a jewel of architecture and nature in the Eau Noire Valley


On the border between Basse Fagne and the Ardennes Thiérache, this village is built in the Eau Noire valley and surrounded by hills and limestone plateaus. Its natural curiosities are of exceptional tourist and scientific interest.

By Florence Pirard / Photos Guy Focant and Vincent Rocher

Nismes is a village in the entity Viroinval, in the province of Namur. Since 1977, it has housed the administrative center of the city, in Château Licot. This old Maugré house also included smithies and ovens. From 1864 to 1890, major transformations were carried out by Auguste Licot, co-founder of the La Providence factories. In 1923 the estate was bought by the municipality, and restored in 1964. Of the old state, only part of the 18th century wall is left in the southwest and in front of the entrance a stone dated “Anno 1736” …

The village, built mainly of limestone, was very early part of the domain of the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It was then ceded to the King of France and integrated into the county of Hainaut in 996. Until the end of the Ancien Régime, Nismes was dependent on the castle of Couvin, which was subject to the Principality of Liège. The local economy was heavily dependent on wood. Until the first part of the 20th century, there were wooden shoemakers, charcoal makers and bark preparers for the tannery. The iron industry was also particularly important there, as the existence of several smithies has been attested since 1451.

Licot castle seen from the sky. © Vincent Rocher

In addition to the classified natural areas, the village includes several buildings classified as monuments.

The chapel of Saint-Roch. Ruling against the plague, Saint Roch is very popular in the region. A cemetery reserved for the victims of the plague once lay away from the village of Nismes. It was within this burial complex that the chapel was built in 1626. Although the sanctuary was originally composed of a short two-span nave and a three-sided chancel, the nave was slightly enlarged in the 19th century by the addition of a façade and a small tower. Inside is a painted wooden altar in Renaissance style, consecrated in 1630. It is decorated with a canvas representing the Ascension, probably from the same period, and a Regency-Louis XV-style tabernacle. The chapel also houses a beautiful popular Christ, from the 13th or 14th century, and chairs from the 17th century. Against the choir was buried Gille Francque’s tombstone, which died in 1627. The chapel has been built as a monument since 1979.

St. Joseph’s Chapel. Situated in the shade of an old linden tree and built as a monument since 1979, it was built in the late 17th century. The village of Nismes was at that time part of the castellany of Couvin, an area covered by the Principality of Liège and managed by a dean who resided in Couvin. In Nismes, another agent of the prince, the recipient, was responsible for collecting taxes. The chapel has preserved a tabernacle in polychrome wood, in baroque style, modern with its construction.

The bailiffs. They had their residence in Nismes, on the heights of the village, in a place called Pont d’Avignon. After the old castle was destroyed in 1554 during the wars waged by Charles V against the King of France Henry II, the following bailiffs settled at the foot of the hill in an impressive house that is still visible. After the destruction of the castral complex, the place is occupied by a parish church, dedicated to Saint Lambert, and by its fortified cemetery. Closed in 1845, the church was demolished in 1890.

Today, only the ruins of these two buildings remain, testifying to Nisme’s past. These have been classified as a monument since 1936. Archaeological excavations have placed the construction of the sanctuary in the 16th and 17th centuries. The ships are still visible thanks to the presence of some Tuscan columns still standing, and important parts of the wall from the apse have also been preserved. After the destruction of the castle complex, the bailiffs moved into a new building, the maison des bailiffs, at the foot of the castle and the old church.

Nismes and Viroinval, Nismes mill
The Nismes mill comes to life thanks to its water wheel, which produces electricity for public buildings. © Vincent Rocher

This impressive building has the shape of a tall square in blue stone and brick, built towards the end of the 16th century or in the beginning of the 17th century, on the foundation of an older core. The bailiff’s house rises on two floors and is open at the rear by three bays. The long facade along the street was redesigned in the 18th century by opening new windows and adding skylights to the roof. The complex was restored from 2001 to install the town planning houses and the Viroin-Hermeton nature park as well as since 2012 the tourist office services. The bailiff’s house has been built as a monument since 1976.

