Mechelen (Mechlin in English) is a Dutch-speaking city and municipality in the province of Antwerp, Flanders, Belgium. The municipality comprises the city of Mechelen proper, some quarters at its outskirts, the hamlets of Nekkerspoel (adjacent) and Battel (a few kilometers away), as well as the villages of Walem, Heffen, Leest, Hombeek, and Muizen. The Dijle flows through the city, hence the term 'Dijlestad' (Dijle City).
Mechelen lies on the major urban and industrial axis Brussels-Antwerp, about 25 km from each city. Besides at Mechelen's southern industrial and northern office estates many inhabitants find employment at offices in or industry near the capital, or at industrial plants near Antwerp's seaport.
Mechelen is one of Flanders' Six Art Cities.
Archaeological proof of habitation during the La Tène era in the triangle Brussels-Leuven-Antwerp, mainly concentrated around Mechelen which originated in wetlands, includes an 8.4 metre long canoe cut from an oak tree trunk and a settlement of about five wooden houses, at Nekkerspoel.
The area of Mechelen was settled on the banks of the river during the Gallo-Roman period as evidenced by several Roman ruins and roads. Upon Rome's declining influence, during 3rd–4th centuries AD the area became inhabited by Germanic tribes, a few centuries later Christianized assumedly by the Irish or Scottish missionary St. Rumbold, (Rombout in Dutch), who also would have built a monastery.
Antwerp lost profitable stapelrechten (rights as first seller) for wool, oats and salt to Mechelen in 1303 when John II, Duke of Brabant, granted City rights to the town. This started a controversy between these cities that would last well into the 20th century... and possibly beyond.
In the 15th century, the city came under the reign of the Dukes of Burgundy, marking the beginning of a prosperous period. In 1473 Charles the Bold moved several political entities to the city, and Mechelen served as the seat of the Superior Court until the French Revolution.
The highly lucrative cloth trade gained Mechelen wealth and power during the Late Middle Ages and it even became the capital of the Low Countries (very roughly the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) in the first half of the 16th century under Margarete of Austria's reign.
During the 16th century the city's political influence decreased dramatically, due to many governmental institutes being moved to Brussels. The city compensated for this by increased attention in the religious arena: in 1559 it was proclaimed the Archdiocese of Mechelen, for Belgium not sharing this title with Brussels before 1961. In 1572, during the Eighty Years' War, the city was burned and sacked by the Spanish. After this pillaging, the city was rebuilt. It was during this time that the tradition of furniture making, still seen today, began. In 1781, Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, ordered the destruction of the city's fortified walls — their former location however maintains to be referred to by the Latin terms intra muros (within the walls) and extra muros (outside), and meanwhile became the inner ring road.
The city entered the industrial age in the 19th century. In 1835, the first railway on the European continent linked Brussels with Mechelen, which became the hub of the Belgian railway network. This led to a development of metalworking industries, among others the central railway workshops which are still located in the town today. During World War II, the extensive Mechlinian railroad structure had caused the Nazi occupier to chose Mechelen for its infamous transit camp.
Several famous meetings to the Christian religion are connected to the name of the city. One in 1909 is thought to have inaugurated the Liturgical Movement. Between 1921 and 1925 a series of unofficial conferences, known as the Malines Conversations, presided over by Cardinal Mercier and attended by Anglican divines and laymen, including Lord Halifax, was the most significant of early attempts at the reconciliation between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches.
Most cities in Flanders have a mock name for their inhabitants. Since 1687, for their heroic attempt to fight the fire
high up in the Saint-Rumbold's Tower, where the gothic windows had shown the flaring of only the moon between clouds, Mechlinians have been called Maneblussers
Once in 25 years, the Cavalcade reminds of the arrival of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian of Austria, father of Margarete, and other major events of the city's past; it is followed along the streets by the Ommegang. The latter had an extra edition in 2000 for the 500th anniversary of Charles Quint. This cortege shows the city's six 15th–17th C Giants and other serious and humoresque typical huge puppets and carts, and is UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity since 2005.
