Kortrijk (English also Courtray; official name in Dutch: Kortrijk, pronounced [ˈkɔrtrɛi̯k]); French: Courtrai, pronounced: [kuʁtʁɛ]; Latin: Cortoriacum) is a Belgian city and municipality located in the Flemish province West Flanders. It is the capital and biggest city of the arrondissement of Kortrijk, which is both a judicial and an administrative arrondissement. The wider municipality comprises the city of Kortrijk proper and the villages of Aalbeke, Bellegem, Bissegem, Heule, Kooigem, Marke, and Rollegem.
The city is situated on the Leie, 42 km (26 mi) southwest of Ghent and 25 km (16 mi) northeast of Lille in France. Both Kortrijk and Lille are part of the same transnational Eurodistrict urban area with around 1,900,000 inhabitants. As the biggest city of southern West Flanders, Kortrijk has many schools, hospitals and shopping streets.
Kortrijk originated from a Gallo-Roman town, called Cortoriacum at a crossroads near the Leie river and two Roman roads. During the Middle Ages, Kortrijk grew significantly thanks to the flax and wool industry with France and England and became one of the biggest and richest cities in Flanders. The city is often referred to as City of Groeninge or City of the Golden Spurs, referring to the Battle of Courtrai or the Battle of the Golden Spurs which took place on 11 July 1302 on the Fields of Groeninge in Kortrijk. In 1820, the Treaty of Kortrijk was signed, which laid out the current borders between France and Belgium. Throughout the 19th and 20th century, Kortrijk became a center of the flax industry and remains an important region within the Belgian textile industry today.
Today, Kortrijk is the largest city in southern West-Flanders with several hospitals, colleges and a university. Kortrijk was the first city in Belgium with a pedestrian shopping street, called the Korte Steenstraat. Nowadays, a big part of the historical city center is a complete pedestrian area with lots of shops and shopping malls such as the new covered K Shopping Centre and the Ring Shopping Kortrijk Noord centre).
Cortoriacum was a typical Gallo-Roman vicus at an important crossroads near the Leie river. It was situated on the crossroads of the Roman roads linking Tongeren and Cassel and Tournai and Oudenburg. In the 9th century, Baldwin II, Count of Flanders established fortifications against the Vikings. The town gained its city charter in 1190 from Philip, Count of Flanders. The population growth required new defensive walls, part of which can still be seen today (the Broeltorens).
In the 13th century, the battles between Fernando of Portugal, Count of Flanders and his first cousin, King Louis VIII of France, led to the destruction of the city. The Counts of Flanders had it rebuilt soon after. To promote industry and weaving in the town, Joan, Countess of Flanders exempted settlers in Kortrijk from property tax. From that time, Kortrijk gained great importance as a centre of linen production.
In 1302, the population of Bruges started a successful uprising against the French, who had annexed Flanders a couple of years earlier. On May 18, the French population in that city was massacred, an event that could not go unpunished. The famous ensuing Battle of Courtrai or the Battle of the Golden Spurs (Dutch: Guldensporenslag) between the Flemish people, mostly commoners and farmers, and Philip the Fair’s knights took place near Kortrijk on July 11, resulting in a victory for Flanders. This date is now remembered as a national holiday by the whole Flemish community.
Following a new uprising by the Flemish in 1323, but this time against their own Count Louis I, the French invaded again. These Flemish acquisitions were consolidated by the French at the Battle of Cassel (1328). Louis I’s son, Louis II, then Philip van Artevelde briefly regained the city in 1381 but lost it again the following year at the Battle of Roosebeke, resulting in a new wave of plundering and destruction.
15th century to modern times
Most of the 15th century was prosperous under the Dukes of Burgundy, until the death of the Burgundian heiress, Mary of Burgundy, in 1482, which ushered in renewed fighting with France. The 16th century was marked by the confrontations engendered by the Reformation and the uprising of the Netherlands against Spain. Louis XIV’s reign saw Kortrijk occupied by the French five times in sixty years and its former fortifications razed to the ground. The Treaty of Utrecht finally assigned the whole area to Austria.
After the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era, the textile industry, based on flax, and the general economy of the city could finally prosper again. Kortrijk was heavily bombed in the summer of 1917, but even more damaged by the allied bombing in 1944. The city was an important railway hub for the German army, and for this reason was the target of several allied air-strikes. On July 21, 1944 (the Belgian National Day) around 300 Avro Lancasters dropped over 5,000 bombs on the city centre. Many historical buildings on the central square, as well as the old railway station, were destroyed.