The Freyr massif is dotted with many karstic caves, sinkholes and more. Most famous is probably the Colébi ravine that's dug out by vortex erosion. The caves may seem too disturbed and/or provide unsufficient preservation (speculation) by the time archaeological research starts in the late 1800's when the first systematic archaeologists can only get their hands on a few selected Condroz sites. Only from the 1960's the Freyr region receives attention and eventual traces of occupation are researched.

L'abri du Pape would show occupation at the final Paleolithic, with remains from the succeeding Mesolithic, burials from the Neolithic and eventually Iron Age (Léotard 1994).

Archaeologist Cauwe undertakes excavations in the 1990's. l'Abri des Autours and the Margaux cave (right bank of Colébi ravine) provide Mesolithic graves from hunter-gatherers. These would date from around 11,000 years ago making them the oldest known collective burials in Europe.

In the early Neolithic the Bibiche cave (CAUWE et al. 1993) is used for ritualistic burials. The remains must frequently become rearranged, explaining the mixing up of bones. Léotard et al. (1999) mention rock climber and speleologist Philippe "Bibiche" Lacroix (working for “Direction de l’Archéologie” of the Walloon Region) do efforts in the 1980's to investigate several cavities.

Romans or other people may have set sail down the Meuse river. Imagine the awe when these rocks loomed out of the flood plain.

During the Migration Period (aka Barbaric invasions) Dinant is probably the one nearby village. The name Dinant would come from the Celtic Divo-Nanto. It means something close to "Sacred Valley" and "Luminous Gorge".

The Franks soon dominate the political organisation in most of the territorium of current-day lowland France and Belgium. The large region is called land of the franks or Francia. Clovis has serious success and heralds European Christianity. Three hundred years after the fall of the Roman emperors, leading up to the 800's, Western-Central Europe becomes united under then king of the Franks, Charlemagne, living in Aachen close to Liège. After Charlemagne's death the empire divides into three, striking the first note in a long ouverture towards violently conflicting centralization ambitions that will linger on 'till after World War II, 1200 years later. The initial division is:

  • east-Francia (centring more or less around the original land of the Franks: Francia),

  • middle-Francia (Lothair's Lotharingia) and

  • west-Francia (Ludwig the German).

This website collects old maps of the region. Next centuries are not well documented. Central to history are clergical evolutions, feudal politics and agricultural innovations.

For centuries Dinant and its surroundings are shared by the Namur County and the (985 Prince-)Bishopric of Liège. In 1070 the Germanic emperor (Roman Empire, East-Francia...) assigns Dinant wholly to the Liège Prince-Bishopric. NOTE: Territoria then are a matter of multiscalar entities resulting from marriages, economic or political-strategical deals and pacts, ground lease, clausules, intriges, unfulfilled agreements and exceptionally feudal conflicts which happen along a set of complex rules. Unarmed populations are relatively left alone, with plundering by unpaid soldiers being rather rare, in oposition to popular conceptions of the 'Dark Ages'.

In feudal order, in the county of Namur facing the prince-bishopry of Liège, the castle of Freyr is constructed and will guard a long-lasting political borderland.

In 1465 the central authority of the ambitious French king (Bourbon-descent, West-Francia,...) is contested by La ligue du Bien public, joined by dukes who want more feudal power spread over themselves, more like in the east (self-proclaimed Roman Empire, later Holy Roman Empire, Germanic europe, large division tracing back from East-Francia,..). These counts are led by the future duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold (Bourbon-descent). The heir to the Burgundian duke wants his kingdom from Burgundy to the Burgundian Netherlands to be independent, as an imagined restoration of the old Middle-Francia or Lotharingia. So a bunch of dukes battles at Montlhéry, south of Paris. No winner is concluded. The French king isolates the Burgundians from their ally, the English, by signing peace with the English and definitively concluding peace after the Hundred Years' War.

Charles the Bold (aka Charles le Téméraire, Karl Martin or Karel De Stoute), soon duke of Burgundy, painted around 1460 by Rogier van der Weyden, a painter considered one of the influential "Flemish Primitives".

