Lier… I have a soft spot for this small city. Maybe because as a child, I grew up on the Felix Timmermansstraat, named after one of Belgiums most important authors who was born in Lier. Or maybe because later on I learned that the people of Lier are called schapekoppen (sheep heads). Not very endearing, I admit but kind of sweet though. I’ll get back to the schapekoppen later, but the main reason I like Lier is because – to me – it is a kind of mini-Antwerp. There’s a lot of interesting architecture and history. They have some nice shops and restaurants – but they don’t have the number of people. And since they recently re-did their main square and changed it from a hideous open air parking lot to an open space square with benches and even a water feature, it is just perfect for a lazy day with a bit of everything.
Now, back to the story of the schapekoppen. Legend has it that in the 14th century the people of Lier helped Duke Jan II in a dispute he had with Mechelen. As a reward they had the choice of establishing a sheep market or… a university. Have a guess at what the people picked! Ever since then the Duke referred to his little helpers as ‘those sheepheads’. The university was later established in Leuven.
But it was actually a smart decision. In those days permits to have a sheep market were not easily granted and were therefore very lucrative if you had one. Also, Lier is built on rather swampy grounds so building a university there would have been very difficult – if it would have been possible at all.
Earlier on we mentioned Felix Timmermans (1886 – 1947) as probably the most famous Schapekop. But, depending on where your interests lie, you may also have heard of Louis Zimmer, a clock maker (1888 – 1970). In 1928 he gave the city of Lier his Jubilee Clock (so named because it was inaugurated in 1930 – the 100th anniversary of Belgium) which is actually a combination of no less than 57 clocks, 13 of which can be seen from the outside of the Zimmertoren (Zimmertower) a small museum dedicated to the life and work of Louis Zimmer.
Zimmer’s Magnus Opus, however, is the so called Wonder Clock, a collection of nearly 100 clocks – including the slowest moving clock on earth till this day, which takes 25,800 years to go round once! I can’t exactly remember what it indicates though. It also shows (and this is fun to watch) how high the same person would jump on each planet of our solar system taking into account the gravity on the particular planet.
But even if you’re not interested in all things clocks, Lier has a lot more to offer.
It has 2 world heritage sites, the belfry and beguinage, which I personally like more than the one in Bruges. The houses are now privately rented or owned so the area is a little more 21st century, tho still an oases of peace and tranquility.
Although, of course, Lier has its fair share of churches, the Sint-Gummaruskerk is the main one. Building started in 1378 and it took nearly 200 years to build. The wooden roof of the tower burned down twice, in 1609 and again in 1702, and was then replaced by its current slate roof. It is said that Felix Timmermans was the first one to name it ‘de pepermolen’ (pepper mill).
The Eikelpoort (built 1375) was part of the city walls and is the only remaining one today (there used to be 5). The gate is also referred to as Gevangenenpoort (Prisoners Gate) as it served as a prison from the 16th century up to 1930.
If you want to pay Lier a visit (and you should!) a good place to start, is the tourism Lier website. Ignore the English, French and German button tho, they didn’t work last time I checked.