As befits Europe’s largest port, Rotterdam is open to the outside world and his 600,000 inhabitants originate from no less than 160 countries. Half the Rotterdam people are from foreign origins and a quarter of them are Moslems. A bustling, working city – a Dutch saying goes: “You spend In Amsterdam, you live in The Hague, you work in Rotterdam” - the big port attracted countless immigration waves. Rotterdam boasts one of the main Cap Verde communities in Europe and the first West-Indian community in Holland. After times of trouble, Rotterdam realised what a wealth this diversity was and elected the first foreign-born mayor in the country, Ahmed Aboutaleb, a Moroccan-born former journalist.
Erasmus’s home-town was especially suited to welcome the Tour, as the Renaissance humanist writer enlightened in his lifetime most European countries, contributing to this Republic of Letters which appeared in his time and vastly thanks to him. The illegitimate son of a priest and a doctor’s daughter, Erasmus received priesthood in 1492. He then perfected his education in Paris and in England, where he became close to Thomas More. Appointed doctor in theology in Bologna in 1506, he ended up in Basel, publishing most of his works there, before settling in Louvain and Anderlecht, from where he taught and wrote letters to most of the world’s greats. Faithful to Catholicism, a faith he defended against Luther, he moved a last time to Freiburg before returning to Basel, where he died in 1536. His journey around Europe inspired the Erasmus programme, which nowadays allows students to travel to universities throughout the EU. One of his motto was: “The whole world is everybody’s homeland”.
France’s hero Raymond Poulidor was never so close to holding the yellow jersey than in the 1973 prologue in Scheveningen since he only missed victory in the Tour opener by.07 seconds. The 7.7-kms time-trial went to Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk, who had the joy and pride to wear it on his home roads in the afternoon’s half-stage. It was Zoetemelk’s first of nine stage victories. In the afternoon, the 84-km ride nearly changed the course of the race as Luis Ocana crashed after riding into a dog. The Spaniard escaped unhurt and went on to win the Tour and six stages, in the same merciless fashion as the absent Eddy Merckx. As for Poupou, he crashed in the Portet d’Aspet pass and was forced out. Zoetemelk had to wait seven more years to win the Tour at last.
|12th century||A locality is created near a dam on the river Rotte.|
|1340||Rotterdam obtains from count William IV of Hainaut a town status.|
|1450||Rotterdam becomes the second merchant town in the United Provinces.|
|1866 - 72||Building of the new canal. Population reaches 100,000.|
|1880 - 1900||Building of the ports.|
|1940||On May 14, the Luftwaffe bombs the town and destroys the city centre.|
|1962||Rotterdam becomes the first port in the world.|
|1970||Feyenoord wins the European Cup.|
|2008||Ahmed Aboutaleb becomes the first foreign-born mayor in the Netherlands.|
was inaugurated in 1960 by Princess Beatrix. The concrete tower is 186-metres high with a nine-metre diameter.
Rotterdam boasts 36 Cube Houses standing awkwardly on poles. They were conceived by Dutch architect Piet Blom, a Le Corbusier disciple who wished to leave the area beneath the cubes an open space.
Hofplein fountain goes yellow
The Hofplein fountain, on Rotterdam’s centre square, pours orange coloured water to celebrate victories by the Dutch national soccer team. Feyenoord victories are also chances for fans to bathe and swim in it. During the tour de France stay in town, it will spill yellow water to match the colour of cycling’s most coveted jersey.
A seaside province of the Netherlands, on the Belgian border, Zeeland is composed of six islands or peninsulas and of an isolated part of the country until the construction of the western Scheldt tunnel between Ternuzen and Borsele in 2003.
The huge Delta Works plan made it possible to link the four major islands and peninsulas and to protect lands often located below sea-level. The Delta Works started after the tragic 1953 tidal wave which claimed the lives of 1,850 and left 500,000 homeless. Zeeland was the target of many ambitions throughout history and successively belonged to the counts of Holland and Flanders and briefly to France. Tourism and oyster farming are two of its main activities.