Bivort Castle. Certain construction phases can be linked to Jeanne-Thérèse Baillet, who married Nicolas Gaye in 1680, then to her son-in-law Michel Dehalle, blacksmith and slate maker. The building then passed to the Bivort family in 1771. This set of rubble, built between the 16th and 18th centuries, gets the look of a classic manor house, especially by its two wings, arranged in a U.

In Nismes - Viroinval, the house of La Saudée
Bivort Castle. © Vincent_Rocher

Magical and impressive

This natural place with an unusual name is one of the geographical peculiarities found in Wallonia. Fondry des Chiens is typical of Calestienne, a natural region composed of limestone from the Devonian (ca. 375 million years BC), which forms a strip 3 to 5 km wide between the Ardennes and the Famenne. .

This area has a large number of karst phenomena, including a large number of gorges, called fondrys, because iron ore would have been mined there. Among the landscapes born of this geological formation is the Fondry des Chiens. There are cavities with very steep walls and sometimes a few dozen meters deep that pierce the rocky surface of the plateaus of the Nismes region. They are called local abannets. According to historians, this expression from the verb will banish, to avoid, because of the danger they posed to the crews. Fondry des Chiens is the most impressive example with its depth of 20 m.

Nismes - Viroinval: dog funds
The Dog’s Fondry. © Guy Focant

It is also the most visited. According to local legend, the bodies of animals – including dogs – were once thrown into the gaping hole, hence the name of the place. The very ancient gorges (called paleo-gorges by geologists) were formed at the end of the primary era by the dissolution of rocks under the influence of acidic water from the Ardennes, during a climate change that became warmer and more humid.

The place, protected, has become a refuge for animal and plant species linked to the morphological singularity of the place, which is therefore of great importance from a biological point of view. Integrated into the European network of biogenetic reserves and the Natura 2000 network, the Fondry des Chiens is surrounded by a limestone lawn of great interest. The vegetation that develops there is adapted to strong sunshine and thin soil. There are species found only in Wallonia in the Viroin Valley, such as narrow-leaved flax, as well as several species of orchids. This abundant and specific flora allows several insects to take up residence on the site: grasshoppers, locusts and grasshoppers neighbors there with other species, such as wall lizards and many birds.

Take a walk in the nature areas

Several hikes allow for the discovery of remarkable places. Abannets, large cavities scattered on the surface of the limestone plateaus, are particularly numerous in the area of ​​Nisme, especially on the plateau of the same name. The largest are called fondrys, and the most spectacular are the Fondry des Chiens, oblong in shape, and the Matricolo, a huge conical depression.
Le Mousty is a limestone hill, wooded with pine and copper, which dominates the village
west. At the foot of this hill, part of the Eau Noire, which crashed into Petigny while digging Neptune’s caves, comes to light not far from the bailiff’s house. west of the village,
the path around the cemetery leads to the Matricolo. This abannet was until the end of the 19th century an iron ore mining site. The rock outcrop of La Roche trouée has several archeological sites. At the border of the territory of Nismes, Olloy and Dourbes, Roche aux Faucons, a 60 m high peak, observes Viroin.

Organize your visit

The Viroin-Hermeton Nature Park extends over the municipalities of Viroinval, Philippeville and Couvin over an area of ​​more than 48,000 ha. It presents a rich selection of reliefs, landscapes, fauna and flora. Experience this prestigious heritage by walking on the many kilometers of marked trails, filled with museums and remarkable places. Archeology, history, architecture, regional folklore and of course nature will surprise you at every trip! In summer, guided tours of the nature park are arranged. Many walks, pedestrians and cyclists, have been marked by Viroinval tourist office.

Nature park house
Rue d’Avignon 1 i 5670 Nismes
060 39 17 90 – secretariat@pnvh.bewww.pnvh.be
Viroinval tourist office
Rue Vieille Eglise 5 i 5670 Nismes
060 31 16 35 – tourisme.viroinval@skynet.be www.viroinval.be

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