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Engis (Municipality, Province of Liège, Belgium)

Last modified: 2019-07-30 by ivan sache
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Presentation of Engis and its villages

The municipality of Engis (5,715 inhabitants on 1 July 2007; 2,774 ha) is located in the valley of the Meuse, half distance (17 km) of Huy and Liège. The municipality of Engis is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Engis (on the left bank of the Meuse), Clermont-sous-Huy and Hermalle-sous-Huy (both on the right bank of the Meuse, the left bank part of Hermalle having been incorporated into Saint-Georges-sur-Meuse) and of a part of the former municipality of Ehein (split between Engis and Neupré).

Engis was mentioned for the first time in 1050 as Engeih and Ingeis on a chart of the abbey of Val-Saint-Lambert. These names are closed to the traditonal Walloon name of the village, Indji, and are believed to recall a Roman lord. The domain of Engis belonged successively to Libert Suréal de Warfusée (1102), Jean Hochet's heirs (1375), Herman de Cologne, then Mayor of Liège, and eventually his heir, Herman d'Horion (1410). The domain was then divided into two parts that evolved independently until the French Revolution.
Philippe-Charles Schmerling (1790-1836), a physician of Liège, is considered as the founder of human paleontology. In 1829, he found in Engis the first cave of Belgium with human bones. In 1830, he found in a second cave in Engis remains of a child's skull together with bear, hyena and rhinoceros bones, from which he inferred that the first human beings lived at the same period as these big animals. It took one century to admit that these were indeed remains of a prehistoric human, when the paleontologist Charles Fraipont, from the University of Liège, demonstrated that the bones had belonged not to a modern human but to a Neanderthalian, from the middle Paleolithic (35,000 BC). The "genuine" man of Neanderthal was excavated 26 years after Schmerling's finding, in the valley of Neander, Germany; accordingly, the type of that kind of pre-human should have been named "man of Engis" instead of "man of Neanderthal".

Clermont-sous-Huy was the seat of a Gallo-Roman villa in the Ist century AD; the villa was originally made of wood and was rebuilt in stone after a blaze. The villa, that included baths, was already ruined in the IIIrd century. In 1062, Clermont was mentioned as in castello clarimontis (in the castle of Clermont), from Latin clarus mons ("clear", here "famous", "mount"), later Clairmont, then Clermont. In the XIth century, Clermont was a middle-size domain depending on the lord of Montaigu; in 1091, Gislebert de Duras, Count of Clermont, founded the St. Séverin priory, to which he granted half of the church rights and of his possessions. In 1330, the castle and the domain of Clermont were transferred to Prince-Bishop of Liège Adolphe de la Marck; the castle was destroyed in 1619 and the domain was transferred to several successive lords, before being purchased back by Prince-Bishop Henri of Bavaria in 1666. The set up of the border between Clermont and Hermalle was a matter of long disputes, which were settled during the French rule with the formation of the two municipalities.

Hermalle-sous-Huy was mentioned for the first time in 779 as Harimala, probably from a Germanic word meaning "a meeting place for soldiers". The place, already settled in the Neolithic (5500-1800 BC), was indeed used by Julius Caesar to gather his troops. In the Middle Ages, Hermalle was one of the oldest domains in the valley of Meuse and the seat of a feudal court ruling several villages. Henri II d'Hermalle was Marshal of Liège and a leader of the Waroux party during the War of the Awans and the Waroux, which caused the destruction of the castle of Hermalle in 1315.
The Virgin of Hermalle-sous-Huy (Sedes sapientiae) is kept in the Museums of Art and History of the Golden Jubilee in Brussels. It is an austere statue of the Virgin made of polychromous alder wood probably around 1070 and therefore one of the oldest known Enthroned Virgins.
In 1914, the village of Hermalle was saved by young Marie Maréchal, who spoke German and understood that two scouts asked water for their horses and themselves; when the village was occupied the next day, the German officier told the Mayor that no harm would be done to Hermalle, as a reward to the young maid who had watered his scouts.
The inhabitants of Hermalle bitterly complain that there is still not the least road sign in Engis giving the direction to Hermalle. The former castle-farm of Hermalle houses two original museums, the Gourmet Museum and the Museum of Postage and Writing.


The region of Engis is unfortunately known for its pollution episodes. In La pollution atmosphérique (1969), Jean-Pierre Détrie relates that Belgium was covered with a thick smog during the first week of December 1930. The part of the valley of the Meuse located between Huy and Seraing was the place of a temperature inversion, preventing aerosols to escape in the upper atmosphere and confining them to the low, inhabited areas; the valley is there relatively narrow with steep hillsides of 75-100 m, and was a main industrial area. Three days after the beginning of the pollution episode, the inhabitants of Engis started to suffer from respiratory troubles; some 60 people, mostly old or already sufferring from chronic heart or lung diseases, died. Thousands of people experienced cough and breathlessness. It was shown later that the troubles were caused by a mixture of sulphur oxides (with a concentration of sulfur dioxide of 30-100 mg.m-3) and other irritating gases, whose effect was aggravated by the presence of aerosols. Since no increase in the release of pollutants by the factories was detected, it was concluded that the "main" cause of the troubles were the local weather conditions. The 1930 incident is considered as a landmark in the survey and scientific study of industrial pollution and its epidemiological consequences.
Similar incidents of less importance have been reported since then in Engis, for instance on 5 September 1972 following the accidental release of a huge quantity of sulphur dioxide in the air; the vegetation was severely damaged but, fortunately, the release occurred during the night (as did most "accidental" releases at that time), when most of the inhabitants were inside their houses. In 1978, a nasty foul-smelling cloud spread over the region, following an incident in a fertilizer factory.
The situation has improved following the suppression of several polluting industries but the quality of the air is still monitored with a great care in Engis, especially the fluorine and sulphur components. Engis is still considered as the most polluted municipality in Belgium.

Ivan Sache, 29 June 2007

Municipal flag of Engis

According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, there is no municipal flag used in Engis.

Pascal Vagnat, 29 June 2007