The city of Aalst is the eighth city in this Belgium Under the Radar blog series.
Aalst is located in the province of East Flanders and has a population of just over 80,000. The city is old – 9th century – and has a rich and quite interesting history. It used to be the home of Dirk Martens, who in 1473 started one of the very first printing businesses in the world. I won’t bore you any further with historic facts – for once! – and therefore I suggest that you take a look at Aalst’s wikipedia page if you would like more information.
The city now is most famous for its annual carnival parade and celebrations and its beautiful town square. It’s a lovely city to spend an afternoon in; there are several pedestrian shopping streets, a fascinating museum and quaint cobble stone alleyways and squares.
St Martin’s Church
This is a church you really shouldn’t miss. It’s well maintained, the interior is colorful and there are so many treasures that it’s almost impossible to see them all.
There’s an abundance of statues, tapestries, sculptures,… It’s seriously impressive. There’s also a painting by Peter Paul Rubens.
Yep, here’s another beguinage! This beguinage has been around since 1261, but was closed after the Second World War due to lack of beguines. The beguines’ houses are gone and have been replaced by regular houses. The remaining chapel is an interesting feature though. It was built in 1631 on top of a grave of a mysterious beguine. No one knows who or why.
Aalst is a city of historic figures, who all absolutely deserve a statue. The following four, in particular, are quite famous. (Click the links for more information!)
Louis Paul Boon, novelist
Adolf Daens, priest
Valerius de Saedeleer, painter
Dirk Martens, printer and editor
I’ve never seen a train station like the one in Aalst before. It was built 160 years ago and kind of looks like a castle. It’s a protected monument and definitely an interesting building, but I still don’t know what to think of it. It’s kind of weird.
Borse of Amsterdam
This beautiful building on the town square dates from the 17th century. Aalst used to be located on the main road from Lille, France, to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and here travelers could take a break, eat and/or sleep. There were stables where horses could rest as well.
Nowadays there are a restaurant on the ground floor and rooms for celebrations and parties on the upper floors.
The city hall, also located on the town square, is a beautiful Rococo building. Dating from the 17th century, it used to be the place from where Aalst and the surrounding areas were governed.
Between the Borse of Amsterdam and the city hall stand the gorgeous – there’s no other word for it – Belfry and Aldermen’s House. Erected in 1460, it’s the oldest belfry in Belgium and arguably the most beautiful as well. The belfry’s carillon contains no less than 52 bells.
The Aldermen’s House was built in 1225. Its cellars used to serve as torture chambers and a prison.
Both buildings are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As mentioned before, Aalst is well-known for its carnival festivities, held each year in February.