In Béthune, the Grand-Place is an immense open book, whose pages contain almost 1,000 years of history. With a myriad of anecdotes, snippets of life and great moments, it tells, to those who know how to read it, the full life and times of the city.
At the centre of this vast space is the belfry—part of the Franco-Belgian series of 53 belfries inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1999 and 2005. It is a lighthouse: the merchants’ belfry. Béthune has preserved its large Monday market for several centuries. Every week, at an unchanging pace, market gardeners, artisans and producers of all kinds bring to life, still and forever, the city’s tradition of trade and commerce for which the Grand-Place is the beating heart. And this has been just so for nearly ten centuries!
Around the belfry, the houses and buildings are astonishing, surprising and vibrant. This is the happy consequence of the destruction of 90% of the city centre during the First World War. The “new” buildings were constructed with intelligence by following the original Middle Age building plan. This gives narrow façades, the vestiges of a past that is buried and yet ever present. The regionalist style, with its red bricks and Flemish gables, is enriched and mixed with Art Deco from Paris and Brussels. The details of the façades, rich and often symbolic, bear witness to the city’s past before its destruction. Sculpted heads of animals sit cheerfully alongside baskets of fruit. The houses built on the ancient plots gently blend the signs of a medieval past and new modernity.