Now, back to the Freyr-Dinant region...: The opposite side of the river (the county of Namur) has recently been bought by the Burgundians. On the own side, the Liège-Prince-Bishopric, one sees a new bishop-prince being appointed via Burgundian lobbying in Rome. The ambition of the Burgundians is clear. Organised groups within the Liège-Prince-Bishopric forge alliances with the Burgundian enemy, the French king. The tension rises. Meanwhile in the prince-bishopric, Dinant's upcoming urban class thrives on an industry of copper and assorted alloys, but Dinant's brassware industry depends highly on the white sand exploitations on the opposite Burgundian bought side of the Meuse river. What and if the Dinant people did something is unclear (or does Charles the Bold just look to threaten the city of Liège?) but soon in August 1466, the people of Dinant's city are attacked by the Burgundian duke's armies. In one week the city falls and is violently plundered, even the abbey of Leffe is bloodily pillaged. 800 people of the coppersmith guild are killed along with other civilians in what is not the typical feudal conflict anymore, but which rather seems a conflict of central authority and urban power, leading to retaliating violence politics. The locals may have hidden in the unknown Freyr area. Though eventual escapes will not have been documented.

'Le Sac Dinant' in 1466, illustrated by Ferdinand Roybet in the 1800's. The drawing is on exhibition in the Fine Arts Museum of San Fransisco.

In 1477 Charles the Bold dies and the actual Burgundy is lost to the French king (imagine it the old East-Francia), while the Burgundian Netherlands in 1482 comes into the hands of the Habsburgs who also marry their way into Spain, and who, earlier in 1438, took the prins-elect role in the (Holy) Roman Empire (imagine it the old West-Francia or the Germanic empire), to not give the once 'democratic' role away anymore until Napoleon. The prince-bishopric of Liège is surrounded by these Habsburgian Netherlands and is somewhat neutral, allows passage of military troops, or is according to some even unofficially reigned as part of those Netherlands. (more)

Around the year 1500 Joachim Patinier grows up near Dinant. Soon he will leave for a painting career in Renaissance Antwerp. Art historians consider Joachim the first Flemish master to emphasize landscape. You might bump into a work of his in Brussels, Madrid, Paris, New York, Monasterio de San Lorenzo or Philadelphia. Some of his landscapes look like Freyr in a fever dream.

Mid 1500's Habsburger Karel V dies and the big empire is split in two already. These Habsburg Netherlands become a political combipacket with Spain (just 'discovered' the Americas), soon making the northern Renaissance die out and making the people revolt against the Spanish-Habsburg authorities. The other Habsburg rulers, the ones of the Holy Roman Empire (kind of Germany), will also come to struggle with internal opponents. These major instabilities are among the bloodiest in Europe ever and only end in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia.

The Meuse in Freyr and Dinant allowed to export products throughout Europe, carried on flat-bottomed boats with a shallow draught. It is suggested these boats could float up to 100 kilometres downstream a day.

1590 Dinant as seen by Claude Chastillon, French architect and topographer. Notice the broken bridge. West and Central Europe know dark times while Habsburg rulers cling to power with ambition, manipulating with religion.

Mid 1600's depiction of Dinant by Basel-based engraver Matthäus Merian. A bridge!

In 1678 France and the United Provinces of The Netherlands agree on their borders with the Treaty of Nijmegen. France starts 14km upstream from Freyr, getting a small corridor along the Meuse in the deal. However this treaty doesn't settle lasting peace. In Givet the French construct the Fortress of Charlemont given its strategic position.

Map of fortified Dinant in the 1700's.

In 1777 the Ancien Régime is crumbling and an Industrial evolution slowly announces itself. The region of Freyr and Dinant, now part of the Austrian Habsburg's Netherlands, is mapped (consult) in what is perceived as the first large-scale systematic mapping in Western Europe. Though the rocks of Freyr (section 119) are vaguely sketched, their position is better shown than on all commercial maps before, which copypasted assumed positions of an area they clearly did not know so well. Notice how the Ferraris map shows no forests nearby. Moreover Freyr and Dinant are part of an outlier of the territorium of the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, sticking into the Namur County.

In june 1815, four days after Mr. Comeback Napoleon is finally defeated in Waterloo, in Givet French troops resist occupation stretching their resistance for a few months on, until an important peace treaty is signed. The Russians then are allowed to occupy Givet for two years to then give it back. The resulting border and Pointe de Givet (finger shaped territory) is still maintained today as the Belgian-French border. France eventually finds it convenient to place a nuclear plant here in 1967, peripheral to its vast territory. Two of three reactors are still operating.

