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Ciney (Municipality, Province of Namur, Belgium)

Last modified: 2019-01-06 by ivan sache
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Flag of Ciney - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 4 June 2005

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Presentation of Ciney

The municipality of Ciney (15,078 inhabitants on 1 January 2007, Cinaciens; 14,757 ha; municipal website), located 25 km south-east of Namur and 15 km north-east of Dinant, is the capital of Condroz, the plateau located between the valleys of the rivers Meuse and Ourthe. The municipality of Ciney is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Ciney, Achêne, Braibant, Chevetogne, Conneux, Leignon, Pessoux, Serinchamps and Sovet.

In the Middle Ages, the merchants from Liège traveling to France took the road Liège-Huy-Dinant, which had been crossing Ciney since the Roman times. There was already an agricultural market in the town, supplied by the farmers of the neighborhood. Since the 11th century, Ciney was the administrative and judiciary capital of the Mairie du Condroz, with jurisdiction on 32 subdivisions (hauteurs); it was also the capital of the Greater Bailiwick of Condroz.
Ciney was located on the border of the Principality of Liège, therefore in a dangerous place; the town was sacked in 1272 during the Cow's War which broke between Liège and Namur. In the beginning of the XVIth century, Ciney was a small fortified town; the downtown was very limited and the town was surrounded with gardens. Crafts usual at that time in the small towns were found in Ciney: two weavers, a roofer, a haberdasher, two brewers, a cobbler, a cartwright and a baker; there were also a lawyer and a sergent from the High Court.
Since Ciney was mostly a rural town, there were no craftmens' guilds but the haberdashers' guild, known as Merchirs du Thour Nostre-Damme de Chiney, mentioned in three documents from the 15th-16th centuries (a Decree from the Prince Bishop of Liège, 31 May 1495; the admission letter for the new member Danevaulx, 1508; privileges confirmation by Prince Bishop Erard de la Marck, 21 September 1420). Merchirs is the old written form of merciers (haberdashers), whereas Thour is the old form for "Territory"; the Notre-Dame Territory was ruled by a Chapter of thirteen Canons. On Ascension Day, the guild elected its Roy (King), who appointed five collaborators among his peers.

In 1450, there were two brewers in Ciney. Less than one century later, in 1538, there were at least ten brewers, who also sold wine, barley beer and mead (locally called miée, probably from miel, "honey"). In the modern times, the following breweries produced beer in Ciney: Mahoux (until 1865), St. Joseph's (1892-1940), St. Roch's (1892-1936), St. Eloi (1927-1937) and St. Gilles (1892-1934). Piconette Street was named after the picons, the sticks used to grow hop. Today, the "Ciney" beer is of international fame.

The oldest official mention of the fairs of Ciney dates back to 15 May 1534, as a tonlieu (tax) record. It seems that the Prince-Bishop of Liège legalized in the 16th century the fairs that had already existed for years. The fairs took place the day after Ascension, on St. Rémy's Day (14 October) and the day after Sts. Jude and Simon's Day (29 October). In 1695, there were five fairs, the three mentioned above and two new ones, which took place the Monday after St. John the Baptist's Day and the Monday before Easter. In 1770, there was a sixth fair, dedicated to the youth and known as foire des Aurbastris.
The fairs of Cinay were still very popular in the 19th century, mostly because there was not tax perceived on the display and sale of goods and cattle. In 1810, the most popular of the fairs took place on 14 April; some 300 horses and 250 bovines, as well as pigs, were sold on that day. Ciney had 242 houses and 1,426 inhabitants in 1830; in 1840, the area of the town was increased and its demographic boom started, along with an increase in the number of fairs. A market for vegetables, fruit, butter, fish and poultry was set up on Tuesday and Friday in 1857. The next year, the railway reached Ciney. The Grand Luxembourg railway was inaugurated in Ciney by King Léopold I on 27 October 1858. The pig's fair was relocated in January 1865 to the upper city. In 1867, there were 16 fairs. At that time, horses were lined up on two kilometers; thousands of German, English, Austrian, French, Dutch, Hungarian, Italian and Belgians horse delaers attended the fair. The railway station was increased in 1890; so was the number of fairs to 19.
Ciney still increased in the beginning of the 20th century; the population was 4,703 in 1900 and 5,263 in 1910. New houses, hotels and stables were built: there were 1,275 houses in 1910 and 1,500 in 1930. The fairs and markets were suppressed during the First World War; trade resumed in 1919 when the British army sold part of its horses and mules in Ciney. The French merchants came back to Ciney in 1921. Another two fairs were set up in 1923, on the first Monday of March and the second Monday of April.

