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Kortrijk started as a Gallo-Roman town, called Cortoriacum, at a crossroads near the Leie River and two Roman roads.
The city is often referred to as the City of the Golden Spurs, in memory of the Battle of Courtrai against the French royal army on 11 July 1302, which is now a public holiday in Flanders.
During the Middle Ages, the town boomed thanks to the flax and wool trade with France and England and became one of the largest and wealthiest cities in Flanders.
The religious turmoil of the 16th century started a long period of severe economic crisis, poverty and warfare. Indeed, during the Reformation the Low Countries allied against the Catholic Spanish rulers. While the North (today’s Netherlands) was able to become independent, the South (roughly today’s Belgium) was brought back under the reign of the Spanish, causing most merchants, workers and artisans to flee to the North and to England.
After the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era, the textile industry based on flax and the general economy of the city prospered again.
In 1820 the Treaty of Kortrijk was signed, which laid out the current borders between France and Belgium. A large part of historic Flanders went definitively to France.
Throughout the 19th and first half of the 20th century, Kortrijk became the centre of a flax industry, which was the most important economic activity in the south of West-Flanders.
Kortrijk was heavily bombed in the summer of 1917, but even more damaged by the allied bombing in 1944. The city was an important railway hub for the German army and for this reason it was the target of several allied air strikes.
On 21 July 1944 (the Belgian National Day) around 300 Avro Lancasters dropped over 5,000 bombs on the city centre. Many historical buildings on the central square, as well as the old railway station, were destroyed. Fortunately, the Beguinage survived and has been restored beautifully, as we will see during the guided city walk.
In the 1960s the flax sector experienced a major crisis but the region around Kortrijk was able to redirect its textile industries quite successfully.
Realising that the old tale would be lost, the National Flax Museum opened its doors in 1982. We will visit the current Textile Museum, which tells the story of flax and the Golden Leie River.
Today, Kortrijk is the largest city in southern West-Flanders, a prosperous region reputed for its spirit of entrepreneurship. Most of the historical city centre is a pedestrian area with lots of shops and a covered shopping mall, as well as many restaurants and bars.
Lunch: 12.30 “Damast” at Textile Museum. Main course,drink and coffee.
from Brussels Groot-Bijgaarden: 1 hour 85 km E40 to Gent→E17 to Kortrijk→Exit 3 Kortrijk Oost From Antwerpen Kennedy Tunnel: 1 hour 95 km E17 for 93 km→exit 3, Kortrijk Oost