Last modified: 2008-04-26 by ivan sache
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Municipal flag of Viroinval - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 23 May 2005
The municipality of Viroinval (5,747 inhabitants on 1 January 2007, 12,091 ha) is located in the massif of Ardenne, near the border with France. The municipality of Viroinval was formed in 1976 by the merging of the former municipalities of Dourbes, Le Mesnil, Mazée, Nismes, Oignies-en-Thiérache, Olloy-sur-Viroin, Treignes and Vierves-sur-Viroin. The municipality is named after the river Viroin, made of the confluency, near Dourbes, of the Eau Noire (Black Water), watering Nismes, and the Eau Blanche (White Water); the Viroin flows into the Meuse in Vireux (France).
According to the French Institut Géographique National, Viroinval was the geographical center of the pre-2004 European Union. Located in Oignies-en-Thiérache;, the exact center of the European Union is symbolized by a star made of granite cobblestones. The "Cathedral of Light", made of glass by Bernard Tirtiaux, stands in the middle of the star. Each ray of the star represents a country and its length is proportional to its year of entrance into the European Union.
De Vuyst claims, without quoting any source, that the valley of Viroin belonged to the Counts of Hainaut and that Count Baudouin II sold it to the Prince Bishop of Liège in 1096 to get money for the Crusade.
The site of Dourbes (in Walloon, Daupe) has been settled since the Prehistoric times. The limestone spur called Roche de Lomme or Roche à l'Homme (The Man's rock) was settled by the Neolithic men, the Romans, the Celts and in the Middle Ages. Remains of a big square watch tower from the Roman times have been found; the purpose of the tower
was most probably the watching of a Roman way following the Virton.
Around the IVth century, tribes from beyond the Rhine seem to have
settled in the valley and mixed with the local population. The Roman
fortress also contributed to the formation of the administrative
division called pagus lomensis or pagus lomacensis, named after the rock and the probable origin of most of the later County of Namur.
In 869, Dourbes belonged to the abbey of Lobbes. The local ruling family emerged in the XIth century: Frédéric de Dourbes is listed among the witnesses in the chart granted by Bishop Théoduin to the abbey of Florennes. Nothing more is known on the village until the XIIIth century, when it was divided into two domains, Dourbes-le-Val and Dourbes-le-Mont. The two domains remained separated until 1794 and there were often conflicts for the definition of their limits.
Dourbes-le-Val belonged to the Principality of Liège and was owned by Yolande de Rumigny, Lady of Hierges; later owners of the domains were the Jauche, Berlaymont, Egmont, Pignatelli and Arenberg families. Dourbes-le-Mont belonged to the County of Namur; its successive owners were the Chimay (XIIIth century), Rèves (XIVth century), Haccourt (XVIth century) and Renesse de Warfusée families. In 1617, René de Renesse sold the domain to Guillaume de Louvrex, a merchant of Liège, to purchase the domain of Gaesbeek, in Brabant. In 1741, Gérard de Mock, Louvrex' grand son, sold the domain to Charles-Raymond de Baillet, lord of Merlimont. The domain was later purchased by the lord of Vierves and ceded on 24 February 1763 to Bonaventure Robert, priest in Treignes, as the paiement of a debt. Robert was granted the title of lord of Dourbes-le-Mont in 1787. The inhabitants were not happy with their lord, which was expelled during the French Revolution. The two domains lived from poor agriculture and mostly from extraction of iron (from the XVIth century to 1850), marble and coal (from the XVIIIth century onwards). A tannery, still active, was founded in the XIXth century.
Dourbes was burnt down by the Germans during the First World War. In 1956, the Royal Institute of Meteorology set up in Dourbes the Center for Earth Physics to study geomagnetism.
Mazée is mentioned since the XIIth century, when it probably belonged to the Agimont family. The village was later transfered to the abbey of Florennes; the exact date of the transfer is unknown, since the deed "signed" in 1107 by Henry, Duke of Lorraine, is a forgery. However, a Bull signed by Pope Alexander III in 1180 and confirmed by Pope Clement III in 1188 says that the church and the mill of Mazée belonged to Florennes (Maseias cum ecclesia sancte marie, molendino et culturis, silvis et patris). Some authors claim that Mazée was granted a chart in 1442; however, the inhabitants still had to pay taxes to the Abbot of Florennes and to house and dress him when he visited Mazée. The feudal system was suppressed in 1792.
Nismes developed near a reappearance of the river Eau Noire, which disappears into the Neptune's Cave. The Celts considered the
reappearance as a sacred source, whose fresh water never froze nor
dried up; they called the place Nem, later Latinized as Nemaus. The
Bailiff's house, the ancient fortified church and the presbytery were
built near the source. A brewery used the water of the source for 500
years. The reappearance is today a secondary arm of the Eau Noire. When
cartographers sent by Louis XIV came to Nismes, they were told that the
source was called reappearance of Avignon, after the name of a local
lord; the cartographers misunderstood and called the source the
reappearance of the bridge of Avignon, as a reference to the famous St.
Bénézet's bridge in the papal town of Avignon.