On the confluence of the Maas and the Rhine, the tiny port of Heelvoetsluis was chosen in the 17th century to host the fleet of the Maas admiralty. The port was first fortified in 1655 and trade developed in the same time as the military activities. Waves destroyed a part of the fortifications in 1673. In 1696, Frenchman Puy de l’Espinasse undertook the building of new walls, a task completed by 1705. The walls are intact to this day. The first drydock in Holland was installed here in 1806 by Jan Blaken. The Voorne canal was dug in 1830 and linked Rotterdam to Haringvliet. Unfit for modern navy, Hellevoetsluis declined from the beginning of the 20th century. The trend changed after the WW2 when many Rotterdamers bought houses. It has now become one of the main yachting harbours in the Netherlands.
The first Dutchman ever to win a Tour de France stage hailed from Zeeland, the region ridden by the peloton on its way to Brussels. Middelkamp had never ever seen a mountain when he won in Grenoble in 1936 after coming first at the top of the Galibier on a gearless bike. He later gave up on the Tour because he made much more money in one-day races at home. “You don’t live on glory and honour,” he used to say. He became world champion in 1947 in Reims and left the peloton once and for all in 2005.
The northern part of the Flemish region, the Antwerp Province is, with 1.7 million inhabitants, the most populated in Belgium. It is divided in three districts; Antwerp, Mechelen and Turnhout. Integral part of the Duchy of Brabant from the 13th century the province become Belgian after the 1830 Revolution. Around the port of Antwerp, which remains the economic heart of the province, industry is extremely diversified from chemicals to textile, metallurgy and paper mills and of course the famous diamond merchants.
On May 16, 1940, violent fighting took place in Kapelle between the German army and French motorised units called for help by the Dutch. The following day, 65 French soldiers were buried by the population. After the war, all the French soldiers killed in the Netherlands were regrouped in Kapelle. Ten years to the day after the Kapelle battle, the French cemetery was inaugurated. It is the last home of 217 French military, 20 Moroccans fallen under the French flag and one Belgian. Kapelle is also the birthplace of Dutch Prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende.
Antwerp is the most populated town in Belgium. It has always drawn its wealth from its port, the second biggest in Europe, nested in the mouth of the river Scheldt. It has long been considered the world capital of diamond but in recent years, fashion designers have almost eclipsed diamond cutters. Its inhabitants are sometimes called Sinjoren – from the Spanish senior – a reminder that the town was for long rocked by bitter fighting between Spanish Catholics and Protestants. Between the 15th and the 16th century, Antwerp simply beceme Europe’s biggest city thanks to its strategic position, its port and its commercial institutions. Under Spain’s rule from 1585, it lost its prominence as the Protestant elite emigrated. The Belgian evolution and the colonisation of Congo gave Antwerp a second youth in the 19th century. Antwerp is sometimes dubbed t’Stadt (the town) or Koekenstad (the cookies town) because of the famous koffiekoeken (coffee cookies), which are Antwerp’s main speciality. The Grand-Place and its town hall are, along with the cathedral, the town’s most visited sites.
One of the world’s most famous cycling tracks made Antwerp a hot spot for Six Days racing while the 1920 Olympics marked the port’s love for sport.
Mechelen was evangelised in the 8th century by St Rumbold, an Irish monk whose feats and miracles are described on panels in the cathedral. Authority on the town went from the Prince-bishops of Liege to the Counts of Flanders and the Dukes of Burgundy (14th to 15th century). Already a prosperous town thanks to its position on the river Dijle, Mechelen reached its peak in the early 16th century when Margaret of Austria, Charles V’s aunt, ruled the Netherlands and lived in the city.
In1835, the first public railway on the continent linked Mechelen and Brussels.
Many monuments evoke the town’s past splendour like the St Rumbold cathedral, the see of the Mechelen-Brussel bishop, and three former town halls.
Mechelen people are sometimes called “moon extinguishers” because of a legend according to which a citizen of the town one day alerted the population that a fire was raging while it was just moonlight reflecting on the walls of the cathedral.
A football town (FC Mechelen won the 1988 Cup winners Cup), it is also a cycling land which hosted several stages of the Tour of Belgium and the Tour of Limburg.
Vlaams Brabant was created in 1995 from the split of the Brabant province between its Flemish and Walloon entities while Brussels lies in the very middle of the Vlaams Brabant. A major part of the province is a residential zone strongly linked to Brussels, while the Eastern part revolves around the provincial capital of Leuven. Language is a crucial issue in the province, known for its breweries.
