It was Open Monument Day today in Flanders, and I decided to go for a guided walk along the river Dijle through the middle of historic Leuven. About a dozen of us gathered at the Sint Jan de Doperkerk (Church of St John the Baptist) to be greeted by the bubbly and enthusiastic Bo, a medieval history graduate who has set up a tour company to explore the city.
The historical map of Leuven is generally presented as two concentric circles, the outer walls (now the ring road) and the inner walls (still visible in eg the St-Donatuspark). But apparently the first settlement was in the area which later became the Begijnhof, south of where the inner walls were subsequently built. The settlement that became the core of the medieval town was originally a Viking raiding post on a couple of islands, captured with much blood in the Battle of Leuven on 1 September 891 and then invested by the victorious Franks. Bo had a useful map of the area before the city came to be.
The weather was a bit gloomy but the magic of computing makes my pictures of the banks look better than they really were.
The former urban industry depending on the river has almost completely disappeared; this mill wheel (at the Dijlemolens) was built after the second world war and is the only one left in the town. It is non-functional.
Frustratingly the lovely Dijlepark was locked, but we were able to get a tantalising glimpse from the other side of the river.
If you perform the correct rituals to the statue of the Dijle Duck, it will grant your heart's desire. (Also if you press the black button, it spouts water.)
Another river scene.
Two towers, the Jansenius Tower and the Justus Lipsius Tower, mark the spot where the river flowed into the old inner walls. The Jansenius Tower on the left is where Cornelius Jansen invented Jansenism (more specifically, where he wrote his Augustinus). (I wasn't so clear if Justus Lipsius had a personal link to the more crumbling and picturesque tower that bears his name.)
Behind the Justus Lipsius tower, a rather ancient sluice gate, part of the system of controlling the water flow through the different branches of the river.
And beyond it, the Justus Lipsius College itself, which really reminded me of Oxbridge. The chapel at the end is the home of the Leuven Anglican church of St Mary and St Martha.
Urban river scene.
Along Amerikalaan the Dijle is presented between these nice stone balustrades. Paep Thoon is a medieval mythic figure, a jester and organist, who keeps an eye on passers-by.
The sun was coming out now – less need to apply filters to the photographs!
This stern lady, comforting her dying son, is a monument to the anti-Naxi resistance erected by the National Royalist Movemebr in the 1950s.
And this is Fiere Margriet, a virginal figure of legend who met her grisly end in the river some time in the 13th century. In the 2016 floods, the river rose so high that all but her face was submerged.
A striking piece of graffiti at the Vismarkt.
In medieval times the Vismarkt represented the southernmost navigable point of the Dijle, and was the harbour where freight would come in from the north and get unloaded. It has been covered for years, and is now a convenient central car park. There are plans to open it up and expose the subterranean channels to public view; but who knows what secrets lie within?
The modern sluices controlling the river…
…which still flows quite fast.
Looking back at the Predikherenkerk, site of the old castle on the Duke's Island ('s Hertogeneiland).
In the Sluispark, which marked the end of our walk, there is an educational water playground whose channels actually correspond to the different branches of the river as they flow through the city. Alas, only to be used by children under supervision.
One last look as I walked south and up the river to where I'd parked the car.
Many thanks to Bo and to Leuven Leisure for doing this.