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Dinant (Municipality, Province of Namur, Belgium)

Last modified: 2021-01-12 by ivan sache
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Flag of Dinant - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 11 June 2005

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Presentation of Dinant and its villages

The municipality of Dinant (13,143 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 9,980 ha; municipal website) is located in the valley of Meuse, 25 km south of Namur and 10 km north of the border with France. The municipality of Dinant was established in 1976 as the merger of the former municipalities of Dinant (including Anseremme, Bouvignes and Dréhance since 1964), Falmagne, Falmignoul, Foy-Notre-Dame, Furfooz, Lisogne, Sorinnes and Thynes.

Remains of human settlements from the late Paleolithic and Neolithic have been found in the region of Dinant. The name of the town is of Celtic origin, as *divonanto, "the Sacred Valley" or "the Divine Valley". In the Merovingian times, Dinant was a fortified town with a market and several mint workshops. St. Monulf (558-597), 21st Bishop of Tongeren-Maastricht, was born in Dinant, and bequeathed his goods to the bishopric. His second follower, St. Perpète (604-627) decided to stay in Dinant, where he founded the St. Vincent church; St. Perpète is the patron saint of the town. The oldest written mention of Dinant is found in the "Cosmography" written in 670 by someone (not) known as the Anonymous from Ravenna. In the Carolingian times, there were several mint workshops in Dinant, which was crossed by a main road built by Charlemagne; the bridge of Dinant is already listed on a document from Namur dated 824.
In 870, the treaty of Meersen signed by Emperor Charles the Bald split Dinant in two parts: one part of the town was allocated to the County of Namur, whereas the remaining part was allocated to the Bishopric of Tongeren, and later to the Bishopric of Liège after the transfer of the seat of the bishopric. At the end of the 9th century, Dinant was sacked by the Northmen and the first copperware workshops were set up. In 938, Richaire, 40th Bishop of Tongeren-Maastricht, transformed the royal abbey into the Notre-Dame Collegiate church, ruled by a Chapter of Canons. Emperor Otto III granted to Notger, Prince-Bishop of Liège, the right of mint and tonlieu (tax paid by the sellers in markets and fairs) in several towns, including Dinant.
Written around 1040, a document describes the revamping of the castle of Dinant by Prince-Bishop Nitard. In 1059, the troops from Dinant, Huy, Fosses, Thuin and other towns scoured the County of Flanders. Emperor Henri IV granted to the Prince-Bishop of Liège most of the rights on Dinant (tonlieu, market, justice) but the Count of Namur kept a few minor rights; Dinant became one of the "good towns" of the Principality of Liège. The first stone bridge was built in 1080. In 1096, Obert, Prince-Bishop of Liège, purchased the Duchy of Bouillon from Godefroid de Bouillon; the Chapter of Dinant advanced 34 marks to the Prince, who granted the tonlieu to the Chapter as a reward.
At that time, Dinant specialized in the production of copperware, which became known as dinanderie, made by dinandiers. Foundries already existed in the valley of Meuse in the Roman times; in the 13th century, traders from Dinant went to Cologne, where they bought copper ingots and sold copperware. They had privileges said to have been granted by Charlemagne, more probably granted in Cologne in 1103 and in Coblence in 1104. Copperware was producted in Liège, Huy, Bouvignes and Maastricht, but the batteurs (beaters) from Dinant were the most famous. In the 13th century, Dinant mostly produced engraved tombstones, which were soon produced also in Cologne and Flanders; in the 14th century, Dinant produced liturgical articles, often of large size or even monumental, such as candlesticks, candelabra, lecterns, columns, gates and tabernacles. The most famous of these articles is the eagle-shaped lectern made in 1370 by Jean Josès, kept in the Notre-Dame church in Tongeren. The beaters from Dinant were granted privileges by King of England Edward III in 1329 and sold their products all over Britain. Copperware yielded to the inhabitants of Dinant the nickname of copères, said to have been invented in the middle of the 15th century. At that time, one out of five inhabitants of Dinant was a copère.

