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Why visit Mons?

By Jan Baetens

Why visit Mons? Why visit a city that is no longer the European capital of culture (2015), a place so small that one may overlook its very existence? A place so near-by and so well connected to Leuven that it seems deprived of all exoticism? A place without railway station, that is without actual building, the existing one having been demolished and the new one eternally under construction, a place with no professional football team (and the basketball team did not very well either this year)?

Many questions, but countless answers as well, after a pleasant and very instructive city trip (we were there for business, not just for entertainment), that helped discover not only the rich cultural infrastructure of the city but also the extremely pleasant atmosphere of daily life in Mons.

In a nutshell, this was the program of the day: sight-seeing on the one hand (yes, the station: a ruin in the making, the main church, a grandiose copy of that of Leuven, the belltower and of course the little monkey at the city hall, the collapsed but rebuilt Arne Quinze installation, the new Manège theater – alas due to a strike it was not possible to recite some poetry at the entrance of the local prison, so famous in European literary history) and great cultural activities on the other hand (the city museum BAM, with a great exhibit on performance art and Bill Viola; the Mundaneum with the astonishing Paul Otlet archives as well as an exciting special exhibition on data visualization, big and small, and the artothèque, which a lack of time prevented us to visit from attic to basement).

In short: why visit Bruges if you can visit Mons?

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