The High Fens consist mainly of moorland and forest, and stretch between Eupen in the north, Monschau in the east, Spa in the west and Malmedy in the south. It is a very rainy (1500-1700 mm per year) and swampy region. Several rivers have their source in the Hautes Fagnes: the Vesdre, Hoëgne, Warche, Gileppe, Eau Rouge, Amblève, Our, Kyll and Rur. There are several artificial lakes in the region.
It's possible to ski in this area, well known for wintersport activities.
Some old sources spell the city's name "Malmédy" as this accent was intentionally added when being part of Prussia and Germany, but its official website lists it as "Malmedy", with no accent. Today the city enjoys a degree of political autonomy, being a French-speaking part of the East Cantons together with Waimes and the municipalities of the German-speaking Community of Belgium.
The main church of Malmedy was built in 1777 and served as a cathedral from 1920 to 1925. It still holds the title of cathedral.
Malmedy was historically part of Liege but was annexed by Prussia in 1815.
At the end of the First World War, Malmedy and neighbouring Eupen were subject to a plebiscite to determine whether the region would be separated from Germany and annexed to Belgium. The plebiscite ballots required names and addresses of the voters, and the German-speaking population of Eupen and Malmedy were intimidated. Both were formally annexed on March 6, 1925.
In 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, the area was the site of the Malmedy massacre, where 84 American prisoners of war were executed by German SS troops. Moreover, on 23, 24 and 25 December 1944 the city was bombed repeatedly by the United States Army Air Forces despite the fact it was actually under control of U.S. troops. Approximately 200 civilians were killed in the tragic attacks, while the number of American casualties has never been revealed by the U.S. Department of War.
The town grew up around the Abbey of Stavelot, founded ca 650, out of what had been a villa, by the legendary Saint Remaclus (Saint Remacle). The villa's lands occupied the borderland between the bishoprics of Cologne and Tongeren. The Abbey of Stavelot was secularized and demolished at the time of the French Revolution: of the church just the west end doorway remains, as a free-standing tower. Two cloisters — one secular, one for the monks — survive as the courtyards of the brick-and-stone 17th-century domestic ranges, now housing the Museum of the Principality of Stavelot-Malmedy, and museums devoted to the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who was a long-term resident, and to the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. The foundations of the abbey church are presented as a footprint, with walls and column bases that enable the visitor to visualize the scale of the Romanesque abbey.
Stavelot was the seat of the Principality of Stavelot-Malmedy, a small independent region of the Holy Roman Empire, ruled by the abbots of Stavelot. The principality was dissolved in 1794 during the French Revolution. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Stavelot was added to the Kingdom of the Netherlands while Malmedy was added to the Prussian Rhineland. In 1830 it became part of Belgium. (Malmedy would also become a part of Belgium, but not until 1919.)
The key building period at the abbey of Stavelot corresponds to the rule of the abbot Poppon, the second founder of the abbey, who revived the cult of St. Remaclus and died in 1048; his cult, which began almost immediately, focused on his resting place in the crypt. Thietmar was the lay patron who assembled carpenters and stone masons to build the abbey church. The church served as a monastic church and as a church of pilgrimage until the French Revolution. Its imposing gatehouse tower was rebuilt in 1534; its ground floor is all that remains, though the abbey church has been excavated and is presented in its plan.
In the mid–12th century the independent prince-abbot of Stavelot-Malmedy supported a group of goldsmiths and metalworkers that produced champlevé enamels, among whom the name of Godefroid de Claire stands out. Abbot Wibald (ruled 1130–58) was one of the greatest patrons of the arts in the 12th century; the Stavelot Triptych of gilded copper and enamels, which contained two fragments of the True Cross, was produced for the Abbey during his rule (about 1156). The binding of the Stavelot Bible, and the remaining fragments from the retable (altar screen) at Stavelot are also high points of medieval art.
At the end of World War II, during the Battle of the Bulge, the city was the scene of severe fighting. Moreover, between 18 and 20 December 1944, soldiers belonging to the German Kampfgruppe Peiper killed more than 100 civilians (including women and very young children) in Stavelot and the surrounding area.
For this and other massacres (among others of American prisoners of war) perpetrated during the same period, Peiper and some of his men would eventually have to face the Malmedy massacre trial, at which they were convicted of having committed war crimes.
Stavelot also has a traditional carnival, the
Carnaval de la Laetare des Blancs-Moussis.
On the fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday, some 200 local men clad in white and masked with long red noses — the Blancs-Moussis — parade through town throwing confetti and beating bystanders with dried pig bladders.