Tournai or Tournay[2] (/tʊərˈn/ toor-NAY; French: [tuʁnɛ] (listen); Dutch: Doornik [ˈdoːrnɪk] (listen); Picard: Tornai; Walloon: Tornè [tɔʀnɛ] (listen); Latin: Tornacum) is a city and municipality of Wallonia located in the Province of Hainaut, Belgium. It lies 85 km (53 mi) southwest of Brussels on the river Scheldt. Tournai is part of Eurometropolis Lille–Kortrijk–Tournai, which had 2,155,161 residents in 2008.[3][4]

Tornai (Picard)
Doornik (Dutch)
Grand-Place of Tournai
Location of Tournai
Location in Belgium
Location of Tournai in Hainaut
Coordinates: 50°36′20″N 03°23′17″E
Country Belgium
CommunityFrench Community
  MayorPaul-Olivier Delannois (PS)
  Governing party/iesPS-cdH
  Total215.34 km2 (83.14 sq mi)
  Density320/km2 (840/sq mi)
Postal codes
Area codes069

Tournai is one of the oldest cities in Belgium and has played an important role in the country's cultural history. It was the first capital of the Frankish Empire, with Clovis I being born here.


Tournai is located in the Picardy Wallonia and Romance Flanders region of Belgium, at the southern limit of the Flemish plain, in the basin of the river Scheldt. Administratively, the town is part of the Province of Hainaut, itself part of Wallonia. It is also a municipality that is part of the French-speaking Community of Belgium. Tournai has its own arrondissements, both administrative and judicial. Its area of 213.75 km2 (82.53 sq mi) makes it the largest municipality in size in Belgium; it is also the largest in population in Western Hainaut.

The municipality consists of the following districts: Barry, Beclers, Blandain, Chercq, Ere, Esplechin, Froidmont, Froyennes, Gaurain-Ramecroix, Havinnes, Hertain, Kain, Lamain, Marquain, Maulde, Melles, Mont-Saint-Aubert, Mourcourt, Orcq, Quartes, Ramegnies-Chin, Rumillies, Saint-Maur, Templeuve, Thimougies, Tournai, Vaulx, Vezon, Warchin, and Willemeau.


Rocks from the Tournai area date from the Carboniferous Period and have been used to define the Tournaisian Age, a subdivision of the Carboniferous lasting from 359 to 345 million years ago. Tournai stone is a dark limestone which takes a polish and was used particularly in the Romanesque period for sculpted items such as Tournai fonts. It is also hard enough to have been used locally for pavements and kerb-stones. It is sometimes called Tournai marble, though this is geologically inaccurate.


Historical affiliations

Salian Franks 432–481
Francia 481–843
West Francia 843–987
Kingdom of France 987–1513
 Kingdom of England 1513–1519
Kingdom of France 1519–1521
Habsburg Netherlands 1521–1556
Spanish Netherlands 1556–1668
Kingdom of France 1668–1713
Austrian Netherlands 1714–1794
French Republic 1794–1804
French Empire 1804–1815
Kingdom of the Netherlands 1815–1830
 Kingdom of Belgium 1830–present

Tournai, known as Tornacum, was a place of minor importance in Roman times, a stopping place where the Roman road from Cologne on the Rhine to Boulogne on the coast crossed the river Scheldt. It was fortified under Emperor Maximiam in the 3rd century AD,[5] when the Roman limes was withdrawn to the string of outposts along the road. It came into the possession of the Salian Franks in 432. Under King Childeric I, whose tomb was discovered there in 1653,[6] Tournai was the capital of the Frankish Empire. In 486, Clovis moved the center of power to Paris. In turn, a native son of Tournai, Eleutherius, became bishop of the newly created bishopric of Tournai, extending over most of the area west of the Scheldt. In 862, Charles the Bald, first king of Western Francia and still to become Holy Roman Emperor, would make Tournai the seat of the County of Flanders.

Siege of Tournai, 1581

After the partition of the Frankish Empire by the Treaties of Verdun (843) and of Meerssen (870), Tournai remained in the western part of the empire, which in 987 became France. The city participated in 11th-century rise of towns in the Low Countries, with a woollen cloth industry based on English wool, which soon made it attractive to wealthy merchants. An ambitious rebuilding of the cathedral was initiated in 1030. The commune's drive for independence from the local counts succeeded in 1187, and the city was henceforth directly subordinated to the French Crown, as the seigneurie de Tournaisis, as the city's environs are called. The stone Pont des Trous bridge over the Scheldt, with defensive towers at either end, was built in 1290, replacing an earlier wooden structure.

During the 15th century, the city's textile trade boomed and it became an important supplier of tapestry. The art of painting flourished too: Jacques Daret, Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden all came from Tournai. It was captured in 1513 by Henry VIII of England, making it the only Belgian city ever to have been ruled by England. It was also represented in the 1515 Parliament of England.[7] The city was handed back to French rule in 1519, following the Treaty of London (1518).

Siege of Tournai, 1709

In 1521, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V added the city to his possessions in the Low Countries, leading to a period of religious strife and economic decline. During the 16th century, Tournai was a bulwark of Calvinism, but eventually it was conquered by the Spanish governor of the Low Countries, the Duke of Parma, following a prolonged siege in 1581. After the fall of the city, its Protestant inhabitants were given one year to sell their possessions and emigrate, a policy that was at the time considered relatively humane, since very often religious opponents were simply massacred.

