11. November 2005 · Comments Off on Memories of Belgium · Categories: General, History, Memoir

Citadel and Cathedral, Dinant Belgium

In Dinant, Belgium, there is a cliff beside the River Meuse. At the base of the cliff is a cathedral, topped by an onion dome (onion domes abound in this town, for some reason). It is impossible to walk around the cathedral – the cliff forms its back wall. Atop the cliff, lining its edge, and at one point peering down on the cathedral dome, is a citadel.

If you go to Dinant today, and pay your few francs for the tour, you can either ride the cable car to the top of the cliff, climb the 408 stairs to the top of the cliff, or as I discovered on my final visit there, you can drive to the top of the cliff. I wish I’d known about the parking lot before climbing the stairs on my previous three visits.

As the tour guide leads you through the rooms, repeating himself in French, Dutch, German and English, depending on his audience, you learn that the Dutch occupied the citadel at one time, and that Napoleon stopped there, meeting his mistress who rode in a carriage from Paris. The carriage is on display in the citadel’s museum. You will traverse a catwalk, not visible in this photo, that takes you out over the cathedral. It’s larger than a catwalk, honestly – 2-3 people could walk abreast, but when you’re afraid of heights, it seems to be very narrow, and very fragile. My first visit, I stayed in the middle of it and scampered across as quickly as I could to reach the safety of the tunnel on the other side. Thank goodness I’m not claustrophobic, as well. By the time of my final visit, I had desensitized myself to where I could stand by the fenced edge, and take a picture looking *down* on the onion dome.

The citadel has been there since before Napoleon. The almost-twenty years that have passed since my visits there have dimmed my memory of its exact age. It has withstood countless attacks, and fallen to others. In 1915, with the town in flames from German bombs, it fell again.

It is a long citadel, as you can see in the picture. Inside there are many rooms, one after the other. Some paths lead you through rooms in a roundabout way bringing you back out into the center of the citadel, while others lead you into rooms that have no way out except to retrace your steps.

As you tour the citadel, the guide leads you through the rooms. In one, there is a display case showing mannequins with period uniforms/weapons of WWI. In the next room, there is a red plastic film over the window, to give the impression of the burning town. There is a diorama there, showing soldiers fighting. The soldiers are dressed like the mannequins in the previous room – this room represents 1915.

While the town burned below them, the defenders fought the Germans in the citadel. But it was not their town – not their fortress. They did not know that some paths led through rooms to a dead end. Fighting furiously, being pushed back from room to room, they learned the hard way that there was no way out.

It is a quiet group that retraces its steps through those rooms, back to the central, open area of the citadel.

After the tour ends, you are free to wander the grounds. I found myself wandering the military cemetery there, looking at “the crosses, row on row,” and murmuring portions of “On Flanders Fields” to myself, even though I was in Wallonia, not Flanders. There were Germans and Canadians buried there, but also Americans, from both wars.

Dinant was and is my favorite Belgian town. I’ve toured the citadel either 4 or 5 times, because we would take new arrivals there, for something to do on a Saturday.

It’s been 17 years since I last toured the citadel, but I still remember that red-tinged room, and the hopeless valor of those gallant soldiers.

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