Since we slept in until noon on Sunday, we decided to change our plans a little and swap the day's planned trip to Cologne for a closer excursion to Dinant, just over an hour southeast of Brussels by car. The steep cliffs and rolling hills on the bank of the river made the town a strategic fortification in the past and a charming tourist destination today. This rock, le rocher Bayard, stands completely separated from the main rock and was separated with an explosion to provide passage for the French troops of Louis XIV after they took Dinant. Legend says that a giant Bayard horse split the rock with its hoof as it jumped from here over the river. It's a tight squeeze and probably yet another reason we haven't seen any Escalades or Suburbans around here.

Populated since neolithic times, the name Dinant was first recorded about 800 BC. Located on the Muese River, the town is famous for the Collegiate Church of Notre Dame and the fortified cliff-top Citadel overlooking the entire valley. 

The church, originally completed in the 10th century, was damaged by rocks falling from the cliff in 1227 and was rebuilt in Gothic style on the existing foundation. Though it has undergone several reconstructions and renovations due to various battles, some of the stained glass windows date from the late 15th century. The detail and storytelling in this giant example were captivating.

The signature pear-shaped dome was originally completed in 1566 and the tomb of Gérard de Blanmostier in the left transept is dated 1356. The interior is filled with artwork and relics, including the first genuine crown any of us had ever seen!

We declined to climb the 408-step staircase - which was built in 1577 - for the modern convince of the steepest cable car ascent in the world to get to the top of the cliff for a tour of the citadel.

The fortress has been a central point for some very dramatic clashes throughout history. In 1466, Charles the Bold sacked Dinant. The town and castle were destroyed and he ordered 800 workers to be tied together in pairs and tossed into the river. The citadel was rebuilt in 1523 and the town flourished until Louis XIV's army invaded and took control. He and his engineers made many improvements to the castle but what we see today is a product of the Dutch who rebuilt it after it was destroyed between 1818 and 1821. We really enjoyed seeing the archers windows and imagining firing arrows down on advancing marauders as well as looking out cannon openings like this one defending the bridge below.

Most of the artifacts inside were from the early 19th century as the fortress housed WWI-era soldiers and their supplies. Below is a guardroom in the prison section of the fortress. 

The prisoners weren't captured enemies. Rather, they were soldiers or villagers who were being punished for various misdeeds. It wasn't clear if the guillotine we saw in the torture room was ever used here but the axe and chopping block "used to cut off the right hand of people who murdered their parents" definitely was.

The fortress was demilitarized in 1868 to allow tourists to visit the area for views like this from the terrifying observation deck.

However, violent conflicts were fought within the walls during both World Wars, including a harrowing account of almost 100 soldiers cornered in a narrow passage and fighting each other hand-to-hand with bayonets to the death in August, 1914. Here's the effect of German shells on the town in WWI.

Dinant is also the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, a flautist and clarinetist who, in 1844, introduced the saxophone to the world.

There's no doubt we were among the only Americans in town even though it was a busy Sunday afternoon. While Dinant is a tourist destination for Europeans, it's a rare stop for US visitors. Fortunately we were able to blend in nicely by making like the locals.