"In the footsteps (or wagon ruts) of Victor Hugo" Top 5 Page for this destination Liège by Nemorino

Liège Travel Guide: 196 reviews and 580 photos

Victor Hugo traveled to Liège in a "diligence"

Victor Hugo’s first visit to Liège was in 1840, when he was thirty-eight years old. He was travelling by stagecoach, known in French as a diligence, and was on his way from Paris to the Rhine Valley in Germany. In his book Le Rhin he described his approach to Liège from the Southwest, coming down the valley of the Meuse River:

But then evening comes, the wind dies down, the meadows, bushes and trees are silent, you can hear nothing but the sound of the water. The insides of the houses are lit dimly; objects disappear like smoke. In the stagecoach the travelers yawn as though it were a yawning contest, saying: We will be in Liège in an hour. At that moment that the landscape suddenly takes on an extraordinary appearance. There, in the forests at the foot of the brown, fuzzy hills to the west, two round eyes of fire burst and blaze like the eyes of a tiger. Here, beside the road, a terrifying flame shoots up eighty feet high in the landscape, assaulting the rocks, forests and ravines with sinister illuminations. Further on, at the entrance to this valley hidden in the shadows, a huge mouth full of embers opens and shuts brusquely, releasing horrible hiccups and a tongue of flame.

These are the factories that are lighting up.

Beyond the town called Petite-Flemalle, the scene becomes indescribable and truly magnificent. The whole valley seems to be studded with erupting craters. Some of them disgorge turbulent clouds of scarlet sparkling steam from behind the bushes; others dismally outline the black silhouette of the villages against a red background. In other places flames appear through the gaps in a group of buildings. One would think an enemy army has just crossed the country and ransacked twenty villages, leaving them in the gloomy night in various stages of destruction, some burned to the ground, some giving off smoke, some still in flames.

This warlike spectacle was actually produced by peace. This horrifying appearance of appalling devastation was made by industry. You are simply looking at the blast furnaces of Mr. Cockerill.

A fierce and violent noise arises out of this chaos of workers. I had the curiosity to get out of the stagecoach and approach one of these disturbing and mysterious places. There, I truly admired the industry. It is a beautiful and prodigious spectacle, which at night seems to enhance the solemn sadness of the hour with a touch of the supernatural. The wheels, saws, furnaces, rolling mills, cylinders, pendulums, all those monsters of copper, tin and brass that we call machines and whose steam is alive with a frightening and terrible roar, hissing, whistling, moaning, protesting, sniffing, barking, yelping, tearing the bronze, twisting the iron, chewing the granite, and at times, surrounded and harassed by smoky black workers, screaming with pain in the ardent atmosphere of the factory, like hydras and dragons tormented by demons in hell.


(From Letter VII of Le Rhin by Victor Hugo, my translation.)

I have translated some more of Victor Hugo’s observations from the year 1840 for my tips on the Théâtre Royal de Liège, the Palace of the Prince Bishops and the Museum of Public Transport, telling of Hugo’s travels by stagecoach.

From the same book I have also translated a few passages for two of the tips on my Bacharach page: Victor Hugo on the Rhine and his encounter with three young girls in the tip Victor Hutgo at Fürstenberg and Falkenburg.

This part of Belgium, the French-speaking Wallonia, was the rich half of the country in the nineteenth century, in fact for decades it was the leading industrial region of continental Europe.

French was Belgium’s only official language at that time and the prosperous French-speaking Walloons tended to look down their noses at their poor Dutch-speaking compatriots in Flanders, just a short stagecoach ride to the north.

Now, in the twenty-first century, the situation has reversed. Flanders is now booming with innovative high-tech industries and the French-speaking Wallonia has fallen far behind. The big political issue in Belgium these days is whether or not to divide the country, as some Flemish politicians would like to do, so that Flanders would no longer have to subsidize the poor once-proud Wallonians.

John Cockerill, mentioned by Victor Hugo as “Mr. Cockerill”, turns out to have been a British industrialist (born 1790, died 1840) who spent most of his adult life in Belgium, where he developed a vast complex of mines and factories near Liège. Since John Cockerill’s death, his company has been through numerous crises and mergers. It is now part of the global ArcelorMittal steel company, which still (or again) has factories in the Liège region employing nearly three thousand people.

I went to Liège a hundred and seventy-one years after Victor Hugo’s first visit. I came on a TGV train from Cologne via Aachen and arrived at the new Liège-Guillemins high-speed train station, which was designed for the city by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and inaugurated in September 2009.

