Limburg (Belgium)

This article is about a province in Belgium. For the province of Limburg in the Netherlands, see Limburg (Netherlands). For the town of Limbourg or Limburg in Belgium, see Limbourg. For other uses of Limburg, see Limburg (disambiguation).
Province of Belgium


Coat of arms
Coordinates: 50°36′N 5°56′E / 50.600°N 5.933°E / 50.600; 5.933Coordinates: 50°36′N 5°56′E / 50.600°N 5.933°E / 50.600; 5.933
Country  Belgium
Region  Flemish Region
Capital Hasselt
  Governor Herman Reynders
  Total 2,414 km2 (932 sq mi)
Population (1 January 2016)[1]
  Total 863,425
  Density 360/km2 (930/sq mi)
View of the Great Market place in Limburg's capital Hasselt

Limburg (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈlɪmbɵrx]) is a province in Belgium. It is the easternmost of the five Dutch-speaking provinces that together form the Region of Flanders, one of the three main political and cultural sub-divisions of modern Belgium.

Limburg is located west of the river Meuse (Dutch Maas), upon which it borders the similarly named Dutch province Limburg. It also borders on the Wallonian province of Liège to the south, with which it also has historical ties. To the north and west are the old territories of the Duchy of Brabant, the Flemish provinces of Flemish Brabant and Antwerp to the west, and the Dutch province of North Brabant to the north.

The province of Limburg takes up an area of 2,414 km² which comprises three arrondissements (arrondissementen in Dutch) containing 44 municipalities. Among these municipalities are the current capital Hasselt, the early medieval capital Borgloon, Genk, Diepenbeek (home to Hasselt University), and Tongeren, the only Roman city in the province and regarded as the oldest city of Belgium.

The municipality of Voeren is geographically detached from Limburg and the rest of Flanders, with the Netherlands to the north and the Walloon province of Liège to the south. This municipality was established by the municipal reform of 1977 and on 1 January 2008 with its six villages had a total population of 4,207. Its total area is 50.63 km².

The province's name

Belgian Limburg was not called "Limburg" until the 19th century, when this province, like the rest of Belgium, was part of the Netherlands for some decades, after the fall of Napoleon. Like the name Belgium itself (also given in this time), the name Limburg was chosen from the region's history; it is derived from a medieval Duchy in the general region. In fact the historical name for the territory of Belgian Limburg was Loon (apart from a short period when it was part of the French Department of the Lower Meuse). The medieval Duchy of Limburg, although it was nearby, did not contain any part of the county of Loon.


Statue of Ambiorix in the main square of Tongeren.

The first wave of people with farming and pottery technology in northern Europe was the LBK culture which originated in central Europe and reached a geographical limit in the fertile southern Haspengouw part of Limburg about 5000 BC, only to die out about 4000 BC. A later wave from central Europe, the Michelsburg culture arrived about 3500 BC and shared a similar fate. Pottery technology had however apparently been taken up by local tribes of the Swifterbant culture, who remained present throughout.

The area became permanently agricultural only with the Urnfield culture, followed by the possibly related Halstatt and La Tène material cultures, which are generally associated with Celts. Under these cultures the population increased in the region, and it is also during this period that Indo European languages are thought to have arrived.

Caesar gave the first surviving written description of the area and described its people as the Germani cisrhenani, who were a part of the Belgae. Amongst these Germani, Belgian Limburg contained at least part of the country of the Eburones who fought against Julius Caesar under their leaders Ambiorix and Cativolcus. Apart from the Germani, somewhere in the west of the region (but possibly outside Limburg) were the Aduatuci, who were the descendants of the Cimbri and Teutones who had settled from the direction of Denmark some generations before Caesar.

Under the Romans, the area was home to the Tungri. Tacitus equated these Tungri to the earliest tribes of "Germani" to have settled in Gaul, implying that they were substantially still descended from the Germani cisrhenani, and also states that the use of this name had been expanded in Roman times to cover a larger grouping of similar tribes, particularly those in Germany east of the Rhine. The Tungri are generally accepted as being speakers of a Germanic language, but modern authors disagree over the extent to which they descend from new immigrants who came from over the Rhine after Caesar. Notably, the Tungri participated on the Roman side in the Revolt of the Batavi against Roman rule.[2] In the north of Limburg during Roman times lived the Toxandri.

