A jewel of architecture and nature in the Eau Noire Valley


On the border of Basse Fagne and the Ardennes Thiérache, this village is built in the Eau Noire Valley and surrounded by calcareous hills and plateaus. Its natural curiosity is of exceptional tourist and scientific importance.

By Florence Berard / Photographs by Guy Vucant and Vincent Rocher

Nismes is a village in Viroinval entity, in the province of Namur. Since 1977, it has housed the city’s administrative center, at Château Licot. This old Maugré house also housed son-in-laws and kilns. From 1864 to 1890, major transformations were made by Auguste Licot, co-founder of the La Providence mills. In 1923, the municipality bought the property, and it was restored in 1964. From the old state, only part of the 18th century wall remains in the southwest, and in front of the entrance is a stone dated “Anno 1736” ..

The village, built mainly of limestone, was a very early part of the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Pres. It was then ceded to the King of France and incorporated into the province of Hainaut in 996. Until the end of the Ancien Régime, Nismes relied on the Couvin Castle of the Principality of Liège. The local economy relied heavily on wood. Until the early part of the 20th century, clog makers, charcoal makers, and bark preparers for tanneries were found there. Ironmaking was also particularly important there, as many formations have been proven to exist since 1451.

Likut Castle from the sky. © Vincent Rocher

In addition to classified natural sites, the village includes many buildings classified as monuments.

Saint Roch’s Church. Summoned against the plague, Saint Roch is very popular in the area. A cemetery for plague victims was once located far from the village of Nismis. The chapel in this funerary complex was erected in 1626. Although the structure was initially made up of a short two-story nave and a choir on three sides, the vase was extended slightly in the 19th century by adding a facade and a small tower. Inside is a painted wooden altarpiece in the Renaissance style, consecrated in 1630. It is decorated with a canvas representing the Assumption, probably from the same period, and a tent in the style of the Regency Louis XV. The church also houses a beautiful famous Christ, from the 13th or 14th century, and benches from the 17th century. In front of the choir, the funeral stela is included for Gilles Frank, who died in 1627. The church has been listed as a memorial since 1979.

Saint Joseph’s Chapel. Located in the shade of an old lemon tree and listed as a monument since 1979, it was built at the end of the 17th century. The village of Nismes was at that time part of the Castle of Couvin, an area included in the Principality of Liège and administered by a dean, who resided in Couvin. On Nismes, the other prince’s agent, the receiver, was responsible for collecting the taxes. The church maintains a polychrome wood dwelling, in the Baroque style, contemporary in its construction.

preparers. They resided at Nismus, on the heights of the village, at a site called Pont Avignon. The old castle was destroyed in 1554 during the wars waged by Charles V against King Henry II of France, and the following two miners settled at the foot of the hill, in a majestic house still visible. After the Castral complex was destroyed, the site was occupied by a parish church dedicated to Saint Lambert and its fortified cemetery. The church was demolished in 1845, and it was demolished in 1890.

Today, there are only the ruins of these two buildings, witnesses to Nissim’s past. It has been classified as a monument since 1936. Archaeological excavations have placed the construction of the sanctuary in the XVI-XVII centuries. The naves are still visible, thanks to some still standing Tuscan columns, and important sections of the apse wall have also been preserved. After the Castral complex was destroyed, the bailiffs moved to a new building, the bailiffs’ house, at the foot of the palace and the old church.

Nismes and Viroinval, Nismes Mill
The Nissim Mill comes to life thanks to its stem, which produces electricity for public buildings. © Vincent Rocher

This imposing building takes the form of a high quadrangle of blue stone and brick, built in the late 16th or early 17th century, on the foundations of an older core. The Bailiffs’ house rises on two levels and is open from the back with three openings. The long facade along the street was redesigned in the 18th century by opening new windows and adding skylights in the ceiling. The complex has been restored from 2001 for the installation of urban planning houses and the Viroin-Hermeton Nature Park, as well as since 2012 the services of the Tourist Office. The bailiffs’ house has been listed as a monument since 1976.

