of cobblestoned alleys as well, flat shoes are generally advisable.
Enjoy the slideshow of the splendid stairway:
Finally back on solid ground 🙂
We arrived safely on Rue Hors-Château, which means the Street Outside The Castle in English. And the name indicates its history: On its creation in the 11th century, the street was situated outside Liege’s first fortification.
Later in the 19th century, the area around Rue Hors-Château and its parallel street En Féronstrée had become a neighbourhood popular with the local gentry and religious institutions.
These days, you’ll find a lot of houses dating from the 17th or 18th century, predominantly in the regional so-called Mosan (Maasland) Renaissance architectural style.
But the actual reason for mentioning this street is that I found a photographer’s paradise here: The so-called Impasses (blind alleys). Several adorably picturesque, narrow and cobblestoned alleyways branch off the Rue Hors-Château. We felt like entering a world of its own, enchanted and otherworldly, and we had this little paradise to our own. In fact, we were the only tourists roaming around. The alleys were lined with actual houses, more or less restored, who would we meet there? We wouldn’t have been surprised if Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had shown up in one of the doorways.
And now, come in and explore the hidden world.
The plate reads Place des Amoureux (The Lovers’ Square). The bench was so worn-out and shaky, a lot of lovers must have sat here.
At the end, a gallery of Liege leftover shots:
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