Still in use: the Roman paved road between Tongeren and Tienen

The site of the fort which the Romans encamped in was called Aduatuca. This was possibly a general word for a fort, associated not only with the Eburones, but also the Aduatuci, and the Tungri. The Roman city established in Belgian Limburg was referred to as Aduatuca Tungrorum meaning "Aduatuca of the Tungri". Today this has become "Tongeren", in the southeast of Belgian Limburg, and it was the capital of a Roman administrative region called the "Civitas Tungrorum". Under the Romans, the Tungri civitas was first a part of Gallia Belgica, and later split out with the more militarized border regions between it and the Rhine, to become Germania Inferior, which was later converted into Germania Secunda.[3]

Middle Ages

In late Roman and early medieval times, the northern or "Kempen" part of Belgian Limburg became virtually empty because of Germanic plundering. This area, still known then by its Roman name as Toxandria, was then settled by incoming Salian Franks from the north, who were under pressure from Saxons. The southern or "Haspengouw" part of Belgian Limburg remained more heavily Romanised, but eventually became a core land of the Frankish empires. By the 9th century, the Frankish Carolingian dynasty, based in and around Belgian Limburg, had turned Gaul in to "Francia" and ruled an empire that included much of Western Europe.

Early Christianity was established earliest in the romanised southeastern corner of Limburg, around Tongeren. Together with nearby Maastricht and Liège, this was the area of activity of St Servatius and later Lambert of Maastricht. Another early saint in the south of Limburg was St Trudo.

After the death of Charlemagne, Limburg was part of the central Lotharingian division of frankish Europe which lay between France and Germany and stretched to Italy. After the death of its first ruler, Lothar, it was only slowly integrated into Eastern Francia, which was to become the Holy Roman empire. In the period around 881 and 882 the areas along the Maas and in the Haspengouw were plundered by Vikings, who established a base at Asselt on the Maas, today in Roermond in Dutch Limburg.

Belgian Limburg corresponds closely to the medieval territory of the County of Loon (French Looz), which originally centred on the fortified town of Borgloon. It came to possess most of Haspengouw, and also the large part of the Kempen which the province contains today. As part of Loon, Belgian Limburg eventually became subject, not only spiritually but also politically, to the Prince Bishops of Liège.

Modern history

Map showing the two contemporary provinces called Limburg, (the left one in Belgium, and the other one in the Netherlands), as well as the medieval Duchy they are both named after. (The small overlap are the villages of Teuven and Remersdaal in the eastern part of Voeren, one of the municipalities in modern Belgian Limburg since 1977.

Loon, and the rest of the prince-bishopric of Liège, were not joined politically with the rest of what would become Belgium until the French revolution. Nevertheless, in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries the population of Loon was constantly and badly affected by the large-scale international wars of the neighbouring Spanish Netherlands and Dutch Republic, including the Eighty Years' War, the War of the Spanish Succession, the War of the Austrian Succession, the Seven Years' War, and even the Brabant Revolution. During this period the region's episcopal government was often unable to maintain law and order, and the economy of the area was often desperately bad, affected by plundering by soldiers and gangs of thieves such as the "Bokkenrijders". Nevertheless, the population contained strongly conservative catholic elements, and not only supported the conservative Brabant revolution, but also rebelled unsuccessfully against the revolutionary French regime in the Peasants' War of 1798.

The modern Limburg region, containing the Belgian and Dutch provinces of that name, were first united within one province while under the power of revolutionary France, and later the Napoleonic empire, but then under the name of the French department of the Lower Meuse (Maas). After Napoleon's defeat, a united Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed, containing modern Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. While it kept many of the French provincial boundaries, the first king, William I, insisted that the name be changed to the "Province of Limburg", based on the name of the medieval Duchy of Limburg. The only part of Belgian or Dutch Limburg which was really in the Duchy of Limburg is the extreme east of Voeren, the villages of Teuven and Remersdaal, and these only became part of Belgian Limburg in 1977.

After the Belgian Revolution of 1830, the province of Limburg was at first almost entirely under Belgian rule, but the status of both Limburg and Luxembourg became unclear. During the "Ten days campaign", 2–12 August 1831, Dutch armies entered Belgium and took control of several Belgian cities in order to negotiate from a stronger position. Several Belgian militias and armies were easily defeated including the Belgian Army of the Meuse near Hasselt, on 8 August. The French and British intervened, leading to a ceasefire, and in 1831 the Treaty of London established that both Limburg and Luxemburg would be split between the two states. Finally, in 1839 Limburg and Luxemburg were split, Limburg being split into so-called Dutch Limburg and Belgian Limburg.

Twentieth century

Belgian Limburg became officially Flemish when Belgium was divided into language areas in 1962. In the case of Voeren, surrounded by French speaking parts of Belgium, and having a significant population of French speakers, this was not without controversy.

