Marion - Chroniques d'une ardennaise
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100% Ardennes, between Belgium and France
Discovering the GAume area Through the ages
One of the hallmarks of the Ardennes is the fact that it houses historical remains and a wealth of heritage from many different eras. In the Gaume area, in a radius of only ten kilometres you can travel back in time and discover different historical periods.
1 DAy travelling the past
The Gaumais Museum
For my first journey back in time I am expected at the Gaumais Museum. This historic site retraces the history of the Gaume area, from the antiquity all the way up to Modern Times. My guide for the day is a young man called Hugo, who also happens to be a keen historian. Apparently, I won’t be travelling with a time machine today…
Mere moments after entering the museum l pass through a temporal rift and find myself face to face with a real life Merovingian warrior! My journey through the ages accompanied by my costumed historian has started. We are currently in the fifth century A.D., the Roman Empire is in decline, and the proud warrior standing in front of me tells me his tale and that of his people. After the fall of the Roman Empire, pagan tribes ruled over the Frankish Empire, initially settling here in Gaume which is why it as known as the cradle of the Frankish Kingdom of Austrasia.
Hugo decided to conduct the tour dressed as a warrior because at the time, warriors held an important place in society. Within each artisan, each peasant, each villager there lies a warrior. Women fought too, they were often compelled to take up arms to defend their land and their hearth. The Torgny necropolis, which is only a couple of kilometres away, is a testimony to this fact. The larger part of the necropolis was examined by archaeologists who unearthed no less than 300 tombs in which locals were buried…In the case of the wealthier ones, they were buried with their weapons, ceremonial clothes and apparel. Inside the Gaumais Museum, you can discover the archaeological treasures dug out during the excavation of the necropolis.
Close your eyes and follow the knight!
In no time at all, we leave the museum to find ourselves at the foot of Monquintin Castle and thrown back into the 14th century! Out with the Merovingian warrior and in with a knight wearing a coat of mail, chausses (mail leggings) and a tunic with an intriguing coat of arms. The coat of arms is none other than that of the Laval family. I am a bit wary of this mighty knight holding a massive sword and lethal looking flail in his huge fists, so I decide to follow him through the ruins from a safe distance and learn a bit more about the history of the castle. It passed in the hands of many different families and many additions were added to the building. The first construction dates back to the 11th century, and at the time it was little more than a high square tower. In the 13th century, a curtain wall is added to the tower as well as three additional, circular towers, forming a trapzium. Years later, the castle interior will be built and refurbished by a different family. Now in ruins, the castle exudes a romantic atmosphere, with creeping ivy and ancient stones that blend perfectly into the surrounding nature.
The citadel of Montmédy
Hugo, who has now been a knight for several minutes, now suggests we continue our travels back in time by crossing the border. Once we’re on the French side, we are thrown back into the 16th century in the throbbing heart of the citadel of Montmédy, halfway between the cities of Trier and Reims. The fortress was built on a mount from which it derives its name. Initially, the Deville family had a small rampart constructed, but it isn’t until the 18th century that an important figure, the archbishop of Trier will have the rampart converted and turned into a residence. As the years go by, the citadel kept on growing until it became a fully-fledged town. Nowadays, 80 souls live in the houses in the heart of Montmédy.
I follow my knight and guide on the battlement walk, listening closely while he tells me the tale of this atypical building.
We make a short stop in front of the village church which is built in a Baroque style and dates back to the 18th century. Hugo reveals that it houses an ancient Roman temple erected in honour of the Roman god Mercury. I continue roaming the ramparts of this town where time seems to have stood still, but where you can still cross paths with a few villagers busying themselves with their daily tasks. Or are they? Part of me suspects they might be attempting to solve the mystery of King Louis the XVI’s treasure…Legend has it that a fabulous treasure belonging to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette is still hidden in the citadel’s warren of tunnels.
But Montmédy still has a few surprises left in store, among which a final jump back to the time when the citadel was used to be stronghold during the First World War. With its fortifications by the famous French architect Vauban, the Citadel of Montmédy has always been an important stronghold and strategic location. It’s the largest fortress in Eastern France, so obviously it played an important role during the two World Wars. In 1914, 2,300 men were billeted here, and you can still see their barracks. After WII, the fortress was entirely demilitarized to gradually become what it is today: an important historical treasure and a genuine time-travelling machine!
Enjoy this experience
38-40, rue d'Arlon
B-6760 Virton - Belgium
Website: Musée Gaumais
Tel: +32 63 570 315
Open every day except on Tuesdays from 1 March to 30 November and during Belgian school holidays from 9:30 to 12:00 and from 14:00 to18:00.
Exceptionally closed on Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
Citadelle de Montmédy
2 Rue de l'Hôtel de Ville
Citadelle - ville haute
F-55600 MONTMEDY - France