In 1152, the abbey of Floreffe founded its daughter Leffe in Dinant. Bouvignies, then part of the County of Namur, was granted the title of town in 1213. War broke out between the Duchy of Brabant and the Principality of Liège. Dinant contributed to the victory of Steppes in 1214, which is recalled by the half-lion shown on the municipal arms. In 1228, a falling rock partially destroyed the Collegiate church, killing 36. Prince-Bishop Jean d'Eppes was killed during the siege of Poilvache in 1238 and Liège lost the battle. Dinant revolted in 1255 against Prince-Bishop Henri of Gelderland, who imposed regulations to the beaters. During the Cow's War, Dinant and its allied towns plundered the County of Namur and the County of Luxembourg; in 1275, Count of Namur Gui de Dampierre was defeated in Dinant. A trade agreement was signed in 1277 in Dinant under the presidency of Cologne by the Hanseatic League. Dinant was the only member of the Hanseatic League without a port.
Dinant was involved in the war of the Awans and the Waroux, which scoured the Principality of Liège for 40 years. In 1319, Dinant attacked Bouvignies and Hastière, but was defeated. Prince-Bishop Adolph de la Marck decided in 1320 to get rid of Bouvignies and invaded the County of Namur; Dinant built the Montorgueil (lit., Mount of Pride) tower facing Bouvignies' Crèvecœur (lit., Heartbreaker) tower. In 1348, Dinant and Huy plundered Marche, Han-sur-Lesse and Lomprez. The warlord of Château-Thierry abducted merchants from Dinant in 1391 and asked for a ransom; his castle was destroyed.
In the beginning of the 15th century, the Principality of Liège revolted against Prince-Bishop Jean de Bavière, who called to the Duke of Burgundy for help. In 1406, Dinant seized the fortress of Bouillon from the Prince-Bishop. The good towns were defeated in Othée in 1408; Dinant was sentenced to 50 hostages and a ransom and the Montorgueil tower should have been demolished, which was done only partially. Emperor Sigismond cancelled the sentence in 1417. Dinant revolted again against Prince-Bishop Jean de Heinsberg in 1422. The County of Namur was purchased by Duke of Burgundy Philip the Handsome in 1424; Bouvigny and the Burgundians besieged the Montorgueil tower in 1430, to no avail, while Dinant and Huy plundered the region of Condroz and destroyed Poilvache. They besieged Bouvignes, to no avail, but seized Walcourt and other places. A peace agreement was signed in Mechelen in 1431. Prince-Bishop Jean de Heinsberg sentenced in 1436 the warlords of Bossenove, Savigny, Beauraing and Orchimont for looting. In 1445, Evrard de la Marck revolted against Jean de Heinsberg; the good towns of Huy, Dinant, Thuin and Couvin supported the prince-bishop. Agimont and Rochefort were besieged and Evrard was defeated. The Montorgueil tower was eventually demolished in 1445 upon order of the Prince-Bishop.

In 1464, Dinant revolted again against Prince-Bishop Louis de Bourbon, the nephew of Duke of Burgundy Philip the Handsome, appointed in 1456. As usual, Dinant and Bouvignies provoked each other for two years. The siege of Dinant started on 18 August 1466, commanded by Charles the Bold, Philip's son; the Duke arrived on 21 August and the town surrendered on 25 August. From 25 to 28 August, Dinant was completely sacked and burnt down; more than 800 were killed and the survivors were expelled. Until October 1467, the remains of the town were demolished and anything worth (stones, slates...) was exported. Charles ordered to pour salt on the ruins in order to prevent any reconstruction, as had done Scipio in Carthago.
Reconstruction of the Collegiate church and the Canons' houses was achieved in 1472. The Collegiate church sued Bouvignes in order to recover St. Perpète's reliquary; the court of Mechelen ordered the return of the relics to Dinant in 1476. After the death of Charles the Bold in 1477, the inhabitants of Dinant came back and started the rebuilding of the town. Municipal magistrates were appointed by Louis de Bourbon and town walls were rebuilt against the warlords. The religious orders and the beaters progressively resettled Dinant and their privileges in England and the Hanseatic towns were resumed.
In the 16th century, Dinant attempted to avoid the wars by paying ransoms. However, the town, except the castle, was seized by the French on 8 July 1554 during the war against Spain. Bouvignies was seized the same day and its inhabitants were slaughtered. The bridge of Dinant was destroyed by a flood in 1573 and rebuilt next year. Black plague and starvation wiped out the town at the end of the century. In the beginning of the 17th century, several religious orders settled or resettled in Dinant (Carmelites, 1605; Jesuits, 1608; Capuchins, 1613; Ursulines, 1625). During the Thirty Years' War (1635-1665), Dinant was seized several times and trade was ruined. The town and the castle were occupied again by the Germans in 1674 during Louis XIV's wars, and seized in November 1675 by the French. By the treaty of Nijmegen, Dinant and the "boot" of Givet were incorporated to France; Vauban and Cladech increased the fortifications of Dinant. The treaty of Rijswick retroceded in 1698 Dinant to the Principality of Liège, but the "boot" of Givet remained to France (and is still there).
In 1789, Liège revolted against Prince-Bishop Constantin-François de Hoensbroeck, who was reestablished by the Austrians. The expelled magistrates of Dinant were also reestablished in 1791. Dinant was occupied by the French troops commanded by La Fayette on 29 April 1792, seized again by the Austrians on 7 June and eventually seized by the French on 30 December 1792, with a revolutionary administration. The Austrians came back on 26 March 1793 and were expelled by Jourdan on 29 May 1794. On 1 January 1795, the Principality of Liège was suppressed and incorporated to France; Dinant was incorporated into the Department of Entre-Sambre et Meuse.