The city’s tourist office describes this new station as a “monumental, organic, aerial and transparent structure” which has “transformed the urban skyline and become a symbol of the city’s renewal.”


If you would like to read the tips in my order, you can start here:

First review: Théâtre Royal de Liège

  • Last visit to Liège: Jun 2011
  • Intro Updated Jun 21, 2014
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Reviews (33)

Comments (27)

  • IreneMcKay's Profile Photo
    Jun 20, 2014 at 7:39 PM

    Interesting page. I've been here once long ago and remember just a little about it. Cheers. Irene

  • breughel's Profile Photo
    Jul 24, 2013 at 2:12 AM

    Big change for Liège and Belgium on last Sunday. The Prince de Liège, eldest son of King Albert II, became King of the Belgians after his father resigned. Note that there is no King of Belgium but a King of the Belgians and there is no royal crown as the first King Léopold I was elected by the Parliament and not of "Droit Divin" like other monarchies.
    To save money we had all festivities on the same day: July 21st Belgium National Feast day with the usual military défilé, 20 years reign of Albert II and enthronization of King Philip.
    Cherry on the cake very nice (and hot weather).

    • Nemorino's Profile Photo
      Jul 24, 2013 at 2:17 PM

      Thanks for your visit to my Liège page.
      Will someone else now get the title of Prince de Liège?

    • breughel's Profile Photo
      Jul 25, 2013 at 6:37 AM

      I was wrong Philippe was Duc de Brabant and his father was Prince de Liège before becoming King Albert II.
      It's too hot over here to think correctly.

  • LoriPori's Profile Photo
    Jun 3, 2013 at 3:38 AM

    Excellent tips on this city of Liege, which I have not had the pleasure of visiting. Certainly lots of culture and wonderful architecture. Well done Don.

    • Nemorino's Profile Photo
      Jun 3, 2013 at 6:24 AM

      Thanks for your ratings and nice comment on my Liège page. This is the only city in Wallonia that I have visited so far. Although I liked Liège and felt right at home there, I must admit that the Flemish cities of Brugge, Gent and Antwerpen are more attractive and have more for us tourists to see and do.

  • mindcrime's Profile Photo
    Dec 19, 2012 at 8:02 AM

    we didnt visit this city so thanks for the information. Great idea to add Victor Hugo’s observations about the city!

    • Nemorino's Profile Photo
      Dec 20, 2012 at 2:27 PM

      Thanks for your ratings and nice comment on my Liège page. I’m glad you liked the observations by Victor Hugo.

  • Martinewezel's Profile Photo
    Mar 29, 2012 at 12:11 AM

    The station of Liège Guillemins will never get stuffy, that's true. It would never get dirty neither. However... last time I was there, people were cleaning the accesible parts. The top was visibly black. I have never been to Mediacité yet. A tip for my next visit!

  • aussirose's Profile Photo
    Feb 24, 2012 at 3:01 PM

    Hey Don. Enjoyed the read here. I like the red building. Nice photo too of the alley way with red building one side and grey the other. Also nice tip about the old brick houses. Great page mate! Hugs, Ann.

  • lmkluque's Profile Photo
    Jan 3, 2012 at 9:34 AM

    Happy New Year Don! I really enjoy your perspective on things. I've a friend living in Liege, but haven't been there myself. Thanks for the views.

  • kiwi's Profile Photo
    Dec 30, 2011 at 11:23 AM

    Oh wow, seeing the old buildings is amazing, where I live there is nothing so old. I often wondered what Europeans did to expand on a building yet keep the old ones. Happy New Year Don, hope 2012 is happy for you :-)

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Dec 13, 2011 at 10:08 PM

    [Thank you for having started the linking thing! Makes page reading so easy!!] It is a strange feeling to read about Liege now one day after the horrible attack! But I enjoyed your page, especially the photos of this really nice looking train station and your special angle photos. Do you have a new camera? Oh and I also like that you start with the transports & trains, it is like your special trademark :-) Love your off path tips, especially about Angleur and its castle town hall with moat. Cute!

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    Dec 5, 2011 at 5:48 AM

    Interesting reading about Victor Hugo! I like the Railway station, but I can understand the local point of view, always different when you live there! I love the Hotel D'ville's, they are always such nice, interesting buildings, and I thought the médiacité was extra modern!

Nemorino

“The world is full of wonderful places. Help keep them wonderful by not driving in them.”

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