The city's 17th century wooden mascot is since 1775 called Opsinjoorke, the doll - later its replica - gets tolled about on a sheet as part of the Ommegang. Its recent bronze statue stands in front of the Belfry.
The annual parade of carts decorated with flowers, comparable with Blankenberge where Mechlinian florists still prepare up to half of those, and - original and appropriate for the area - with vegetables, has been indefinitely cancelled since the beginning of the 21st century for lack of financing by the City.
In spring, a legendary holy statue of Our Lady is the main feature in the Procession of Hanswijk.
Informally, many Mechlinians (in Dutch Mechelaars
and locally pronounced Mecheleirs
, people from this city) daily speak Mechlinian (in Dutch as well as locally Mechels
), a dialect by Dutch-speakers of Belgium pin-pointingly distincted from other Brabantic
dialects by three different vowels of Dutch (as in zout
, in kei
, in nu
) being typically pronounced as a same vowel — close to the one in English 'raw' which does not appear in other dialects of the Flemish Region
or in standard Dutch
. Since 1995 a subscribers' quarterly, 'De Mecheleir',
shows old photographs of Mechelen and has stories on the local history as well as a few columns written mimicking the dialect, for which no spelling is generally determined.
Historically famous Mechlinian trades: laken (woollen cloth), tapestries, cordwain, Mechlin lace (precious bobbin lace, already from the early 18th century), wood carving and sculpturing, furniture.
The area around Mechelen is famous for the cultivation of vegetables, among which Belgian endive (witloof), asparagus and cauliflower. Originated in the city, the Mechelse Veilingen in neighbouring Sint-Katelijne-Waver is the largest co-operative vegetable auction in Europe.
One of the four breeds of the Belgian Sheepdog is the local Malinois. The Mechelse koekoek is a local poultry breed, fleshy chickens with black and white feathers which extend on the bird's legs, with colours reminiscent of a cuckoo, hence the name.
Mechelsen Bruynen was allegedly the emperor Charles V's favourite beer. A version is still brewed in the city at Het Anker brewery.
Home of two of the oldest Belgian football
clubs, founded in 1904: K.R.C. Mechelen
and K.V. Mechelen
. The latter contributed to the international glamour of the city by winning the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup
and the European Super Cup
in 1988. The number of lesser local teams shows this sport's popularity: Rapid Leest, Sporting Mechelen, Leest Utd., VV Leest, Walem, SK.Heffen, Zennester Hombeek, FC Muizen. In 1985
, the city hosted the Flatwater Canoe Racing World Championships
Places of interest
- The Sint-Romboutskathedraal (St. Rumbold's Cathedral) with its dominating tower (UNESCO World Heritage ID 943-016); the Sint-Janskerk (Church of St. John the Evangelist) exhibits 'The Adoration of the Magi' and the Kerk van Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-over-de-Dijle (Church of Our Lady across the river Dijle) 'The Miraculous Draught of Fishes', paintings by Rubens; the domed baroque Basiliek van Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-van-Hanswijk (Basilica of Our Lady of Hanswyck) by native architect Lucas Faydherbe, of whom some sculptures can also be found in the cathedral - he was a pupil and leading assistant of Rubens; the baroque Begijnhofkerk (Church of the Beguines, dedicated to St. Alexis and St. Catherine); the former Jesuit church Sint-Pieter en Pauluskerk (Saints Peter and Paul).
- The Brusselpoort, last remaining of the city's twelve gates, 13th century; the Schepenhuis, oldest stone-built city hall in Flanders, historical seat of the 'Grote Raad' (Great Council or Supreme Court), 13th century; the gothic-renaissance Hof van Busleyden where Jeroom alias Hiëronymus van Busleyden received Erasmus, Thomas More, and the later Pope Adrian VI. These three recently restored buildings together now house the City Museum.