One century later, in 1668, the city briefly returned to France under King Louis XIV in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. After the end of the War of Spanish Succession in 1713, under terms of the Treaty of Utrecht the former Spanish Netherlands, including Tournai, came into possession of the Austrian Habsburgs. In 1794, France annexed the Austrian Netherlands during the French Revolutionary Wars and Tournai became part of the department of Jemmape. From 1815 on, following the Napoleonic Wars, Tournai formed part of the United Netherlands and after 1830 of newly independent Belgium. Badly damaged in 1940 during World War II, Tournai has since been carefully restored.

Main sights

Pont des Trous bridge on the river Scheldt with Our Lady's Cathedral of Tournai in the distance

Tournai is considered to be one of the most important cultural sites in Belgium. The mixed Romanesque- and Gothic-style Cathedral of Our Lady and the city's Belfry, considered the oldest in Belgium,[8] have been designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.[9][10] Inside the cathedral, the Châsse de Notre-Dame flamande, a beautifully ornate 12th-century reliquary, gives witness to Tournai's wealth in the Middle Ages.

Other places of interest are the 13th-century Scheldt bridge (Pont des Trous)[11] and the main square (Grand-Place), as well as several old city gates, historic warehouses, and a variety of museums. As in many Belgian cities, there are a number of cafés and pubs on the Grand-Place. In the middle of the square, there are a series of water fountains, while a circular staircase to the top of the Belfry can be climbed.[12][13]

On the Rue Barre-St-Brice are two of the oldest private houses in Europe, dating from between 1175 and 1200 and built in the Romanesque style,[14] while the Rue des Jésuites includes a Gothic house from the 13th century. There are also several buildings in the Art Nouveau style across the city.


A French-speaking Walloon town

Grand-Place of Tournai

Tournai is a French-speaking town of Belgium. The local language is tournaisien, a Picard dialect similar to that of other municipalities of Hainaut and Northern France. Tournai also belongs to Romance Flanders, like Lille, Douai, Tourcoing, and Mouscron. The city was one of the greatest cultural and economic centres of the County of Flanders. Some traces can still be seen today:

  • The Gothic choir of Our Lady's Cathedral is a precursory element of the Scaldian (meaning from the Scheldt area), typically Flemish, Gothic art.
  • The Bishopric of Tournai was the religious capital of Flanders during more than a millennium (from 496 to 1559).
  • The tapestries and draperies of Tournai belong to the great Flemish school of tapestry and Tournai was part of the Flemish Hansa of London, which also included the draper towns of Flanders.
  • The Church of St. Brice, dedicated to Saint Britius, is one of the first examples of the hallekerk style, so typical of the Flemish countryside.
  • The Church of St. Quentin, a Catholic parish church in Romanesque style with Gothic elements, known to have existed since the 10th century. The current building was built around 1200, but has been altered several times throughout history. It contains important sculptures by the 15th-century sculptor Jean Delemer.
  • Some of the great Flemish Primitives are from Tournai: Robert Campin, Rogier van der Weyden, and Jacques Daret.

Although Tournai is in the Flemish cultural area (of the Scheldt), it also possesses some treasures of the Mosan style. Indeed, the two most beautiful shrines of the cathedral, commissioned by the Bishop of Tournai, were made in the region of Liège by the artist Nicholas of Verdun: the shrines of Saint-Eleutherius and of Our Lady of Flanders (13th century). Those shrines testify to the opulence of Tournai and Liège during the Middle Ages. The shrine of Our Lady of Flanders has been called one of the seven wonders of Belgium.


  • The "Great Procession" (in French: Grande Procession) is a procession initiated by the bishop Radbot II during a plague epidemic. It has taken place every year since 1092, with the single exception of the year 1566, when the iconoclasts considerably damaged the religious symbols of the city. This historic procession unfolds in the streets every second Sunday of September.
  • The first Monday after January 6 is known as "Lost Monday" (in French: Lundi perdu) or "Perjury Monday" (Lundi parjuré). This tradition dates from more than 700 years ago. The wealthier city inhabitants used to prepare fastidious family dinners and elect a king. Today, the family dinners have expanded to wider groups and a rabbit dish is often served.


The Faculty of Architecture, Architectural Engineering and Urban Planning of the French-speaking University of Louvain (UCLouvain) is located in Tournai.

People born in Tournai

Twin towns


  1. "Wettelijke Bevolking per gemeente op 1 januari 2018". Statbel. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
  2. "Belgium".
  3. "List of municipalities". Archived from the original on 2015-03-21. Retrieved 2014-09-08.
  4. "EUROMETROPOLIS: Eurometropolis Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai, the 1st european cross-bordrer metropolis". Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  5. Williams, Stephen. Diocletian and the Roman Recovery. New York: Routledge, 1997:50f.
  6. "Location of Childeric's Grave". Archaeology in Europe Educational Resources. Archived from the original on 1 July 2015. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  7. Davies, C. S. L. "Tournai and the English crown, 1513-1519." Historical Journal (1998): 1-26.
  8. "Liste du Patrimoine Mondial: Proposition D'Inscription: Beffrois Flamands" (PDF). World Heritage List (in French). p. 3. Retrieved 21 May 2015. Selon certaines sources, le beffroi de Tournai, considéré comme le plus ancien en Belgique (1187)
  9. "Notre-Dame Cathedral in Tournai". World Heritage List. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  10. "Belfries of Belgium and France". World Heritage List. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  11. "The " Pont des Trous"". Tournai Office du Tourisme. Archived from the original on 2016-08-26. Retrieved 2015-05-21.
  12. "The Grand Place". Visittournai. Retrieved 2023-01-18.
  13. "Tournai, le plus vieux Beffroi de Belgique". Visittournai (in French). Retrieved 2023-01-16.
  14. "Visite: Monument LES MAISONS ROMANES". Tourisme Wallonie (in French). Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  15. "Tournai jumelé avec Bethléem". 29 February 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
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