Dinant was sacked again in August 1914 by the German army. On 15 August, the 3rd Saxon Army commanded by Baron von Hausen marched against the valley of Meuse in order to break the French positions stationed on the river between Namur and Givet. During the awful battle of Dinant, a young sous-lieutenant from the 33rd Infantry Regiment of Arras escaped death; his name was Charles de Gaulle. After two days, more than 2,300 soldiers were killed and the French seemed to have won the battle. The German command, based in the castle of Taviet, near Achêne, decided the methodical suppression of the town of Dinant as a reprisal. The destruction of Dinant caused international reprobation; as usual, the Germans justified the reprisal by the alleged presence of francs-tireurs in the town. On 23 August, General von Elsa ordered the artillery of the 12th Saxon Corps to enter the town, to loot, to burn and to slaughter. Two-thirds of the town were completely destroyed; the town hall, the post office, the spa and the hotels were burnt down, as well as the St. Peter and St. Nicolas' churches. 674 inhabitants of Dinant, that is 10% of the population, were summarily shot and thrown down into a common grave, whereas another 400 were deported to Kassel. The 3rd Saxon Army also destroyed the villages of Hastière-par-delà, Hastière-Lavaux, Hermeton-sur-Meuse, Spontin, Evrehailles, Yvoir, Houx and Sorinnes.

Anseremme was settled in the 9th century by the abbots of Saint-Hubert, who founded there a priory. Auguste Boussingault's inn was in the 19th century the meeting place of a group of artists led by the painter from Namur Félicien Rops (1833-1898).

Bouvignies was known in the 11th century as Bovinia, most probably from Boviniacum, the estate built by Bovon near a ford on the Meuse. After the purchase of Bouvignies in the 10th century, the Counts of Namur built a donjon in the 12th century, transformed into a fortress until the 15th century, and surrounded the town with walls protected by towers and gates. As already mentioned above, Bouvignies was the historical rival of Dinant for centuries, but declined in the 18th century. Ironically, Bouvignies was incorporated into its rival Dinant on 1 January 1964.

Dréhance (321 inh.; 553 ha) is a village built along a main street following a watershed (255 m asl). The estate (villa) of Dréhence was mentioned in 1166. The name of Dréhence might be related to the Celtic root *dervo, "the oak", or to the pre-indoeuropean hydronym *drava. Dréhance is called in Wallon Drouwance and the villagers the dréanswas, with the following rhyme:

Lés payisans d'Drouwance
Ont des cus come dés banses, [ont des culs comme des mannes]
Dés ranukés pagnas [pans de chemises renoués]
Et dés rôbes î des cotes à falbalas.

(The farmers of Dréhance
Have their ass as big as a basket
Retied shirt-tails
And skirts with flurbelows.)

Falmagne (346 inh.; 962 ha; 239 m asl at the lowest step of the church) is located on the border of the plateau of Famenne, therefore its name (Falmania in 885). The villagers of Falmagne are nicknamed Les panses d'aragne (The spider bellies), therefore the rhyme A Falmagne, les panses d'aragne. Nothing is left from the St. Pancrasse Collegiate Church known in the 12th century. Falmagne belonged under the Ancient Regime to the abbey of Waulsort.

Falmignoul (430 inh.; 647 ha; 200 m asl at the lowest step of the church) is also located on the border of Famenne and named after it (Falmignuele, "the Little Falmagne", 1210). The village is called in Walloon Falmignôle and its inhabitants are nicknamed Les botrôles. The remains of eleven Neolithic men were found in the caves of Colébi. Until the 16th century, the village was divided into three domains, the domain of Falmignoul, belonging to the abbey of Saint-Hubert, therefore to the Principality of Liège; the ban of Mont, belonging to the Provostship of Poilvache, therefore to the County of Namur; and the aforementioned domain of Chàteau-Thierry, whose castle was definitively suppressed in 1675.