Brussels Parcours BD (Comics Tour) consists in 30 wall paintings conceived or inspired by the leading Belgian comics authors, and some foreign ones too. On the walls can be seen characters created by Herge, Edgar P. Jacobs, Philippe Geluck, Franquin or Yves Chaland. But Asterix the Gaul can also be spotted on Rue de la Buanderie, not far from cowboy Lucky Luke. The project was launched in 1991 by the Brussels municipality and the Belgan Comics Centre. At first the idea was simply to decorate and ornate a few old city walls or houses but it soon become a way to remind visitors that many famous comics writers were born or worked in Brussels. The idea bloomed and some 30 paintings can now be admired in the town centre. The tour can also be made on a bike thanks to cycling association Pro Velo, who hold group tours starting from Maison des Cyclistes. They last two hours.
It was actually stolen more than once! The first thing you need to know – if you happen to pay a visit to Brussels most famous monument and arguably one of the world’s most famous fountains -, is that the small boy before your eyes is not the original statue ordered by Brussels leaders to sculptor Jerome Duquesnoy in 1619. It was replaced by a copy in 1965, the original being kept in the Broodhuis museum to avoid any damage. Little Julien (it is the young pisser’s other name) has known good and bad days since he was first placed near the Grand Place. It was maimed, kidnapped, replaced. As early as 1628, it was demolished by a drunkard. In 1745, it was nicked by British troops. Two years later, the French detained it too. Its longest absence was in 1817 when it was held by a former French convict named Anotine Lycas and found three months later. Lycas was sentenced to the chain gang for life. You don’t fool around with the Manneken-Pis! Nearer to us, Little Julien was stolen by students in 1963, 1968 and 1978, maimed in 1955, 1957 and 1965 when the vandals only left the legs. But he always returned to urinate for all to see and symbolise Brussels rebel attitude. It is said that he might wear a yellow jersey during the Tour’s stay in town.
Brussels is the foreign town the Tour visited most often as it hosted the race 11 times in the past. While the peloton will celebrate Eddy Merckx’s 65th birthday, another anniversary will go a little unnoticed - that of the first Tour treble, achieved in 1920 by another Brussels rider, Philippe Thys. The Anderlecht-born Thys won in 1913, 1914 and 1920 and Henri Desgrange was convinced he would have won many more without WW1. It took 35 years for Louison Bobet to repeat the feat. A quiet, diminutive tactician who would sleep with his bike for fear of sabotage, Thys is also the subject of historical controversy. While it is accepted that Eugene Christophe wore the first yellow jersey in 1919, the Belgian claimed he had done the same before the war on a suggestion by his team manager, who said the Tour leader should be distinguished by a special jersey. Does the first yellow jersey belong to Brussels? In any case, the Belgian capital can boast the most yellow jerseys won by its inhabitants, Merckx and Thys totalling eight victories between them. Plano, Texas, is next on seven.
|580||A chapel is built on a hill overlooking the river Senne.|
|979||Saint Gudula relics are transferred in the chapel. The town is founded.|
|1000||The counts of Leuven seize power in town. Two centuries later, they become Dukes of Brabant.|
|1430||Brussels becomes the capital of Burgundian Netherlands.|
|1516||Charles V is crowned King of Spain in Saint Gudula cathedral. Four years later, he becomes emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.|
|1695||Brussels is bombed by the French troops of Louis XIV, who inflict on the town the most serious damages in its history.|
|1830||The Belgian Revolution leads Leopold 1 to the Belgian throne in 1831.|
|1935 and 1958||World fairs. The Atomium is built in 1958.|
|1958||Brussels hosts the European parliament.|
|1989||Creation of the Brussels capital region.|
Renowned for its ornamental beauty, it is lined by the corporation houses, the Town Hall and the Maison du Roi or Broodhuis (King’s House). Its widely considered – by Victor Hugo among others -, as one of the most beautiful squares in the world.
It became a symbol of Brussels since its construction for the 1958 World Fair. Designed by André Waterkeyn, it is 102-metres (335 ft) tall, with nine steel spheres connected so that the whole forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times.