- The Palace of Margaret of York when widowed of Charles the Bold, now the City Theatre; the oldest renaissance building north of the Alps, Palace of archduchess Margarete of Austria while as regent of the Netherlands still raising the later Charles Quint, then for centuries the Supreme though now a lower Court of Justice; in one of these palaces, Anne Boleyn was educated for some time as well; the Palace of the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic province Belgium, still in use for its original purpose by Cardinal Danneels. These palaces may not be open to the public in general but do offer a good external view.
- The Lakenhal (hall for merchants of woollen cloth) and the 14th century Belfry (UNESCO World Heritage ID 943-015) beside it, form now the City Hall at the Grand Market square.
- The Klein Begijnhof and the Groot Begijnhof (UNESCO World Heritage ID 855-003) (Small and Large Béguinages)
- The Jewish Museum of Deportation and the Resistance (see under External links)
- Technopolis, center for hands-on Science and Technology.
- The Toy Museum at Nekkerspoel (see under External links)
- The animal park Planckendael in Muizen (see under External links)
- The Kruidtuin or "Botanique" inner city park with marble statue of the world famous 16th century herbalist Rembert Dodoens alias Dodonæus; the foresty Vrijbroek recreational park with around June its outstanding Rose Gardens and in summer its Dahlia Garden; the Tivoli Park with Children's Farm
- Places less accessible or outstanding, or contrarily of a more particular interest:
- *The Refuge of Sint-Truiden and the Refuge of Tongerlo, retreat mansions for distant abbeys, the latter now housing the Manufacturer De Wit which restores the finest tapestries, for which Flanders was famous in the 16th century.
- *'t Groen Waterke, a picturesque small remnant of bygone canals — in particular of the Melaan, of which a longer stretch was after more than a century uncovered in 2007.
- *A stone pillar De Mijlpaal, now prominent in front of the station, had marked the nearby destination point of the first passenger train ride on the continent. The name was adopted by the railway workers' club for miniature model trains, and by a small museum housed in one of the oldest railroad buildings commemorates the historical event and consequent local industry of national importance.
- *The Clock Museum, also known as the Watchmakers' Museum
- *The Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn" where carillonneurs come from around the world to study the carillon and playing of the instrument. In fine rococo house 'The ship'.
- *The Theravada Buddhist place of worship Wat Dhammaprateep (Temple of the Flame of Truth or Reality as taught by the Enlightened One) has since 2005 on its grounds an in China beautifully sculptured Buddha seated on a soccle, both in dark green marble - the tallest Buddha statue in Europe.
- *There are over 300 protected monuments in Mechelen.
- Many interesting facades along an easy walk from AB-straat by Katelijnestraat towards the Grote Markt, just behind the Schepenhuis turn right along IJzerenleen and before the Grootbrug (bridge) again right to the Vismarkt, always maintain left along a few curves and across the Kraanbrug (bridge) on the Haverwerf, pass the renewed complex of the former Lamot brewery; from the Grootbrug have a look on the river but stay on this bank: turn right onto the Zoutwerf till De Zalm (The Salmon), originally House of the Fishermans' Guild, tread back and turn left to the Korenmarkt where minor traces of an early cloth hall remain: a 12th-13th century wall and ditch held Mechelen on this side of the river.
See also: Notable people from Mechelen
- Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy (1446–1503) Note: several children who later became queens of European countries had received an education at her court.
- John Heywood, English poet (1497–c 1575)
- Margarete of Austria, regent of the Netherlands, daughter of Maximilian I and guardian of Charles V (1480–1530)
- Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, brought up in Mechelen until age 17 (1500–1558)
- Anne Boleyn, future wife of English King Henry VIII (1504–1536)
- Rembert Dodoens, botanist, herbalist, and physician (1517–1585)
- Philippe de Monte, Renaissance composer (1521–1603)
- François René Mallarmé, French politician in exile (1755–1835)
- ISBN 90-5837-089-5, Michelin's "De Grote Gids België"