History & Culture

17 Nov 2014

Ever since the first civilisations emerged, the Ardennes has continued to develop down the ages to become the region we now know.

This is its history…


The first civilisations in the Ardennes

The highlands in the Ardennes were uninhabited before 700 BC, after which they were populated by the Celts who mainly lived from subsistence farming. After 30 to 40 years the cereals grown – primarily wheat and oats – would have impoverished the soils so the land would have to be abandoned and the village people would move on in search of more fertile land.

Very little remains of that time: tumuli, remnants of old roads or fortresses, such as the Cheslé site.

 Site celtique du Cheslé

During the Gallo-Roman epoch

The Ardennes then came under the sway of the Roman empire for several centuries. The Ardennes was then regarded as a place for supplies of timber and hunting. A new route enabled people to cross the Ardennes by following its crests: it connected Reims to Cologne, altering the landscape, with impressive farms being built and the forest area diminishing.

La voie romaine à hauteur de Sol Bise

From the year 1000 to the middle of the 14th century: creation of the countryside

After a Merovingian occupation, the region became more prosperous while the size of the population increased, primarily because of new farm practices. The villages were established near springs, dwellings clustered around the church and crop fields were distributed around the village unit.



From the middle of the 14th century until 1700: a time of misfortune

After the mid-1400s the size of the population diminished quite considerably because of severe climate cooling (the “little ice age”). By the end of this period, the better-off inhabitants were building sturdier houses made entirely of stone.

 Ferme du menil (Steinbach)

From 1700 to 1880 :

The milder period coincided with a general improvement in the means of transport (labour, foodstuffs and other goods) as result of new traffic routes being created. The Ardennes economy was opened up to regions further away thanks to the construction of the Theresian road ” (built during the time of Maria Theresa of Austria), the digging of the navigation canals and, more importantly, the development of a railway network.


Between the middle of the 16th century and 1880, the rural population doubled in size. The density of the population in the uncluttered villages increased considerably (introduction of terraced-type housing). The new buildings were made of stone and no longer with timber and mud brick, while new higher churches were built.

A law on the development of uncultivated state land came into force in Belgium in 1847, resulting in a more intense system of farming and the afforestation of heathland with conifer species thus investing the Ardennes with the “identity” it has retained to the present day.

Versant boiséFrom 1880 to 1960 :

By 1880 the Ardennes was in a state of crisis owing to the improved systems of transport. Attracted by better paid industrial jobs, farm workers with no income left the countryside to head for the Lorraine steel-making region or the Sambre-Meuse industrial belt.

Farming was compelled to change and adapt, hence the appearance of cattle and/or dairy farms and the replacement of hedgerows by barbwire. The landscape once again underwent a radical change.

Vallée de Brisy

The fact that the development patterns were not the same in Belgium and Luxembourg during that period is reflected in the present landscapes. Anxious to ensure a fairer balance between the industrialised and richer southern part of the country and the ailing agricultural north, the Luxembourg state decided to lend support directly or indirectly to the farm sector’s chemical fertiliser inputs, to enable farmers to continue offering competitive prices.

By the end of the Second World War, the bigger villages were left completely devastated by the intense bombardments. In the post-war epoch, the villages were rebuilt within the space of a few years using new building technologies but reflecting the location of the pre-existing buildings in the construction process.

 Maison du Parc Naturel 24-02-1945

From 1960 to the present day

This is the period when the automobile entered the picture. This means of transport became more available, making a huge difference to people’s perception of time and space. City workers looking for a “greener” environment and peace and quiet went to live outside the towns and cities. This led to new single family houses (detached villas) along the access roads to the village centre.

This trend became more widespread, underpinned by the building trade operating more on an industrial scale, one segment of the population having more purchasing power and the development of expressways during the 1970s and 1980s bringing the countryside closer to the major urban centres.

Lotissement situé à Pintsch (Photo - P. Biver)

And afterwards

As we can see, the landscape is changing in keeping with the lifestyle of the people living there, new technologies and history. Change has never happened so fast before. It is up to us to take a step back and think about what we want to hand on to our children …

Parc éolien le long de la N4