In 1814 Adolphe Sax is born nearby. In Dinant, city with a coppersmith tradition, Sax experiments with instrument making. Besides he allegedly almost dies because of rockfall. Growing up he goes on to study in Brussels and eventually settles in Paris where the saxhorn and the saxophone see the light, in soprano, tenor, alto, baritone and bass editions.

In 1825 the hype of the Grand Tours lays the foundations of tourism. De Cloedt travels around the Condroz region and composes a book with drawings, soon becoming a bestseller. Also other international artists will visit Dinant, Freyr, the Lesse,... De Cloedt shows in his book the ruins of Château-Thierry immediately in the woods, 1,5km south of Freyr, once overlooking the Meuse for plunderers, and plundering themselves by demanding taxes. However the mysterious ruins will soon be relentlessly excavated by local peasants, sneaking with their candles into the night, looking for treasures.

1825, De Cloedt's depiction of the Château-Thierry ruins in decomposition.

1875. Upstream of Freyr, Waulsort painting by Jean Francois Xavier Roffiaen, who goes on to travel and paint in the Alps.

1876. Another Waulsort one by Jean Francois. This gives a hint of the original natural character of the Meuse's floodplain, which is now contained.

1875. Félicien Rops, a remarkable member of the nearby School of Anseremme, paints the Colébi valley (aka Val du Colombier), now on display in Musée d'Orsay in Paris. Be sure to take a look at other works (1, 2,...) of this important illustrator.

Around 1900 Wallonia is roaring. Nation states rise and so does the 75-year old invention of Belgium. In its south, Wallonia is the first and major place on the European continent to surf on successive waves of industrialisation with glass and steel. And also because of colonisation (plundering) wealth increases. The 'Grands hotels' of Waulsort upstream are the guardians of this upbeat era. Moreover in 1904 the village of Waulsort-sur-Meuse opens the first hotel with an underground car parking in Europe.

Around the 1900 'fin-de-siècle' the Belgian climbing scene focuses on the Alps and is led by the nobility and the intellectual and economic elite, like

  • nobel prize winner Henri La Fontaine

  • inventor Ernest Solvay who founded the Solvay multinational

  • and King Albert I of Belgium.

1912. Aquarelle by Maurice Hagemans, one of the artists often residing in l'Auberge des Artistes in Anseremme, friend of F. Rops. Hagemans made many other works around Freyr (1,...), Condroz and Flandres.

Just like in the 1400's, 1500's and 1600's, in august 1914 Dinant's region is again the bridge for an emerging east-west conflict: this time the Germans advance towards France. King Albert I (king of neutral buffer country Belgium) refuses the Kaiser's (part of the same victorian family tree) free passage. The kaiser advances anyway so the superpowers have to declare war. When the French, with the then unknown luitenant Charles De Gaulle, scare off the German troops, the population of Dinant openly favors the French. New troops arrive from Saxony, the eastern kingdom south of Prussia, but also the ancestral grounds of the royal Belgian family, yet now part of a young Germanic reich. The military commanders rile up the mass of Saxon soldiers whom soon raze over the city with no scruples. Civilians are seen as part of the enemy and are subjected to random carnage and destruction. 674 people almost regardless of age and gender are killed (10% of Dinant's population) and the city is set on fire leaving 80% destroyed. In the following week, in the north, the city of Leuven is terrorized in a comparable rage. One of the world's largest library collections perishes. It's still three months before the diverse German troops will be met by opposing armies (at the Yzer). In the meantime more cities and citizens fall victim to the rage of conservative militarism mixed with intimidating dark modern warfare unfamiliar to everyone everywhere. The incredibly violent breach of the neutrality of buffer kingdom Belgium, gives rise to the international notion of 'The rape of Belgium' which wuld help convince the United States of America to join in April 1917. (Check this neat and visual website.)

Dinant 1914 (source).

Literature on the event.

In 1937 Alfred Bastian paints a diorama of 8m x 72m showing 1914 Dinant and its surroundings, as a warning it might happen again. Artillery develops during the First World War and it has new impacts on the environment too: ravaged land, destroyed agricultural areas, devastated forests, crushed animal carcasses and trees pierced with bullets and dissected by shells, as witnesses to death.