The fairs were suppressed again during the Second World War, but resumed in July 1946. The horse market disappeared in 1947. In the next years, some 6,000 bovines were sold each year. In 1966, a market hall was built by the municipality, close to the former market square. However, the hall was deemed too small in 1976 and a much bigger hall was built in 1977 outside of the town, on the industrial park of Biron. Today, the cattle market of Ciney is the second biggest in Europe after Sancoins; 200,000 bovines are traded each year for a turnover of 1.5 billions euros.
Ciney, with the Center of Zootechny and a College of Agronomy, is the capital of the Blanc-bleu belge (Belgian white-blue, named after the colour of the coat) cattle. The Blanc-bleu belge was bred in Condroz at the end of the 19th century, when local (genetically) heterogeneous cattle was improved by breeding with English shorthorns. Until 1960, it was used for both milk and meat production. Specific breeding programs selected the culard gene (from cul, "bottom"): the culard animals have hypertrophied rear muscles. Blanc-bleu belge represents 45% of the Belgian cattle (1.5 million animals), and is also found, pure or bred, in the north, east and center of France.

The company Les Forges de Ciney was created in 1920. The company had social and industrial aims: local workers were grouped in a modern workshop in order to preserve a two-century old tradition of production of scythes, spades and cooking stoves in wrought iron and steel. In 1926, Les Forges de Ciney launched a brand-new kind of heating system called Calos de Ciney. The company was very successful in Belgium and Luxembourg but also in Switzerland and France; a factory was opened in Givet, close to the border. At the end of the 1950s, the company employed more than 600 workers. Les Forges de Ciney disappeared on 31 December 1988.

A new municipal bandstand was erected in 1896 on the central square of Ciney, on the model of the bandstand of Spa (demolished in 1941). The ancient bandstand, built in 1872, was in such a bad stade that the musicians refused to play there in 1894 for the 50th anniversary of the NCOs' Association. The bandstand is decorated with eight plaques bearing the names of famous musicians. A local story says that a painter once revamping the plaques forgot to note the names of the musicians before whitewashing the plaques; he could remember the names of Wagner, Mozart, Grétry, Franck, Saint Saëns, Strauss and Gounod. Since he could not find the name of the missing musician, he replaced him with the local, less-known Schlogel.

The cyclist race Ciney-Vielsam was run only once, on 20 July 1966; 26 finished the race, won by Willy Montys.

Ivan Sache, 4 June 2005

Flag of Ciney

The flag of Ciney is blue with five white young mens' heads placed in saltire.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones [w2v03], the flag is a banner of the municipal arms, proposed by the Heraldry and Vexillology Council of the French Community as Bleu chargé de cinq têtes de jeunes gens blanches rangées en sautoir.

According to the municipal website, the arms of Ciney were adopted in the 17th century (Servais [svm55] mentions a seal dated 1632) as a reference to the legendary foundation of the town related by Jean d'Outremeuse. At the time when St. Materne evangelized the region, Ciney was called Halloy and belonged to Cedros, King of Tongeren, who gave the town to Prince Clement. The prince built a castle in Halloy and got quints; to honour his sons, he renamed the town Chynq Neys (in French, Cinq Nés, Five Newborns), later Ciney. The children used to play out of the city walls in the swamps near the river; they drowned in the place still named St. Materne's fountain (five drowned people is cinq noyés, very close to cinq nés). The desperate father went to the Bishop, and promised him to became a Christian if he could resurrect his sons; the Bishop went to Ciney, resurrected the children, christened the Prince and transformed the castle into the Notre-Dame church.

The arms of Ciney granted in 1710 are D'azur à cinq têtes de jeunes hommes imberbes d'argent posées en sautoir, l'écu sommé d'une couronne murale d'or à cinq créneaux. (Azure five heads of beardless young men argent in saltire. Shield surmounted by a mural crown or with five crenels).
These pseudo-historical arms replaced the ancient arms of Ciney, showing a city gate flanked by two towers, which can be seen on a municipal seal (1327), the Chapter's seal (14th century, with a portcullis and the Blessed Virgin with Jesus in a niche on the top of the gate) and the Echevinage's seal (15th century, with a portcullis and a cross on each tower).
The arms of Ciney were confirmed by Royal Decree on 19 July 1841; on the modern rendition of the arms, the shield is surmounted by a golden crown topped by a five-pointed star (Servais says a sun). The rendition of the heads slightly differ from source to source, but the design of the arms is easily recognizable.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 4 June 2005