Liege History Facts and Timeline

(Liege, Wallonia, Belgium)

Few cities in Belgium have as colourful a history as Liege. It was built around a chapel after the murder of a local Bishop turned the site into something of a pilgrimage destination. This led to the creation of a principality ruled by bishop-princes that survived tumultuous 10th-century Europe for the next 800 years.

Always known for their liberal leanings, the Liegeois were leaders of the revolution against Dutch rule and today their city serves as the capital of French-speaking Wallonia.

Pilgrimage Site

When a modest Christian chapel was built along the banks of the Meuse River in the year of 558 AD, the history of Liege truly began. The murder of St. Lambert, the Bishop of Tongeren-Maastricht, at this same chapel in the early years of the 8th century turned the site into a popular pilgrimage place, since Lambert was considered a martyr for Christianity. His successor, Hubertus, enshrined St. Lambert's relics in a basilica that became the core of a new city.

A Rare Principality

In the 10th century, Liege was chosen as the capital of a new principality that was ruled by princely bishops who held both secular and spiritual powers. Its first bishop, Notker, transformed Liege into a centre of intellectual and ecclesiastical study in 985 AD. The principality managed to remain independent for the next 800 years, avoiding the power-hungry Burgundians, as well as the Spanish and the Austrians, who all conquered the region at some stage.

Revolutionary Inclinations

The end of bishop-princes came in 1794, after the locals of Liege were inspired by the French Revolution and ousted the city's last ruler Antoine de Mean. France quickly absorbed the city into its fold and the history of Liege embarked on a new direction.

In 1815, the French lost control of the city to the Dutch under the Congress of Vienna. Dutch rule lasted just 30 years, when the Belgian Revolution established an independent neutral Belgium that incorporated Liege. This event marked the rise of the city as a major industrial centre.

Industrial Powerhouse

The history of Liege has been connected to industry as far back as the 12th century, when coal mining fuelled the economy. When the 19th-century Industrial Revolution swept through Europe, Liege turned to steel, becoming Europe's largest steel making centre. The city's rebellious inclinations resurfaced during this era, as steel workers went on a widespread strike for better working conditions that required several thousand Belgian troops to restore order.

WWI Resistance

During the First World War, the Germans had a hard time breaking through the Belgian defences that were based in Liege, protecting the Meuse Valley. Although their resistance lasted just under a fortnight, the delay was a significant contributing factor causing Germany's French invasion to fail. The Germans returned in WWII and this time they quickly took the city, bombing many of its buildings.

End of Royalty

After WWII came to an end, Liege's history took a different turn by leading the campaign that led to the removal of Belgium's King Leopold III. The king was seen as an ally of the Germans, and when his 'usefulness' came to the forefront of Belgian society, this city was again at the helm.

In the middle of the 20th century, the Liegeois General Federation of Belgian Labour (FGTB) started a massive strike that brought the country to a halt. This strike directly led to the abdication of Leopold's throne. Strikes continued to be a feature of the Liege landscape, often resulting in far more self-destructive results, such as those of the 1960 Winter General Strike.

Today, the city is a blend of historic and modern architecture. Each year, Liege hosts a number of annual international events and enjoys a healthy tourism scene, with its Belgium palaces, imposing churches and noteworthy museums being a highlight for many a visitor.