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The municipality of Watten is located on the northern borders of the marsh. It is at its level that a bottleneck partially retains the waters of the Aa in the marsh, before the river joins the coast by crossing the maritime plain. This bottleneck is at the origin of the etymology of the town, Watten would come from Wotten, meaning in Flemish "fording".

Due to its location marked by the presence of the historic Aa canal and the Colme canal, but also its lock and many other river facilities, Watten gives itself the air of a small port town. Everywhere water is important. Yet, surprisingly, it is one of the municipalities occupying the least space in the marsh. Indeed, only 20 hectares of the Audomarois marshes are located within the borders of Watten.

Watten seen from the sky – Photo: Philippe Hudelle

A town belonging to the Nord department and marking one of the gateways to French Flanders, and more specifically to the Flemish region of Houtland, Watten is also the highest point of the Audomarois marshes. Overlooking the marsh from its 70 m high, the Montagne de Watten is the highest point of the territory. It is also one of the seven mountains of Flanders.

On the Mont de Watten, a rich heritage is revealed to all, including an abbey in ruins and a restored XNUMXth century mill. We also find in this charming town surrounded by water a Tourist Office as well as a XNUMXth century church.

Watten's mountain

Integrated into the chain of Monts des Flandres and constituting its westernmost link, the Montagne de Watten culminates the landscapes of the Audomarois from the top of its 70 m. It thus offers a particularly panoramic view of the territory. Along the winding road on the Mount, a path allows you to climb the mountain in safety and to descend. A sporty 2,2 km hike starting and finishing in the city centre. There is also another hiking trail starting from Watten: the “Circuit the shores of the Colme”. The latter, a dozen kilometers long, leads to the neighboring village of Millam.

Mont de Watten – Photo: Philippe Hudelle

The mill of the mountain of Watten

This windmill has its origins in the 1731th century. In XNUMX more precisely. It came at that time to replace a wooden mill by adopting more durable materials: stones from the old abbey.

The wings of the Watten mill were destroyed by a storm in 1937, seven years after the end of its operation. Its was, ideally placed on the mount of Watten, then served from 1940 as an observation post by the German army.

The building was bought by the town in 1985 before being rebuilt in 1987. A happy initiative supported by ARAM, the Regional Association of Friends of the Mills and the Association of Friends of Old Watten. Since 1994, the restored Watten mill is still in operation!

Watten Mill – Photo: Philippe Hudelle

The ruins and tower of Watten Abbey

At the origin of the abbey of Watten, a small chapel dedicated to Saint-Riquier was built at the top of the mountain of Watten in 874. This chapel will become a monastery in 1072 thanks to the protection of Robert le Frison and the financial support counts of Flanders. It will be the first monastery of regular canons of Flanders but also the burial place of Thierry d'Alsace, count of Flanders. This abbey was consecrated in 1097 under the name of “Notre Dame du Mont de Watten”.

From Jesuits to the Revolution

In 1608, the monastery will house the Jesuits, and this until the end of the company of Jesus in 1763. It will be the secular priests and the Vincentians who will then occupy the premises. It won't last long. The abbey will fall under the control of the bishopric of Saint-Omer in 1769. The latter ordered the destruction of part of the buildings. Then came the Revolution, and what remained of the abbey, in particular the tower, became national property. However, it was spared because it served as a landmark for navigators.

Mont de Watten and mill – Photo: Philippe Hudelle

Watten Abbey today

Of the abbey founded in Watten in the 1909th century, only a few vestiges remain, including the surrounding walls but also the tower of the abbey dating from the 1998th century. The latter is classified as historical monuments since XNUMX and the whole site in XNUMX as National Heritage. This remarkable ensemble, perched on Mount Watten, overlooks the Audomarois marshes and the Flemish lands.

The Watten Abbey site is exceptionally open for Fortified Sites Days, European Heritage Days and a few dates in summer.

Watten Tourist Office

Watten has its tourist information office at 12 rue de Dunkerque. This Tourist Office, which can accommodate everyone (accessible to people with reduced mobility) is open 5 days a week during the year and 7 days a week during the summer holidays. A good address for discovering places of interest in Watten, the Audomarois marshes, the mountains of Flanders... Enthusiasts can stock up on tourist brochures on the surrounding area and hiking maps.

XNUMXth century church

The Saint-Gilles de Watten church was founded in 1236 on the decision of the monks of the Notre-Dame du Mont abbey. The oldest elements visible today include the church tower, built in the 28th century. This bell tower has been classified as a Historic Monument since December 1984, 1800. It housed an arrow until the year XNUMX.

Note that the church of Watten still houses furniture from the former abbey of Watten.

It has been dedicated since its beginnings to Saint-Gilles, a relic of which was brought to the church during a ceremony in October 1888.

Mont de Watten and mill – Photo: Philippe Hudelle

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