A historical weekend in Tongeren
The ancient town of Tongeren, in the Maasland region of Belgium, is a fabulous place to take a weekend trip through the past. Beginning with its creation as a military camp for Julius Caesar’s troops, the city became an administrative capital under Emperor Augustus. The town emerged again in prominence during the Carolingian period with the construction of a new church that was expanded into the immense Gothic Basilica of Our Lady in the first half of the 13th century. During the reign of King Louis XIV, most of the city was burned by French troops. A revival in the 19th century resulted in much rebuilding, but through the cracks of modernity, a few relics of Tongeren’s past peek out to be enjoyed by passersby. Aside from historical sites, Tongeren is also known for hosting the largest flea market of its kind in the Benelux, where shoppers have a grand time perusing portable tokens of previous times.
• Beguinage – Considered a world heritage site by UNESCO, Tongeren’s 13th century commune housed women who were not quite nuns but still holding religious significance. This tiny town within a town is a beautiful site for artists and history buffs alike.
• Cloth Maker’s Tower – Located at the back of the famous Tongeren beguinage, the Cloth Maker’s Tower is an old turret dating back to the medieval walls, built during the 13th century using old Roman materials. During the Middle Ages, guilds protected specific towers, with this tower named after its protectors.
• Basilica of Our Lady – A Gothic cathedral that took more than 300 years to construct, the Basilica of Our Lady is one of the town’s most prestigious monuments. Filled with religious treasures, the basilica showcases these items every seven years with coronation celebrations surrounding its famous statue of Mary, Cause of Our Joy.
• Moeren Gate (Moerenpoort) – The only remaining of six medieval town gates, the Moeren Gate is open to visitors wishing to explore the medieval history of Tongeren. From the top of the gate’s tower, you can see the entire town.
• Gallo-Roman Museum – The archaeological museum of Tongeren houses artifacts from the city, starting with the Neanderthals, continuing on with the Germanic/Gaul tribes, the Roman occupation of the city, and closing with the emergence of Christianity in the region. The permanent collection includes flint tools belonging to the Neanderthals and first humans; bronze swords and gold coins from the beginning of the Iron Age; and Roman-age jewelry, idols and dishware.
• Teseum – The renovated treasury of the Basilica of Our Lady contains fascinating religious artifacts, including reliquaries, reliquary pouches, gold and silverwork, medieval choir books and religious textiles. Visitors can traverse a lifesize “music box,” listening to old scores and exploring the elaborate coronation ceremonies surrounding the famous statue of the Virgin Mary that occur every seven years.
The antiques market
Every Sunday, more than 350 stands dot the town center’s streets of Leopoldwal, Veermarkt, Maastrichterstraat, De Schiervelstraat and Clarissenstraat. The Eburonenhal, warehouses and the first floor of the Julianus carpark are also filled with peddlers and their historic wares.
The market lasts from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Arrive early for the best selection. Parking is available in garages on the outskirts of town. From the De Motten carpark, walk down Kastenjewal toward the Beguinage, to the Moerenpoort.
Everything from furniture and paintings to jewelry and glassware can be found at the market. If you’re looking for something a bit more exclusive or just can’t find a piece that calls out to you, there are more than 40 antique stores in the center of Tongeren, and they are often ready with advice concerning specific antiques. Make sure you have enough room for your purchases, especially if you are looking for furniture.
Antiquing is often hungry work, and there are a number of places to stop and grab a bite to eat. The beautiful fountain-filled Veermarkt is an excellent spot to have Belgian frites with mayonnaise and refreshing ales. If you get lost or require more information, stop by the tourist information office in the renovated Julianus shopping center; it’s open seven days a week.