Aalst (Alost) ('Oilsjt' in the local dialect) is a city and municipality on the Dender River, 19 miles northwest from Brussels. It is located in the Flemish province of East Flanders. The municipality comprises the city of Aalst itself and the villages of Baardegem, Erembodegem, Gijzegem, Herdersem, Hofstade, Meldert, Moorsel, and Nieuwerkerken-Aalst. The current mayor of Aalst is Ilse Uyttersprot, from the CD&V (Christian-Democrats) party. The town still has a feud against Dendermonde (situated north along the same river), which dates back from the Middle Ages.
Construction of the town hall began in the middle of the 12th century, and is the oldest surviving hall in Belgium. Several manuscripts from this period still survive in the town archives. The town hall, and the city itself, were almost entirely destroyed by fire in 1360. The town was soon rebuilt and a new belfry in gothic style was build in the 15th century. This was a time of great prosperity for the city, dominated by the powerful weavers' guild. It is also at that time that Dirk Martens, a local citizen, became the Southern Netherlands’ first printer, founding a printing shop in 1473 that published books by various authors including Christopher Columbus; Martens would later become a professor at the Catholic University of Louvain.
Aalst suffered considerably under the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648). It was later taken by France in the War of Devolution of 1667, then occupied by France until well into the 18th century along with Southern Flanders in general. The textile-based economy flourished under the French. The 19th century was marked by the social crises engendered by the Industrial Revolution, with Father Adolf Daens, with his Christene Volkspartij, emerging as the local defender of the workers' rights. The 20th century was marked by occupation by the Germans during both world wars.
Aalst is famous for its carnival festivities, celebrated every year in February. A Prince Carnaval is elected, who is allowed to "rule" the city for three days. A big parade crosses the city on Sunday, with about 70 groups of costumed volunteers and parade cars. Carnaval Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday (by tradition, the day before Ash Wednesday), is known as the day of the 'Voil Jeannetten' (literally: "the Dirty Jennies"), i.e. men dressed as women. The festivities traditionally end with the "Burning of the Doll", happening on Tuesday evening.