Béthune belfry has been used as a watchtower and a prison, and is primarily an ideal place for keeping close watch over the surrounding countryside and raising the alarm in the event of danger. Back then, of course, since there is no risk nowadays, when visitors to Béthune are enchanted by this monument in the middle of the main square.
A bit of history
In 1388, after the destruction of the first, wooden belfry (in the middle of the Hundred Years War), a second, more robust belfry was built from sandstone. In 1437 a third storey was added, as was a set of six bells in 1546, and then a dragon on the campanile in 1564. But it was bombed in 1914. It was clearly unthinkable to leave the symbol of the town in such a state, and in 1931 the belfry was fully restored, and twenty years later its set of 35 bells was still intact. Four large dials tell the time at the very top of the monument. They are suspended just above the parapet walkway, which was used by a sentryman as late as 1918.
Visits to the belfry take in four levels, starting in the Salle des échevins (Aldermen’s Room) with its remarkable keystone decorated with a crown, continuing on the second floor with the Salle du guetteur (Sentryman’s Room), and then the bells on the third floor. If you want to admire the uninterrupted views out across Flanders to the West and the slag heaps and the Nœux-les-Mines dry ski slope to the East then you have to climb the belfry's hundred thirty-three steps. It's quite an effort but well worth it.
The belfry placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List
On 15 July 2005 the Belfry was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, enabling Béthune to take its place in the universal history of mankind alongside 22 other belfries in the Nord - Pas-de-Calais and the Somme, a worthy consecration for this central feature of life in Béthune.
It's well worth visiting the Grand’ Place in Béthune at nightfall to discover the illuminations created by Dutch artist Krijn de Koning.
Béthune-Bruay Tourist Office organises guided visits to hear all the anecdotes about the site:
- During the school holiday period in February and October: Wednesdays and Saturdays at 3 PM
- During the Christmas market: Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3 PM
- During the Easter school holidays: Wednesdays at 3 PM, and Saturdays and Sundays at 3 PM and 4 PM
- In May, June, and September: Wednesdays at 3 PM, and Saturdays, Sundays, and bank holidays at 3 PM and 4 PM
- In July and August: every day at 3 PM, and Saturdays, Sundays, and bank holidays at 3 PM and 4 PM
Full rate: €3.50 - Reduced rate: €2.50 - Free for under-6s.