Town in Belgium
, province of Namur
), population 20 000 or so.
The town lies in a strategic location at the junction of the old Roman road from Gaul (fording the Sambre near Charleroi) to Aachen and the northern fringes of the Roman empire, and the old wool route south from Brussels, Flanders (and the ports for England) to Italy. It was originally part of the Duchy of Brabant but was finally ceded to the County of Namur after much to-ing and froing (and burning down).
Apart from these local disputes, its strategic position means that most armies worth a mention have passed through at one time or another. As well as the legionnaires on their way up to fight Arminius, the Spanish beat the Dutch here in the one of the latter's wars of independence, while the right wing of the French army under Marshal Grouchy spent the night here between the battles of Ligny and Waterloo (which they subsequently failed to get to). In May 1940, crack French and Moroccan troops fought the advancing 9th Panzer division to a standstill here (whilst being outflanked in the Ardennes, unfortunately), and the town was liberated by the US Army in September 1944. Given this wealth of passing trade, it is therefore little surprise that the main roads south of the town are something of a rural red light district, now serving the reps and lorry drivers who pass on the E42 and E411 motorways.
For its more legitimate economic raison d'etre, the town was once a centre of cutlery production, but this is now only preserved in a few street names. It is now a centre of agricultural excellence ("agrobiopôle"), with the agronomy faculty of the University of Namur in the former Benedictine abbey and a specialist horticultural school, while proximity to Brussels (25 minutes by train) puts it in the outer edge of the commuter belt. Despite its lively history, it has still got a fair number of ancient buildings and quite a lot of its original town walls. The town has twinning arrangements with Loughborough (UK), Epinal (France) and Skyros (Greece).