Nestling in a leafy setting on the banks of the River Ourthe, La Roche, 'Jewel of the Ardennes', has a fascinating past - a wealth of history, legends, and even a ghost …
We know the La Roche area was already inhabited in Neolithic times, 20 centuries before our own era.
The ancient Belgæ built an oppidum [hill fort] on this rocky outcrop, where the castle now stands. In 57 BC, Ardenne like Gaul had to submit to the yoke of Rome. A fortlet was built to replace the oppidum. Excavations in La Roche have found coins dating from the time of Emperor Domitian (AD 81-96) and Constantine II (AD 337-340).
Taking advantage of the decline of Rome, the Franks, a Germanic people, invaded our country in the 5th century. Under the Frankish occupation in the 8th century, Pepin of Herstal turned the Roman fort into a hunting lodge. The first castle was built in the 9th century and was at its peak between the 12th and 17th centuries. In the following century, faced with attacks from the French, the castle was turned into a fortress. After 1721, a slow decline set in. A proposal to restore it was made in 1744, but never came to anything. Abandoned and neglected, the castle fell into ruin. Excavation started here in 1995, projected to finish by the end of 1999.
There is a project afoot with plans already drawn up for a partial reconstruction.
Originally, La Roche only had a simple chapel just for the celebration of Mass. Shortly before the 16th century, this chapel became a parish church. Plans for a new church were drawn up by architect Clément Léonard, and Dean Geubel gave a blessing and laid the foundation stone on 3rd July 1899. The superb stained glass windows date from the 1970s. La Roche today has lots of small chapels, and there's a walk to take you round them.
In the Middle Ages, the main trades grouped together to form guilds - each with its chief, its privileges, and its patron saint. In La Roche, the main guilds were the weavers, the haberdashers, the tanners and the cordwainers.
Towards the end of the 19th century, an important new industry sprang up: tourism. English tourists came here for the fly fishing. Two other visitors who have turned out to be important for the growth of tourism in La Roche were Pastor Pierre Perk, writer of the first tourist guide in Dutch (1882), and his son Jacques who dedicated some poems to our town.
Could it be thanks to them that we receive so many visitors from the Netherlands ?
The town didn't suffer during the 1914-18 war, unlike in World War II. The town was liberated by Allied forces on 10th September 1944. But the counter-attack was not long in coming: the Ardennes Offensive was launched and the Germans entered the town again on 21st December 1944. La Roche was then bombarded with 70,000 American shells. On 11th January 1945, the Highlanders of the British 30th Corps on the left bank of the Ourthe and the Americans of the 1st Army on the right bank finally liberated the town for good. 114 civilians died, 350 buildings were destroyed and 327 damaged.
Nothing but ruins remained of the neat, cheery town of bygone days. With great fortitude, the people of La Roche cleared them away and built a brand new town.
Nowadays, La Roche is an important holiday centre with impressive tourist amenities to please all types of visitors.
Our town really is "The Jewel of the Ardennes".