The city of Tournai was in mourning this weekend as works began to “deconstruct” the triple arches of the Pont des Trous, the medieval bridge which crosses the river Escaut.
The bridge over the river Scheldt – known in French as the Escaut – was originally constructed in the 13th century, then partially reconstructed in the 20th century to repair damage suffered during the Second World War by British bombardment. That was also the occasion to enlarge and widen the central arch, to allow the passage of barges (photo). Now all three arches, emblematic of the city and typical of medieval architecture, are to disappear for a similar reason – to allow the passage of larger ships through the city.
The name of the bridge – Pont des Trous or Bridge of Holes – refers specifically to the three arches
The deconstruction forms part of the Seine-Scheldt plan, which would allow millions of tonnes of freight to be carried by waterway all the way from the Seine as far as the port of Antwerp and from there to the world. The plan involves widening the Scheldt at Tournai to allow the passage of ships up to 2,000 tonnes – something currently impossible because of the bridge.
This morning many Tournai residents were present for the start of the works. “We are watching a piece of our heritage literally falling in the water,” one woman told the RTBF.
“We’ve known the bridge our whole lives,” said another. “Things will never be the same again. Never again our Pont des Trous.”
An unexpected witness to the end of the bridge as the people of Tournai know it was federal energy minister Marie Christine Marghem, herself a Tournaisienne, Marghem posted a message on her personal Facebook page in which she said she had been at the scene since break of day, before attacking local politicians in vitriolic terms the untranslatable insult pisse-froid) and the procedure, or lack of it, which led to at “attack” on a listed monument without a patrimonial enquiry.
“In this whole case, not one word of sympathy has been address to the population who have long and powerfully expressed their love for their roots, their identity and their history,” she wrote.
Once the arches have been removed, the bridge will be given a whole new look, though no-one yet knows what that will be. The towers at either side, meanwhile, are listed and cannot be touched, although they will be cleaned up.