Foy-Notre-Dame (158 inh.; 403 ha) is the smallest village of Dinant. Foy comes from Faid (before 943), from Latin fagia, "a beech grove". The villagers are nicknamed Les Sabotis.
In 1609, the carpenter Gilles de Wanlin, wanting to cut a big beech to build a boat, found a statue of the Blessed Virgin. The Baron de Celles built a chapel in 1613, where a miracle took place in 1616, transforming the chapel into a popular place of pilgrimage. The place was visited in 1619 by Archidukes Albert and Isabel. The Notre-Dame church, built by the Stilmant brothers from Dinant, was consecrated on 8 September 1624, Nativity Day. The Jesuit Father Pierre Bouille (1576-1641) reported in his history of the church, a best-seller at that time, that 12,000 people attended the ceremony. The building of the church required 233 beeches and five tons of metal. The Jesuits were in charge of the sanctuary, and used it as a main symbol of the Counter-Reformation, spreading the veneration of Notre-Dame-de-Foy all over the world. In 1939, Notre-Dame of Foy was venerated in Belgium (40 parishes), France (30), Germany (10), Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, England, Congo, USA, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Tahiti. The town of Sainte-Foy in Québec was founded by Father Chaumonot for the converted Hurons.
The miraculous statue was hidden in Dinant during wars in 1650, 1674 and 1686, but stolen in 1696 by the confederated Dutch, who looted the church. The wealthy parish of Foy was bitterly disputed among different orders. After a long period of decline, the pilgrimage resumed in 1909 with 10,000 pilgrims. More than 30,000 attended the 25th celebration of the rebirth of the pilgrimage in 1934.

Furfooz (185 inh.; 682 ha) is located on a hillside dominating the valley of Lesse. The name of the village (Furfo, 1280) might come from fur falis, "four rocks", or fohr, "the durmas"t. The village is called in Walloon Furfû or Furfô and the villagers are called furfûzi and nicknamed les sokias, les sokètes or les soukes. There are several caves in Furfooz, where Paleolithic and Neolithic remains were found. Tombs from the 2nd to the 5th century have yielded important artefacts, inculding 124 coins dated 294 to 402.

Lisogne (711 inh.; 914 ha) is located on the northern top of the Fonds de Leffe. The village is named after Liudisio's estate (villa Lindsonia). The villagers are called in Walloon lisognwés and nicknamed les mougnes d'rognes (the salamander eaters). Lisogne was ceded in the 7th century by King Sigebert of Austrasia to the abbey of Stavelot. An iron mine was exploited in the village until 1895.

Sorinnes (489 inh.; 1,180 ha; 270 m asl; in Walloon, Sorene) is the largest and highest village of Dinant. It is named after the German anthroponym Surius or the Germanic root *sûra, "wet". Like most of the other villages of Dinant, Sorinnes was in the past split between the County of Namur and the Principality of Liège. On 22 August 1914, the village was burnt down by the Germans, who locked 380 of its 425 inhabitants in the church for one week.

Thynes (427 inh.; 829 ha) is located on the banks of the brook Barbion. The origin of the name of the village is obscure. It is called in Walloon Tinne; the villagers are the tûn'was or tûn'wés, nicknamed les bûyos. The chapel of the cemetary is the only remain of the first St. Nicholas's church, built in the 11th-12th centuries; the chapel has a crypt, which was found at that time only in collegiate churches. This seems to indicate that the family of Thynes was then powerful and probably used the crypt as its necropolis.

The Dinantian geological layer is equivalent to the lower Carboniferous. It is divided in the Strunian, Tournaisian and Visean sublayers; the Waulsortian sublayer, initially placed between the Tournaisian and the Visean, was later recognized as a mostly coralligenous part of the Tournaisian. The specific rock of the Tournaisian is the limestone of Tournai, characterized by fossil Brachiopods (Spirifer tornacensis and S. cinctus), and its variant called in the north of France petit granite. The Visean is also characterizd by limestone and marble, including the beautiful marbre Napoléon extracted in Boulonnais, in the north of France. The Dinantian layer is called in Britain Avonian or Carboniferous Limestone.

