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Subject: Aalst, Belgium, Hayne van Ghizeghem
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Municipality of Belgium

Aalst City Hall

Coat of arms
Location in Belgium

Coordinates: 50°56′N 04°02′E / 50.933°N 4.033°E / 50.933; 4.033Coordinates: 50°56′N 04°02′E / 50.933°N 4.033°E / 50.933; 4.033

Country Belgium
Community Flemish Community
Region Flemish Region
Province East Flanders
Arrondissement Aalst
 • Mayor Christoph D'Haese (N-VA)
 • Governing party/ies N-VA, Open VLD, CD&V
 • Total 78.12 km2 (30.16 sq mi)
Population (1 January 2012)[1]
 • Total 81,853
 • Density 1,000/km2 (2,700/sq mi)
Postal codes 9300, 9308, 9310, 9320
Area codes 053

Aalst (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈaːlst]; French: Alost, Local dialect: Oilsjt) is a city and municipality on the Dender River, 19 miles northwest from Brussels. It is located in the Flemish province of East Flanders in the Denderstreek. The municipality comprises the city of Aalst itself and the villages of Baardegem, Erembodegem, Gijzegem, Herdersem, Hofstade, Meldert, Moorsel, and Nieuwerkerken. Aalst is crossed by the Molenbeek-Ter Erpenbeek in Aalst and Hofstade. The current mayor of Aalst is Christoph D'Haese, from the New-Flemish Alliance party. The town has a long-standing (folkloric) feud with Dendermonde (situated north along the same river), which dates back from the Middle Ages.


The first historical records on Aalst date from the 9th century, when it was described as the villa Alost, a dependency of the Abbey of Lobbes. During the Middle Ages, a town and port grew at this strategic point, where the road from Bruges to Cologne crossed the Dender. While it was within the Holy Roman Empire it was considered the capital of the province of Flanders.[2] In 1046, Aalst was transferred to the Countship of Imperial Flanders, and absorbed a portion of Brabant, and in 1173 it was united with the remainder of the Flanders province.[2] Its frontier position on the border of the Holy Roman Empire allowed the town to keep a certain degree of independence. Its relation with Brabant has been preserved in the city’s white and red coat of arms, the colours of Lotharingia.

Construction of the town hall began in the middle of the 12th century,[3] making it the oldest surviving town hall in Belgium. Several manuscripts from this period still survive in the town archives.[4] 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 built 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 Old University of Leuven.[3]

Aalst suffered considerably under the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648). It was later taken by the French Marshal Turenne in the War of Devolution of 1667, then occupied by France until 1706, when it became independent once more following the Battle of Ramillies,[2] along with Southern Flanders in general. The textile-based economy flourished under the French. The 19th century was marked by social crises engendered by the Industrial Revolution, with Father Adolf Daens and his Christene Volkspartij emerging as the local defender of workers' rights. The 20th century was marked by bombardment[2] and occupation by the Germans during both world wars. [3]


The textile industry is still vibrant in Aalst, in part because of the French occupation. Aalst produces not only the textiles themselves, but manufactures many of the needed machines. The more rural regions are noted for their production of hops, which are sold to the old breweries there.


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.

Sites of interest

  • The famous "unfinished" St. Martin's Collegiate Church, in Gothic style, dates back to 1480. It contains a painting by Rubens, "Saint Roch beseeching Christ to terminate the Plague at Aalst", and it has also a beautiful tabernacle (dated 1605), which features sculptures made by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder, who's most famous creation is Manneken Pis. This church was damaged in 1914.[2]
  • The 15th century belfry next to the town hall,[2] the oldest in Belgium[4] and one of the most handsome of Flanders, contains a 52-bell carillon.[3] Together with the adjacent Aldermen’s House, it was classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1999.
  • The statue of Dirk Martens (1450–1534),[2] first printer in the Netherlands.
  • The old breweries that produce their own hops.[2]

Notable inhabitants



Description: A rectangle of proportions 2:3, with three vertical bands of red, white and yellow, with a red sword in the middle band pointing upwards. In Dutch: "Drie even lange banen van rood, van wit en van geel, met op het wit een rood zwaard paalsgewijze geplaatst."

Heraldic blazon: Terciated by pale Gules, Argent and Or, a sword of the first pointing upwards.

Coat of arms

Those arms were granted in 1819 and confirmed on 6 February 1841. The oldest known seals of Aalst (13th–14th centuries) show a knight holding a sword in one hand and the Flemish banner in the other, but there is a seal dated 1237 showing the banner with the sword, and even an older seal, dated 1174, with the same features. A later version of the seal (1339-1559) shows a local banner with the sword. A seal from 1407 adds a small shield with the Flemish arms.

The arms of Aalst were first shown in the roll of arms of Gaillard (1557). The sword is probably taken from the old seal with the knight. The two shields show the Imperial eagle and the Flemish lion, recalling the odd status of the Country of Aalst.

Description: The municipal arms of Aalst show on the chief of a white shield two smaller shields separated by a red sword pointing upwards and dividing the whole shield; on dexter, the shield is yellow with a black double-headed eagle with red tongues and claws (Holy Roman Empire); on sinister, the shield is yellow with a black lion with a red tongue and claws (Flanders).

Heraldic blazon: A Modern French shield Argent ensigned by a crown Or and divided in half by a sword palewise pointing upwards Gules between two smaller shields Or; on the dexter shield, a double-headed eagle displayed; on the sinister shield a lion rampant; both Sable armed and langued Gules.

Twin city

External links

  • Dutch


  • "Aalst." Encyclopædia Britannica
  • "Aalst." Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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