Today, Liège is the largest Walloon metropolis and the third largest urban area in Belgium. It has 200,000 inhabitants. It lies at the heart of the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion, covering Maastricht, Aachen and Hasselt. Liège may no longer be a state capital, but it still has some important roles: political (provincial capital), economic (the Vertbois site is the seat of the Walloon Region's economic institutions), judicial (Prosecutor's office, Courts and Tribunals), educational (dense network of secondary schools and higher education establishments), cultural, etc.
The Prince-Bishops' Palace now houses the Governor of Liège province, part of his department and the services of the Ministry of Justice. The presence of a bishop continues the city's religious tradition.
On the economic level, the last 25 years have been marked by the crisis of the Liège industrial area. Since the 19th century, coalmines, steelworks and iron works, weapons factories, etc. have shaped the landscape and the mentality of the region. These old industrial activities, which made Liège the second largest economic power in the world at the start of the last century, had been overtaken by the new technologies and hit hard by global competition. At major financial and social cost, the Liège area is now recovering and is in better shape. Cockerill is again a company making money and investing abroad. It mirrors the whole regional economy which is making necessary changes.
Liège again believes it has a future. A new web of small and medium-sized businesses, closer and closer meshed, is being established in the region and the oldest companies are being transformed. They are often resorting to the most innovative technologies and putting on the market products with high value added exported throughout the world. For some years, the University of Liège has been one of their preferred partners. As a centre of specialized knowledge, it is placing its human expertise and equipment at the service of companies' needs. One of the most striking examples of the region's redevelopment is space engineering, a highly sophisticated field if ever there was one. By integrating various skills, a Liège Spatiopôle has been set up with close contacts with the aeronautical industry and the major space research centres (ESA, NASA).
Liège's economic recovery is also based on a dense, integrated communications network which affirms even more its European calling. Liège is a hub of the motorway network through which traffic to the Netherlands, Germany and all of Central Europe has to pass. It has the third-largest European river port connected with the sea ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam. The forthcoming arrival of the TGV will make it ideally placed at the centre of the Paris-Brussels-Berlin rail route. Its airport at Bierset is an international freight centre which is expanding fast.
Liège is a tourist town, a welcoming town, a stopping-off place at the intersection of three borders; it is a cosmopolitan city as shown by the make-up of its population. A Sunday morning stroll through La Batte market is all it takes to become aware of this. Italian and North African immigration has brought the accents and human warmth of the south into this northern land. This mixing of cultures contributes to the charm of the Ardent City.
Liège is proud of being described as a city offering a warm welcome. Neither too big nor too small, it offers all the attractions of a real town but remains on a human scale. The city centre is very commercial and full of restaurants and bars. There is something for all tastes and all purses. For their part, the students show a preference for the Carré, a maze of small streets whose night life is particularly appreciated. On the right bank of the river, in the Outremeuse district, Rue Roture attracts gourmets and lovers of other cultures.
Liège's cultural life is particularly lively with the presence of ten or so theatres, the Royal Opera of Wallonia, the Symphony Orchestra (which plays before the most prestigious audiences), the music Conservatoire, thirty or so cinemas (some of which specialize in art house or experimental cinema), and dozens of art galleries and museums, not to mention the many cultural associations and public libraries (the Chiroux).
In the last few years, the city has revived an old tradition by organising prestigious exhibitions (Monet, Cobra, Gauguin, Chagall and, in 2000, Picasso). Neither should you miss the Tout Simenon exhibition which pays homage to the great Liège novelist. Despite living abroad, Simenon remained loyal to his birthplace and left all his private archives to the University of Liège which opened a Fund at Château de Colonster at Sart Tilman as a result.
Maybe Liège will be your town in a few months' time. Take a voyage of discovery, encounter its very special spirit and you will probably love it as it deserves. For Liège is never as beautiful as when one tries to enchant it...