Beaufort Castle. Certain stages of construction can be linked to Jeanne-Thérèse Baillet, who married Nicolas Gaye in 1680, and then to her brother-in-law Michel Dehal, a blacksmith and slate maker. The building then passed to the Bivort family in 1771. This group of rubble stones, built between the 16th and 18th centuries, takes the form of a classic manor house, in particular with two wings, arranged in an American motif.

In Nismis-Ferwenvale, the house of La Saudée
Beaufort Castle. © Vincent_Rocher

Charming and impressive

This natural site with an unusual name is one of the geographical anomalies found in Wallonia. The Fondry des Chiens is typical of Calestienne, a natural area consisting of limestone rocks of the Devonian period (about 375 million years before our era) that forms a strip 3 to 5 km wide between the Ardennes and Famenne.

This area contains a large number of karst phenomena including a large number of craters, called fondrys because iron ore could have been extracted there. Among the landscapes born of this geological formation is the Fondry des Chiens. There are hollows with steep walls, sometimes a few tens of meters deep, penetrating the rocky surface of the plateaus in the Nismus region. They are locally called the Abanas. According to historians, the term is derived from the verb “to banish”, “to avoid”, because of the danger they posed to the herds. The Fondry des Chiens is the most impressive example with a depth of 20 meters.

Nismes - Viroinval: Vendre the dog
We know dogs. © Jay Vukant

It is also the most visited. According to local legend, carcasses of animals – including dogs – were dumped into the pit, hence the name of the site. Very old faults (they are called paleogeologists) were formed at the end of the Pliocene by dissolution of rocks under the action of acidic waters from the Ardennes, during climate change, becoming warmer and wetter.

The protected place has become a refuge for animal and plant species associated with the morphological uniqueness of the place, and is therefore of great importance from a biological point of view. The Fondry des Chiens is integrated into the European Network of Bio-Genetic Reserves and into the Natura 2000 network, surrounded by a limestone garden of great importance. The plants that grow there are adapted to strong sunlight and thin soil. There are species found only in Wallonia in the Ferrouin Valley, such as narrow-leaved flax, as well as several types of orchids. These abundant and specific vegetation allow many insects to settle on the site: locusts, grasshoppers and crickets are adjacent with other species, such as the wall lizard and many birds.

Walking in natural sites

Numerous trails allow for the discovery of fascinating sites. Abanas, large hollows scattered on the surface of limestone plateaus, are especially abundant in the Nissim region, especially on the plateau of the same name. The largest are called fondrys, the most spectacular are the Fondry des Chiens, which is elongated in shape, and the Matricolo, which is a wide conical depression.
Le Mousty is a limestone hill, wooded with pine and cop trees, and dominates the village
In the west. At the foot of this hill, a part of Eau Noire appears, which rushed to Petigny while excavating the caves of Neptune, not far from the house of the preparers. West Village
The path around the cemetery leads to the Matriculu. Until the end of the 19th century, this Abana was an iron ore mining site. In the rocky outcrop of La Roche Island there are many archaeological sites. On the borders of the lands of Nessis, Olloy and Dorbes, the Roche aux Faucons, whose height is 60 meters, notes the Viroin.

Organize your visit

The Viroin-Hermeton Nature Park extends over the municipalities of Viroinval, Philippeville and Couvin on an area of ​​more than 48,000 hectares. It presents a rich collection of reliefs, landscapes, animals and plants. Discover this prestigious heritage by hiking marked trails filled with great museums and sites. Archeology, history, architecture, regional folklore and of course nature will surprise you at every turn! Guided tours of the natural park are organized during summer. Several walking, pedestrian and cyclist trails are designated by the Viroinval Tourist Office.

Inon-food organizations
Natural Park House
1 Avignon Street at 5670 Nissim
060 39 17 90 – secretariat@pnvh.bewww.pnvh.be
Tourism Office Viroinval
Vieille Eglise 5 at 5670 Nismes
060 31 16 35 – Tourisme.viroinval@skynet.be www.viroinval.be

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