June 1667. Under the orders of Louis XIV, French soldiers - some 25,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry - seized the city of Tournai in just a few days. Thus, the appeal of the City of 5 Steeples in the eyes of the Sun King returned it to its royal status. As a judicial, military, commercial and culture stronghold, Tournai became key to the Kingdom of France.
Tournai, a military stronghold
To accommodate the thousands of troops and visiting garrisons, Louis XIV had vast numbers of barracks built within the city, including the Saint-Jean barracks which can still be seen today. The King decided to reinforce his defence system with the construction of an enormous citadel. The military architect, Vauban, decided the citadel would stand on the city’s highest point. 300 houses were demolished along with a church, some convents, an abbey and a hospital. It took 6 years and 8 months for this impressive bastion of defence to tower over the Tournai landscape...
Canalisation of the River Escaut
The Sun King was also behind the canalisation of the Escaut river for both military and economic purposes. This would make it possible to flood the plains rapidly in the event of an invasion. The quayside was also modified and the river islands were removed to make navigation easier. A walk along Rue Barre Saint-Brice, Rue des Puits l’Eau or Quai Notre-Dame reveals some Louis XIV style houses, still standing with their blue stone, red brick and horizontal cornice!
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