Nismes is dominated by a spur called Roche Trouée, lit. the drilled rock. There is indeed a big hole in the surface of the spur, as well as several caves drilled by water into the limestone. Some of this caves were settled in the Upper Paleolithic, 20,000 to 40,000 years ago. A tomb from the Neolithic, 4,000 year old, was also excavated, as well as a Roman camp settled from 230 to 430. Today, the only inhabitants of the caves are bats, which overwinter there. The calcicolous lawns have a very diverse flora and fauna.
The only karstic landscapes in Belgium are found in the valley of Viroin. The abysses drilled by water are called locally fondry. Some of them, like the fondry des chiens (dogs' abyss) are more than 20 m in depth.
Olloy-sur-Viron (Oloes in 1243, Auloys in 1258, Olois, Oloir, Oloys, Oloy in 1343, 1558, 1603; in Walloon, Aulwe) is located on the right
bank of the Viroin. The site has been settled since the Prehistoric
times; a Roman cemetary, with enameled fibula and coins, was excavated
in Olloy. In the Middle Ages, Olloy was part of the domain of Hierges
in the Duchy of Bouillon, which was sold to the Prince-Bishop of Liège in 1096 by Godefrey de Bouillon when he went on Crusade. Until the French Revolution, Olloy was one of the nine villages of the Baronny of Hierges (Hierges, Vaucelles, Ham-sur-Meuse, Aubrives, Niverlée, Olloy, Gimnée, Doische and Foische). The lords of Hierges owned several other domains and did not live in Hierges, which was managed by a provost. In
1385, Gilles de Jauche allowed the villagers to hunt in the woods with
dogs. They also had to watch the castle of Hierges; in 1606, they
refused to protect the castle against "rebels" and were severely
fined by the provost. The same year, they were granted by Florent de
Berlaymont a chart known as the chart of Olloy, which regulated the
rights of pasture and hunting in the woods and the settlement of new
The Baronny of Hierges was suppressed by the Borders' Treaty signed on 24 May 1772 by the King of France and the Prince-Bishop of Liège: Hierges, Ham, Aubrives and a part of Foisches were ceded to France, whereas the rest of the former Baronny remained to Liège.
Treignes is famous for its Gallo-Roman villa, discovered in 1979 and excavated since March 1980. The villa was probably built under the
Flavian emperors (69-96) and burnt accidentally in the IInd century;
it was later rebuilt and resettled at least until the third quarter of
the IVth century. A Gallo-roman cemetary was found on the left bank of
the Viroin, including 175 tombs with a rich furniture and coins dated
from Nero (Ist century) to Constantine the Great (IVth century).
In the Middle Ages, Treignies was part of the domain of the Rumigny family and belonged to the abbey of Florennes; in the XIIIth century, Treignies was incorporated into the domain of Pesche, with a chart granted in 1289 by Thibault de Florennes. In the XIVth century, Treignes was one of the six villages forming the Baronny of Vierves (Vierves, Oignies, Le Mesnil, Treignes, Matagne-la-Petite and Matagne-la-Grande).
Vierves-sur-Viroin is mostly known for its former mine of baritine (BaSO4). It was also the center of an important feudal domain, which became a Baronny in the XVth century. The name of Vierves might come from "Virva", the Latin form of the name of the river Viroin. Nothing is known on Vierves before the XIth century; older remains found in the neighbouring villages indicate that the site of Vierves was also
probably settled in ther early ages. Guillaume de Vierves is mentioned
in the Chronicle of the Saint-Hubert abbey in 1066; it is not clear if Guillaume's suzereign was the Count of Namur or the Lord of Chimay. The
domain was later transfered to the Principality of Liège, maybe in
1288, but not later than 1314. The first lords of Vierves are only
known by charts quoting them: Milon, end of the XIth century; Gerard,
1147 and 1164; Richer and the Provost Nicolas, end of the XIIth
century; and Alard, beginning of the XIIIth century. In the middle of
the XIIIth century, the domain was jointly owned by the Barbençon and Oignies families; progressively, Brabençon took the complete control of the domain, which was later transfered to the powerful Trazegnies, Fiennes, Gavre and Egmont families. In 1563, Count Lamoral d'Egmont
sold Vierves to Nicolas and Jean Marotte, two blacksmiths of Namur, who
exchanged it for Montigny with Jean de Hamal, lord of Oignies. Henri de
Hamal, lord of Vierves and Oignies, was appointed Great Bailiff of
Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse; the position was hereditary transmitted in the
family until the end of the Principality of Liège. In 1760, Baron
Philippe-Alexandre de Hamal was appointed Great Chamberlain of the
Prince-Bishop of Liège.
The fortified castle of Vierves was used as a fortress until the XVIIth century and efficiently protected the population of Vierves during the troubled periods.
Source: Free University of Brussels website (pages no longer online)
Ivan Sache, 23 May 2005
The municipal flag of Viroinval is red with a white wavy stripe in the
middle and four white diamonds placed horizontally in each of the red
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 5 April 1993 and confirmed by the Executive of the French Community on 3 May 1993, as Rouge à une laize longitudinale ondée blanche accompagnée de huit fusées également blanches, quatre au-dessus et quatre en dessous.
The flag is a banner of the municipal arms. The wavy stripe evidently represents the river Viroin and the eight diamonds probably the eight former municipalities forming Viroinval. A picture of the castle of Vierves, made probably in the XVIIIth century, shows a coat of arms with five diamonds.
Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 23 May 2005