High officials always look for the demonization and dehumanisation of the enemy to enrage the mass they control. The allied powers invented details based on the barbarian theme. In the illustrated French village to the south, propaganda makes up how soldiers are dancing in ripped off women's dresses, as if the actual atrocities that really happen aren't bad enough already. Just as well the Kaiser's troops are told crazy stories of the allies. However because of some higher officials the 'Hun' reputation is lived up to, like when they execute the British nurse Edith Cavell in Brussels, given that she gave medical support to all soldiers, regardless of the side they're on.

Enlisting ad. The good vs the bad who think they're the good vs. the bad while they're all soldiers pushed into the same war machine.

Meanwhile over the decades the railways develop and the posh hotspot Waulsort thrives three a half kilometer upstream of Freyr. Newspapers of that time report protests against car congestion on Sunday as cardrivers take the cycle lane without batting an eyelid.

Some rich and famous gradually try climbing opportunities nearby. First ‘La Chandelle de Chaleux’ sees the light along the Lesse river. Then follows the ‘Rocher Bayard’ in Dinant and subsequently ‘La Chamia’ and ‘La Longariesse’ in Waulsort, ‘La fissure Grunne’ in Dave and thereafter the Ourthe is explored in Sy and Hotton, followed by Yvoir and Grands Malades. For this the count Xavier de Grunne often negotiates rock access with aristocratic land and castle owners.

In 1930 36-year-old Xavier de Grunne dares his way up the intimidating rocks of Freyr. He manages to open the first route with mountain boots, a bit of metal and assumably static hemp rope. Route 'de Grunne' runs up the corner between Tête du Lion and Le Pape. Xavier later voluntarily picks up the weapons against the Germans, again. It will be his death in 1944 in a concentration camp in present-day Poland. He leaves six children behind.

After the Tête du Lion / Pape massif, the second to be explored is Mérinos. There two routes are established. Then in 1931 the Aiguille de la Jeunesse is climbed by Camille Fontaine. During this year several climbers try to make it up the yet unclimbed major massif, Al'lègne. King Albert I explores and Xavier de Grunne will really work out a way up. An interesting book in this light is the Dutch 'Speeltuin Van de Koningen' featuring this picture of King Albert I on top of Mérinos.

Freyr is often associated with king Albert I, the relatively popular Belgian king who had, just more than a decade earlier, tried to keep morale high during the unseen violent outbreak of political strive and confusion escalating into World War I (and into his needed command in Flanders' Fields). Later, by the beginning of the 1930's, the king is part of a select club of adventurers with time, money and desire more than fear for Freyr. Albert I is accompanied by a French guide, several club companions and/or his son (later king Leopold III, no first or second degree family to the dreaded genocidist and despot Leopold II). Albert I dies four years after Freyr's first route, on a winter's day, 59 years old, on the rocks of Marche-les-Dames. Though at that moment Albert is the first honorary president of the UIAA (today's world federation) the Belgian people don't know about his alpinism 'till that catastrophic day is cried out by all headlines. Reading about Freyr, king Albert I often pops up, with writings consistently being covered under a film of royal praise. These texts require critical reading. In the climbing community lives the persistent assumption that Xavier's rope partner in Freyr's first route is King Albert I. This is not confirmed by any of the major sources of that time. Though Albert and Xavier do climb together on the Cathedral in Sy.

By 1934 Freyr has 9 routes. In 1935 Bleausard and alpinist Pierre Allain visits with some French friends. In 1937 the newspapers announce the first ascent of Le Pape.

In may 1940 the westfront of WOII emerges and Dinant is again cardinal in the western charge of German military troops. This time the strategies of both military sides seem way more sophisticated, developed and blitz than during WOI, while the population flees the city very early remembering the massacre of WOI. The Germans only burn selected houses, to create mist. Then the eastern armies rage over regardless of nature zones and people's homes.

The Dinant region is bombed again four years later for the liberation. Three months later, in desperation, Germany tries to restart the Western front, again through Belgium, culminating into the Battle of the Bulge. When people are celebrating christmas Germany is finally scared away by British troops keeping a close watch on the bridges of Dinant. USA armies fight an important battle more to the southeast, in the Ardennes.