Only in 1967, the Catholic Church created a bishopric of Hasselt, separate from the bishopric of Liège.


See also: Campine and Hesbaye

The centre of Belgian Limburg is crossed east to west by the Demer river and the Albert Canal, which run similar paths. The Demer river's drainage basin covers most of the central and southern part of the province, except for the southeastern corner, where the Jeker (in French: (le) Geer) runs past Tongeren and into the river Maas (in French: (la) Meuse) at Maastricht.

The eastern border of the province corresponds to the western bank of the Maas, which originates in France. Its drainage basin includes not only the Jeker but most of the northern part of Belgian Limburg.

The south of the province is the northern part of the Hesbaye region (in Dutch: Haspengouw), with fertile soils, farming and fruit-growing, and historically the higher population density. The hilliness increases in the southeast, including the detached Voeren part of Limburg.

North of the Demer river and the Albert Canal is part of the Campine (in Dutch: (de) Kempen) region, with sandy soils, heathlands, and forests. This area was relatively low populated, until coal-mining started in the 19th century, attracting immigration from other areas, including Mediterranean countries.


Main article: Limburgish language

As in all Flemish provinces, the official language is Dutch, but two municipalities, Herstappe and Voeren, are to a certain extent allowed to use French to communicate with their citizens. Such municipalities are called the municipalities with language facilities in Belgium.

Several variations of Limburgish are also still actively used, these being a diverse group of dialects which share features in common with both German and Dutch. Limburg mijn Vaderland is the official anthem of both Belgian and Dutch Limburg, and has versions in various dialects of Limburgish, varying from accents closer to standard Dutch in the west, to more distinctive dialects near the Maas. Outside of the two Limburgs related dialects or languages are found stretched out towards the nearby Ruhr valley region of Germany. And there are also related dialects around Aachen in Germany as well as in the extreme northeast of the mainly French-speaking province of Liège.

As in the rest of Flanders a high level of multi-lingualism is found in the population.

Limburg is close to Germany and Wallonia, and because of the natural political, cultural and economics links, French and German have long been important second languages in the area.

English has also now become a language which is widely understood and used in business and cultural activities, and is supplanting French in this regard.

Veldeke, the medieval property of the family of Hendrik van Veldeke, was near Hasselt, along the Demer river, to the west of Kuringen. He is one of the first authors known by name in both Dutch and German.


Cherries, an important product of Limburgian fruit growing business.

In the economic field tourism is being actively promoted with publicized attractions including Limburg's claim to be a "Bicycle Paradise" (Fietsparadijs). There's also the possibility to walk in nature reserves, such as the "High Kempen National Park".[4][5]

In the south, the Haspengouw (Hesbaye), predominantly situated in Limburg, is now Belgium's major area for fruit growing. In Limburg more than 50% of Belgium's fruit production is grown. Of the rest about 40% is grown in other Dutch speaking provinces.

Coal mining has been an important industry in the 19th century, but has now ended in this province. Nevertheless, it has laid the basis for a more complex modern economy and community. In the 20th century, Limburg became a centre for secondary industry, attracting Ford, who still have a major production centre in Genk, though this is scheduled to be closed, and the electronics company Philips, who had a major operation in Kiewit.

Many areas such as Genk continue to have a lot of heavy and chemical industry, but emphasis has moved towards encouraging innovation. The old Philips plant is now the site of a Research Campus, and the Hasselt University in Diepenbeek has a science park attached to it.

The region today promotes itself as a centre for trade in the heart of industrialised Europe. It is part of the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion, which represents a partnership between this province and neighbouring provinces in Germany, the Netherlands and Wallonia.


Essential elements in Limburgian culture are:


Limburg is home to Limburg United, one of the country's top professional basketball teams. The team plays its home games in the Sporthal Alverberg.


Administrative divisions



Judicial cantons

Governors since the Second World War

The first governor of united Limburg (including the province of Limburg in the Netherlands) was Charles de Brouckère, from 1815, after the Battle of Waterloo until 1828. He was followed by Maximilien de Beeckman who governed the united province until 1830, when the Belgian revolution began and division of Limburg began, first with the separation of Maastricht. The splitting of Dutch and Belgian Limburg was completed by 1839.

There were also breaks in the sequence of governors in the First World War and at the end of the Second World War. The following list contains all governors of the province of Limburg since the Second World War.[10]

Towns in Limburg

Main Market Square of Sint-Truiden with Town Hall and Church.

Notable Limburgians

Sports & Entertainment

See also



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