Liège (; , ; ; ; ; ; ; until 17 September 1946 the city's name was written , with the acute accent instead of a grave accent) is a major city and municipality of Belgium located in the province of Liège, of which it is the economic capital, in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium.
The city is situated in the valley of the Meuse River, near Belgium's eastern borders with the Netherlands and Germany, where the Meuse meets the river Ourthe. It is in the former sillon industriel, the industrial backbone of Wallonia. The Liège municipality includes the former communes of Angleur, Bressoux, Chênée, Glain, Grivegnée, Jupille-sur-Meuse, Rocourt, and Wandre.
The city is the principal economic and cultural centre of Wallonia. As of November 2012, Liège has 198,280 inhabitants. The metropolitan area, including the outer commuter zone, covers an area of 1,879 km2 (725 sq mi) and has a total population of 749,110 as of 1 January 2008. This includes a total of 52 municipalities, among others, Herstal and Seraing. Liège ranks as the third most populous urban area in Belgium, after Brussels and Antwerp, and the fourth municipality after Antwerp, Ghent and Charleroi.
Early Middle Ages
Although settlements already existed in Roman times, the first references to Liège are from 558, when it was known as Vicus Leudicus. Around 705, Saint Lambert of Maastricht is credited with completing the Christianization of the region, indicating that up to the early 8th-century the religious practices of antiquity had survived in some form. Christian conversion may still not have been quite universal, since Lambert was murdered in Liège and thereafter regarded as a martyr for his faith. To enshrine St. Lambert's relics, his successor, Hubertus (later to become St. Hubert), built a basilica near the bishop's residence which became the true nucleus of the city. A few centuries later, the city became the capital of a prince-bishopric, which lasted from 985 till 1794. The first prince-bishop, Notger, transformed the city into a major intellectual and ecclesiastical centre, which maintained its cultural importance during the Middle Ages. Pope Clement VI recruited several musicians from Liège to perform in the Papal court at Avignon, thereby sanctioning the practice of polyphony in the religious realm. The city was renowned for its many churches, the oldest of which, St Martin's, dates from 682. Although nominally part of the Holy Roman Empire, in practice it possessed a large degree of independence.
Late Middle Ages and Renaissance
The strategic position of Liège has made it a frequent target of armies and insurgencies over the centuries. It was fortified early on with a castle on the steep hill that overlooks the city's western side. In 1345, the citizens of Liège rebelled against Prince-Bishop Engelbert III de la Marck, their ruler at the time, and defeated him in battle near the city. Shortly after, a unique political system formed in Liège, whereby the city's 32 guilds shared sole political control of the municipal government. Each person on the register of each guild was eligible to participate, and each guild's voice was equal, making it the most democratic system that the Low Countries had ever known. The system spread to Utrecht, and left a democratic spirit in Liège that survived the Middle Ages.
At the end of the Liège Wars, a rebellion against rule from Burgundy that figured prominently in the plot of Sir Walter Scott's 1823 novel Quentin Durward, Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy, witnessed by King Louis XI of France, captured and largely destroyed the city in 1468, after a bitter siege which was ended with a successful surprise attack. Liège was technically still part of the Holy Roman Empire. After 1477, the city came under the rule of the Habsburgs and, after 1555, under Spanish sovereignty, although its immediate rule remained in the hands of its prince-bishops. The reign of Erard de la Marck (1506–1538) coincides with the Renaissance Liégeoise. During the Counter-Reformation, the diocese of Liège was split and progressively lost its role as a regional power. In the 17th century the prince-bishops came from the Bavarian family Wittelsbach. They ruled over Cologne and other bishoprics in the northwest of the Holy Roman Empire as well.
18th century to World War I
In the middle of the eighteenth century the ideas of the French Encyclopédistes began to gain popularity in the region. Bishop de Velbruck (1772–84), encouraged their propagation, thus prepared the way for the Liège Revolution which started in the episcopal city on 18 August 1789 and led to the creation of the Republic of Liège before it was invaded by counter-revolutionary forces of the Habsburg Monarchy in 1791.
In the course of the , the French army took the city and imposed strongly anticlerical regime, destroying the cathedral of Saint Lambert. The overthrow of the prince-bishopric was confirmed in 1801 by the Concordat co-signed by Napoléon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII. France lost the city in 1815 when the Congress of Vienna awarded it to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Dutch rule lasted only until 1830, when the Belgian Revolution led to the establishment of an independent, Catholic and neutral Belgium which incorporated Liège. After this, Liège developed rapidly into a major industrial city which became one of continental Europe's first large-scale steel making centres. The Walloon Jacquerie of 1886 saw a large-scale working class revolt. No less than 6,000 regular troops were called into the city to quell the unrest, while strike spread through the whole sillon industriel.
World War II to the present
The Germans returned in 1940, this time taking the forts in only three days. Most Jews were saved, with the help of the sympathising population, as many Jewish children and refugees were hidden in the numerous monasteries. The German occupiers were expelled by the Allies of World War II in September 1944 but Liège was subsequently subjected to intense aerial bombardment, with more than 1,500 V-1 and V-2 missiles landing in the city between its liberation and the end of the war.
After the war ended, the Royal Question came to the fore, since many saw king Leopold III as collaborating with the Germans during the war. In July 1950, André Renard, leader of the Liégeois FGTB launched the General strike against Leopold III of Belgium and "seized control over the city of Liège". The strike ultimately led to Leopold's abdication.
Liège began to suffer from a relative decline of its industry, particularly the coal industry, and later the steel industry, producing high levels of unemployment and stoking social tension. During the 1960-1961 Winter General Strike, disgruntled workers went on a rampage and severely damaged the central railway station Guillemins. The unrest was so intense that "army troops had to wade through caltrops, trees, concrete blocks, car and crane wrecks to advance. Streets were dug up. Liège saw the worst fighting on 6 January 1961. In all, 75 people were injured during seven hours of street battles."
Liège is also known as a traditionally socialist city. In 1991, powerful Socialist André Cools, a former Deputy Prime Minister, was gunned down in front of his girlfriend's apartment. Many suspected that the assassination was related to a corruption scandal which swept the Socialist Party, and the national government in general, after Cools' death. Two men were sentenced to twenty years in jail in 2004, for involvement in Cools' murder.
Liège has shown some signs of economic recovery in recent years with the opening up of borders within the European Union, surging steel prices, and improved administration. Several new shopping centres have been built, and numerous repairs carried out.
On 13 December 2011, there was a grenade and gun attack at Place Saint-Lambert. An attacker, later identified as Nordine Amrani, aged 33, armed with grenades and an assault rifle, was reported as having attacked people waiting at the bus stop shortly before 1:30 PM CET. Six fatalities were reported, including the attacker (who shot himself), and 123 people were reported injured, among them a two-year-old child who sustained life-threatening injuries. Police reported that the situation was "under control" by 2:50 PM.