By 1950 Freyr has 44 routes. Around 1955, Pierre de Radzitzky opens a whole series of routes on the Mérinos. By 1957 there are 82 routes in Freyr. René Mailleux thinks back of Freyr then as a school of solidarity. A strict set of ethics already applies to climbing. Rappelling down is only allowed in case of an emergency.

Traverse on the 120m Al'lègne multipitch.

After the technological innovations of WOII the climbing community lays her hands on the first dynamic ropes. By 1965 there are 259 routes in Freyr. Aid ('artif(iciel)') climbing surges and leaves its marks on the Freyr rocks. But not for long..

Mark Sebille collected great pictures and shows them here.

A 1966 CAB climbing guide (source).

A number of Freyr regulars will die over the years. 'Escalades au soleil de minuit' is a 1961-movie about a Belgian expedition to Greenland where 4 key Freyr figures find death, of which the free climber (avant la lettre) Jean Alzetta. Andre Capel dies in 1963 on the infamous Piz Badile. Around Freyr you'll find more crosses of old guests that found death to early.

Al'lègne.

In the midst of the 1960's free climbing Claudio Barbier and Jean Bourgeois (you can still see him in Freyr sometimes) will spark a free climbing rage in Freyr (up-to-date hommage website by author D.Demeter). Steadily a free climbing movement actively contests aid climbing on gear. Youngsters revolt and worship the Elbsandsteiners, Dolomite warriors and Peak districters. At that time, leaving aid gear on the ground, a new generation overthrows locked-in traditions in Yosemite, the Gunks, Saussois(-sur-Yonne), Pfalz, Buoux, Smith Rock, Altmühltal (South of Frankenjura) and Freyr, sending pictures and stories over the world faster than ever.

Around 1969, a serious threat hangs over Freyr: local businessmen have imagined creating a giant caravan site between the road, the Colébi and the rocks. With the help of various environmental protection associations, the Alpine Club will oppose the plans and succeed in convincing the minister to ban this project.

Photo from a newspaper in 1975 (source). Notice the alpinist boots. Sport climbers at the time rather wear EB-branded stiff rubber climbing shoes, until in 1982 finally sticky rubber climbing shoes are invented. (another one but owned by the CAB.)

After Claudio's accidental death in Yvoir in 1977, Freyr counts 298 routes and goes on as one of the world's key sites where the possibilities of difficult free climbing are further explored, led by figures like Arnould 't Kint, Pierre 'Pico' Masschelein, Isabelle Dorsimond, Jean-Marc Arnould, Philippe Lacroix, the Van Sint Jan brothers, Johan De Schepper and many more. Besides difficult sport climbing, Freyr also remains a key site to practice self-reliant, aware and quick advance in alpine rock terrain, explaining sparse bolting and rock that's polished like mirrors.

In 1981 Arnould 't Kint frees Boulevard du Vol, 13. Relying on present-day community grades, the Boulevard line is the first in Europe to be considered of the elusive 8th French difficulty grade. At the time in the US only two routes are climbed that will later be recognised as also being in these impossible new difficulty regions. Boulevard is visible on the photo on the left. Soon more lines will be tried and freed over the whole world and the flirts with climbing's impossibles will be brought to unknown levels.

The climbing community also loses: In 1978 on another Greenland expedition: Mon de Mayer, Dré Beuckelaers and Oscar D'Hollander. In 1982 Jean-Michel Stembert dies soloing Pichenibule (7b+) in Verdon. In 1987 Wim Smets is killed by an avalanche at Yerupaja in Peru. Frans Dekens is struck by lightning on a glacier and Renaat Muys later dies in Peru on an expedition.

From 1988 to 1993 the amount of routes increases from 367 to 521 (of which 32 unequipped). Touringcars from The Netherlands flood the place. Agreements between the climbing federations make climbing on the site a lot more sustainable again. Thanks. We hope the federations but also the climbers will continue efforts.

International guests over the years include Dave Graham (2003), Dave McLeod (2009) and more people invited by the Leuven University Alpinist Club LUAK.

From 2016 to 2020 former climbing champion Jeff Roba resides in a chalet that he had built from recycled materials (without permit and chance of permit) in a forest very close to Freyr.