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Bergues (Municipality, Nord, France)

Sint Winksbergen

Last modified: 2019-01-27 by ivan sache
Keywords: bergues |
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Flag of Bergues - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 10 April 2004

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Presentation of Bergues

The town of Bergues (in Dutch, Sint Winksbergen; 4,306 inhabitants) is located near the French-Belgian border, c. 10 km south-east of Dunkirk. Bergues is a typical Flemish town surrounded by an elaborated system of fortifications and canals derived from the river Colme. The town is nicknamed "the other Flemish Bruges".
During the Gallo-Roman times, the region of Bergues was inhabited by the Menapians. It was evangelized in the 7th century by St. Winoc, today the local patron saint of millers. The first city walls were erected in the 8th-9th centuries, surrounding the village built on the Groenberg (Green hill), a small hill emerging from swamps. The St Winoc abbey was founded on the Groenberg by count Baudoin la Belle Barbe (the Beautiful Beard) in 1022.

Bergues was a wealthy town famous for its woollen cloth and allowed the control of the hinterland of the port of Dunkirk. Accordingly, the town was besieged, seized and sacked several times during its long history. Charles V's troops sacked Bergues on 3 September 1383; in 1588, the town was seized once again by the French, who nearly razed it. In the 17th century, Bergues was seized by the French in 1646, by the Spaniards in 1651, and again by the French (Turenne) in 1658. Bergues was retroceded to Spain in 1659 and definitively incorporated to France in 1668 by the treaty of Aachen / Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the Wars of Devolution. The town was severely damaged and burned in June 1940 during the German attack of France.

The oldest parts of today's fortifications date back to the 9th century, when Count Gui de Dampierre built a wall and a tower to protect the northern access to the town. The fortification system took its definitive shape under the Burgundian rule. Duke Philippe II le Hardi (1341-1404) merged the two former circular city walls into a single, eight-shaped wall. The fortifications were revamped by Duke Philippe III le Bon (1397-1467) in 1435, and restored again in 1537 and 1543. During the Spanish rule, most of the city walls were rebuilt from scratch by architect Louis Rosseel in 1581-1582.
After the incorporation to France, Louis XIV asked Vauban to improve the foritfication system around Bergues. Vauban added the St. Winoc and Hondschoote "crowns" to protect the eastern and northern access to the city, respectively. The medieval walls, including the Neckerstor and the gate of Bierne were reinforced. The cumulated length of the city walls is 5,300 m.
Inside the fortifications, the Square Tower belonging to the former St. Winoc abbey was reinforced in the 14th century. The Pointed Tower was built beside the old tower in 1812. The two towers were used as a seamark by seamen approaching the port of Dunkirk. The abbey was destroyed during the French Revolution but its library was preserved, including 72 manuscripts from the 12th-14th centuries, 12 incunabula and 6,980 printed books.

A pawnshop was founded in Bergues in 1630 by Wencenslas Coebergher (1557-1634), a painter, architect, economist and engineer who contributed to the draining of the swamps in the region. The pawnshop was closed in 1848 and houses today the municipal museum, whose masterpiece is a painting by Georges de la Tour (17th century).
Like most Flemish towns, Bergues was granted municipal rights in the 16th century and built a belfey to symbolize the municipal independence. The belfry was dynamited by the Germans in 1944 and rebuilt in 1961 by Paul Gelis, who kept its original shape but simplified the decoration. Like most of the houses of the old town, the belfry is made of ochre-yellow bricks called "sand bricks". It is surmounted by a Flemish lion, which watches the Place de la République from 54 m. The belfey houses a peal of 50 bells, weighing 6,500 kg, which is played every Monday at 11:00 during the market.
The facade of the town hall is decorated with a bust of Lamartine, the poet and politician who saved the French Tricolor flag in 1848. Lamartine, whose brother-in-law was from the neighbouring town of Hondschoote, was Representative of Bergues from 1833 to 1839.

Bergues is famous for its cheese and also for its sausage. In 1625, a Basque pork butcher from Irun married a Flemish woman from Bergues and settled in the city. The man, called Desmadryl (probably a deformation of his original name), is also said to have repair the belfry.
The Desmadryl pork butchery is located on the main square of the city since 1772. In the past, it was known as the Peulmut shop, because the old Adolphe Desmadry used to sit by the window on the first floor of the shop. The old man wore a nightcap, in Flemish a peulmuts.
In the 1960s, Jules Leys-Desmadry, the last pork butcher from the Desmadry family, ceded the secrete recipe of the genuine Bergues sausage to Michel Helé, who was recently succeded by Hervé Vermeersch. On Carnival's day, the Mayor of Bergues stands on the balcony of the city hall and throws down Bergues sausage and cheese to the enthusiastic crowd.

Ivan Sache, 10 April 2004

Flag of Bergues

The flag of Bergues, hoisted over several shops ibn the town, is a square banner of the municipal arms, "Per pale, 1. Argent a lion sable langued gules, 2. Argent a fess sable a canton or a lion sable a border gules".

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 10 April 2004

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