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Pont des Trous in Tournai. Credit: Francois / Adobe Stock.

13th Century Pont des Trous Bridge Demolished: Archaeological Vandalism or Economic Progression?

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Angry Belgians and a minister of that countries federal government have voiced their distain towards politicians and counselors who ordered the dismantling of Tournai’s gothic “Bridge of Holes” so that larger boats can sail and spend on the Scheldt river.

In 1968, a sinking 19th century granite London bridge, designed by John Rennie to replace a medieval predecessor, was sold to American oil tycoon Robert P McCulloch for $2,460,000. This Londonist article explains how the landmark was dismantled and shipped over the Atlantic to Lake Havasu in Arizona, where it still stands today. In this instance it was argued that the bridge was ‘going to collapse anyway, so why not be saved an American’? But where this sort of thing goes wrong is when an ancient bridge is dismantled to increase profits and income, and this is what’s just happened in Belgium.

Built between 1281 and 1304, the Pont des Trous is one of three existing 13th-century military bridges left anywhere in the world, and it is unquestionably one of the most prestigious vestiges of the medieval military architecture in Belgium. It was part of the second wall of the city and defended the course of the Scheldt river along the town and its name comes from a local loch that was called Les Trous, or the holes.

The Pont des Trous over the Scheldt River in Tournai, Belgium. Credit: David Johnston / Adobe Stock

The Pont des Trous over the Scheldt River in Tournai, Belgium. Credit: David Johnston / Adobe Stock

Pierre-Emmanuel Lenfant, who runs the website  Archeologia.be, one of the leading opponents against the project explains, “The ‘Pont des Trous’ is not a bridge in the classical sense of the term. It is a water gate: a defensive structure that was part of the City walls and its function was to control and protect access to the city by the Scheldt.”

Two magnificent medieval towers form the bridge; on the left bank is the ‘Bourdiel’, built in 1281, and on the river’s right bank stands the ‘Thieulerie’ which was built between 1302-04. The bridge was bombed during the second world war and it’s central pointed arches were widened in 1947.

Pulling Apart The Past

The bridges three iconic arches were taken apart on Friday morning after several years of diplomatic toiling and its bricks will be kept for a reconstruction project in which it will be given a wider and higher central arch. An article in The Guardian says that the council had supported the building of a new bridge which opponents called a “Bridge of McDonald’s” after its similarities with the fast food chain’s logo. A petition signed by 20,000 people called for this plan to be ditched and Carlo Di Antonio, the minister of public works in the francophone Walloon region, announced that this modern design would be ditched.

The regional television station Notele live streamed the dismantling of the bridge with crowds of people lined along the river banks watching as “some of the brickwork was seen falling into the water.” Among the observers was Marie-Christine Marghem, Belgium’s minster for energy, who described the council as “lacking empathy for local people” in a Facebook post.

Destroying And Reconstructing The Past

Before these architectural changes, the Scheldt river had a 1,500-tonne limit but can now accommodate vessels weighing 2,000 tonnes, and this is all part of a €4.2bn (£3.8bn) project to create a 65-mile (105km) canal connecting the Seine and Scheldt rivers. But the dismantling of the bridge has been met with resistance, with the Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, having been asked to intervene.

According to Archeologia.be, In June last year the City of Tournai announced that “4 projects were possible” and on 5 November they dropped the bomb and a protest facebook Group was started - Préservons l'identité du Pont des Trous, Monument emblématique de Tournai and a wide range of innovative solutions arose including: “Another architectural choice? bypass the monument? bypass the city?”

Basically, the people of Tournai want anything but what has happened and Pierre-Emmanuel Lenfant of Archeologia.be says, “In France, such a situation would be unthinkable. In Wallonia, this example demonstrates that there is not the same cultural sensitivity.”

Top image: Pont des Trous in Tournai. Credit: Francois / Adobe Stock.

By Ashley Cowie

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