Under repair

It’s been closed for years and will be closed for many more. But you can still see some of the World Heritage Site of Tournai Cathedral.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Notre-Dame Cathedral, Tournai, Belgium

My bag rattles as I pull it along the cobblestones.

It actually has straps that I can use to put it on my back but, because it also has wheels and I handle, I am usually to lazy to use them. Hence the situation where I am now dragging it through the streets.

I’m on my way to see the main cathedral in Tournai, here in Belgium. I’m on quite a tight schedule for this trip, though, so I’m just stopping here on my way from one city to another.

Normally I wouldn’t turn up at a church, lugging a big full of dirty clothes with me, but this seemed like the best way to approach the day when I set off this morning.

Tournai Cathedral, Belgium

As it turns out, perhaps I should have been a bit more prepared. After hauling the bag from the train station to the middle of the city, what do I find? That the cathedral is closed!

I’m not sure what good any advance planning would have been, though. I couldn’t have changed my plans slightly to arrive on a different day or at a better time.

The cathedral in Tournai has been closed for ten years and will be closed for many more.

Tournai Cathedral, Belgium

It’s all because of the repair and restoration work that’s going on inside.

The building – known officially as the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Tournai – is pretty old. The majority of it was built in several stages during the 12th and 13th centuries.

It has some Romanesque elements but also sections that are in the Gothic style. This combination gives it a dramatic appearance from the outside.

The most striking aspect of the building from the outside are the five towers that rise up from the transept. They reach a height of just over 80 metres.

Closing the building can’t stop me from seeing them and they are impressive.

Tournai Cathedral, Belgium

But the towers are not the focus of the restoration work.

The cathedral was damaged during a tornado in 1999 and, when experts came in to assess the damage, they actually found all sorts of problems that were already there – mainly underlying structural problems that were going to need some major work!!

Tournai Cathedral, Belgium

Some initial work was done almost immediately but a masterplan was also developed to do a much more comprehensive restoration.

This started in 2006 and includes stabilisation of the Gothic choir, replacement of the roof, cleaning of the stone walls, and restoration of the stained-glass windows.

Tournai Cathedral, Belgium

When I arrive, I find that there is a small door open on the opposite side of the cathedral to where I’ve approached from. I go through and leave my bag just inside the entrance.

I am in a chapel that, at first, seems quite large and I start to think that maybe I will be able to see more than I thought.

It’s only when I go through a little passageway to the main section of the church that I realise what a small proportion of the building the chapel is.

Tournai Cathedral, Belgium

Here is where all the work is happening. The passageway is covered with scaffolding and boards and, by peeking through some cracks, I can see up to the ceiling and across to some of the windows.

There’s an enormous space in there that, when open, must be quite breathtaking. It’s a pity that they’ve decided to hide it from view rather than give visitors an opportunity to see the restoration work that’s going on.

Tournai Cathedral, Belgium

As you probably know by now, I am on a mission to see every World Heritage Site and I like to cross them off the list on my blog when I’ve done them.

I considered not including the Tournai Cathedral as somewhere I’ve visited because I didn’t really get to see all the interiors properly. However, I’ve decided that, on balance, I have seen enough.

I’ve seen it all from the outside, for instance, and been inside to get a sense of the scale and see some glimpses.

Tournai Cathedral, Belgium

I will put in on my unofficial list to come back and visit again when I am in the area and it is open. However, at this rate, that could be many more years away!


This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

2 thoughts on “Under repair”

  1. Funny how these things work with WHS- travellers. When can I count it? Do I really need to see the inside? Do I really need to see all of its components? What percatage is enough?

    Very recognizable. I know I’m in the game myself.

    For me I count it whenever I made the trip to see it and actually saw a bit of the inscribed area. It works most of the times. But there are always special ones…

    I did count Tournai though.

  2. possible silly question. So, I assume you came in by train, does the train not have lockers or left luggage? (Tournai station) Only asking because I would like to make a pit stop in Tournai but with a a child and don’t think I can drag luggage and a 5 year old around at the same time.


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