The painter from Dinant Joachim Patenier (1485-1524) is considered as the founder of modern landscape painting. Albert Dürer called him der gute Landschaftmaler, coining the word "landscape painter". Patenier changed the representation of nature by making of the landscape the main topic of the painting, the characters being of secondary importance. Patenier worked in Bruges, in Italy, and in Antwerp, where he worked with Quentin Metsys and was often visited by Dürer. He was a friend of the humanists. The painting "St. Francis receiving the stigmata" (Prado Museum, Madrid) was attributed to Friedländer; however, the representation of the landscape of Dinant, as seen from Dréhance, is so accurate that the painting was reattributed to Patenier (Metsys probably painted the characters). Other main works by Patenier are shown in L'Escurial, Paris (Louvre), Vienna and Palermo.
Another painter and sculptor from Dinant, Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865), is one of the most famous Belgian artists of the 19th century. Wiertz studied in Antwerp and Paris and won the Prize of Rome in 1832. He later painted big, bombastic works and had a bel morir, his last words being "I want to defeat Raffaelo Sanzio". One of his paintings was rejected by the Salon of Paris; it was indeed a painting by Rubens, Wiertz' model, whose signature had been masked by Wiertz in order to ridicule the jury.

Dinant is the birth town of Adolphe Sax (1814-1894), the inventor of saxophone. Aged 16, Sax presented ivory flutes and clarinets at the Industrial Exhibition in Brussels; four years later, he designed a brand new clarinet with 24 keys and a bass clarinet warmly welcomed by Habeneck, the conducer of the opera of Paris. In 1840, he presented nine new instruments at the Exhibition of Brussels, but was deemed too young to be awarded the gold medal. The French librettist Halévy (1834-1908) advized him to settle in Paris, where he introduced him to Hector Berlioz (1803-1869). Sax presented his inventions to the great composer, who did not seem too impressed. On 12 June 1842, however, Berlioz wrote in Le Journal des Débats a long article extremely laudatory for Sax; the article was reprinted in the main French and Belgian newspapers and Sax became famous. He designed four families of wind instruments, saxhorns, saxotrombas, saxtubas, and saxophones (sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, barytone, bass, contrabass). The sound of the saxophones, brass instruments with a reed, was completely new. Sax patented the saxophone on 21 March 1846 but was harassed by his jalous competitors, who counterfeited his instruments and contested his patents in court, in spite of Berlioz' unfailing support. Sax won all the trials but was bankrupted in 1852, 1873 and 1877. It is estimated that the 20 workers of the Sax factory produced some 20,000 instruments from 1843 to 1860. In 1845, Sax convinced General de Rumigny, Minister of War, to reform the miltary music and to adopt a new band organization based on his saxophones. The saxophones were adopted by several classic musicians. They were exported in the 1850s to the USA and became popular jazz instruments.

Father Dominique-Georges Pire (1910-1969), born in Dinant, joined the Dominican order in 1928. During the Second World War, he served the anti-German resistance as a chaplain and a spy. In 1949, he decided to help war refugees and founded "Aid to Displaced Persons", an organization that created seven villages in Europe and sponsored more than 18,000 people. He was awarded the Nobel Prize of Peace in 1958, and extended his aid program to the rest of the world.

The abbey of Leffe was founded in 1152 as a priory depending on the Premontre abbey of Floreffe, and became an abbey in 1200. A great part of its archives were destroyed during the 1466 sack. The most famous abbey of Leffe was Perpète Renson (1704-1743), from Dinant. The monks were expelled in 1792 and the abbey was resettled only in 1903 by French monks, succeeded by monks from Tongerloo. Leffe is famous for its beers (blonde, brune, triple and radieuse), which are, however, no longer brewed in the abbey.
During the 1466 siege, the inhabitants of Dinant starved. Using the food they still had, they prepared a dough of flour and honey and printed motifs on it with pieces of copperware. The cake is called a couque and is still produced in Dinant: the dough is made in a kneading machine and placed in hand-decorated forms made of pear tree wood. The Rins' couque is a variant of the genuine cook, with sugar added, following the receipe by the pastrycook François Rins. Production of couques reaches its peak for Santa Claus.
The flamiche is a local pie made with fat cheese (boulette de Romedenne), butter and eggs. The legend says that a farmer from Romedenne dropped her basket on her way to the market of Dinant. Cheese, butter and eggs were all mixed. She went to a farm where bread was baked and made a pie with the mixture. In 1956, the brotherhood Confrérie des Quarteniers de la Flamiche Dinantaise (CQFD, an acronym mostly used by mathematicians as ce qu'il fallait démontrer, QED) was founded in order to promote the local culinary traditions. On the first Saturday of September, CQFD organizes the contest for the biggest flamiche eater in the borough Saint-Nicolas; the current record is 14 quarters in 3/4 of an hour. The flamiche has also an "official" song.

Ivan Sache, 11 June 2005

Flag of Dinant

The flag of Dinant is vertically divided light blue-white, the traditional colors of Dinant.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 11 June 2005