Lined with terraces and cafés, it is the nerve centre of the city.
Paved entirely with cobblestones and decorated with elegant façades, the Grand-Place in Mons takes you on a journey through time. Spacious, almost ethereal, it is one of the most beautiful squares in Belgium as well as turning out to be one of the most animated.
“Lively” is the first word that comes to mind when you think of the Grand-Place in Mons. Its vibrancy and energy will strike anybody setting foot in Hainaut’s capital for the first time. Lined with terraces, restaurants and cafés, it is the nerve centre of the city. It’s the place to meet for some retail therapy in the nearby shopping area, exploring the most beautiful buildings Mons has to offer, or just to pull up a seat and reflect on life. Comfortably settled on the terrace, you could spend hours here admiring the surrounding façades. Some are colourful, others pale, from Gothic to Neo-Classical or inspired by Spanish influences, its historic façades offer a magnificent architectural panorama from the 15th century to the present day.
A book of architecture
In the centre, on the cobbles themselves, the blue stone ring symbolises the 19 municipalities of Mons. It is also in this arena that the legendary battle between St George and the Dragon takes place every year on Trinity Sunday. Of course, the town hall, or Hôtel de Ville, will attract the attention of architecture fans. This Gothic gem, topped off with a Baroque bell tower, was designed by Mathieu de Layens, who was also the man behind Louvain’s town hall. It was unfinished and only has one storey. However, its stature is hugely impressive. As it rises up, it towers over its neighbouring buildings. And then there is the little monkey in the façade that loves having his head stroked! Is it the work of a blacksmith, the sign for a bar? Anyone who claims to know where it’s from is very clever. Stroke his head with your left hand and you’ll get a year of happiness. Definitely worth a try...
A haven of peace
Behind the town hall, a vaulted passageway leads to the Jardin du Mayeur. Here the hustle and bustle of the city gives way to a rare tranquillity. Time stands still and lets nature talk. In this little haven, copper beeches, lime trees, horse chestnut trees and paulownia stretch their branches, revealing glimpses of some real jewels. You can make out the roofs of the city centre and the belfry sparkles. It’s crazy how this island of peace can take you far far away. In the heart of the garden, the sculpture, Le Ropieur, by Léon Gobert, gently splashes passers by. It symbolises Mons’ inner child and the unfailing cheerfulness of the locals. The perfect starting place for a trip to Mons, the Jardin du Mayeur epitomises all the riches and the different facets of the city.
Interpretation centre for the Neolithic mines at Spiennes
The Silex's Museum invites curious visitors to explore one of the oldest flint mines in the world.
Six kilometres from Mons, the Silex's Museum at Spiennes invites curious visitors to explore one of the oldest flint mines in the world.
An exceptional legacy
The mines at Spiennes are one of those little gems that we should strive to safeguard because of the exceptional part they have played in our history. 6,000 years ago, prehistoric man explored the ground underneath the surface to mine flint. The Neolithic era, the “new stone age”, marked a change in the way groups of humans lived, seeing new models based on agriculture and livestock breeding. In the Mons region, which was covered in greenery at the time, they had to clear the land for their herds. Digging a few centimetres into the ground, at Spiennes, they came across whole swathes of flint, a particularly resistant rock that they could use to make their tools. Over the course of 2,000 years, they would dig thousands of mineshafts, some of which are still virtually intact today.
A real experience
Like the pyramids of Giza, the mines of Spiennes are recognised UNESCO “human engineering” world heritage sites. Let’s say this is the highest distinction awarded by the organisation. In short, the “must of the must”. The Silex’s museum in Spiennes offers this very ingenuity along with an incredible history. More than just a visit, Silex’s is an experience waiting to happen. First by strolling on the surface, in the heart of a green setting in an almost lunar landscape where a surprising amount of flint still litters the ground. Then by visiting the museum space to understand the history of the site and the techniques implemented by Neolithic man. The Neolithics could extract flint slabs sometimes weighing several hundred pounds! Excavations carried out since the 19th century have brought to light thousands of objects: axes, blades, pottery but also remains of fauna and skeletons. Thanks to its excavation area, its projection area and its scenographic route, the museum space tackles the different facets of the archaeological site.
A journey underground
If you book in advance, you can also go down into the original mine. In the company of a guide, you can follow the same route as Neolithic man once did! A ladder leads down the shaft 10 metres underground. Walk in the footsteps of prehistoric man... Once under ground, you can see how these mines were cut out from the chalk, and why some are filled while others are more spacious. You can also find out why the shafts were so close to each other and how our ancestors actually used them. With plenty of stories, the guides bring this tour of a site that’s 6,000 years old to life. An out-of-this-world experience!
Here lie 229 Commonwealth soldiers and 284 German soldiers, virtually hand in hand.
Enemies on the battlefield, united in death. This could be the motto of Saint-Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons. Here lie 229 Commonwealth soldiers and 284 German soldiers, virtually hand in hand.
Garden of peace
With two stars in the Michelin guide, Saint-Symphorien Cemetery is one of Belgium’s greatest tourist sites. And for good reason. Nowhere else in Europe is there a memorial site like it. More than just a cemetery, this is a place of rest or a garden of peace. The environment is closer to that of a botanical garden. Made up of little islands of green, Saint-Symphorien Military Cemetery is filled with different atmospheres and areas of contemplation. Different conifers share the space with rare species, like the Japanese cherry tree. But behind these tall trees hides an incredibly symbolic story.
A cemetery for everyone
In 1916, when the city of Mons was occupied, a German soldier wandered into the fields looking for a plot to bury the bodies of his comrades who had been killed during the first battle of Mons in August 1914. By chance, he came across Jean Houzeau De Lehaie, an eminent botanist from Mons, who decided to help the soldier. The Belgian offered him the site of an old quarry, on the one condition that it would become a cemetery for all nationalities, without any exceptions. This solution was accepted by the Germans and negotiated with the local authorities, bringing together all soldiers, without distinction, in one place.
United in death
The obelisk opposite the Cross of Sacrifice bears the following inscription: “In memory of the German and English soldiers who fell in the action near Mons on the 23rd and 24th August 1914”. The German and British soldiers… As incredible as it might seem, Saint-Symphorien Military Cemetery brings together soldiers from enemy countries. Here there isn’t a German plot or a British plot. Lieutenant Maurice James Dease from the 4th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, the first soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross, is buried just a few feet from Niemeyer, the first German recipient of the Iron Cross.