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Free Municipality of Îlot Sacré (Brussels, Belgium)

Commune Libre de l'Îlot Sacré

Last modified: 2013-12-28 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Îlot Sacre]

Flag of Îlot Sacré - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 3 June 2005

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Presentation of the Free Municipality of Îlot Sacré

The Universal Exhibition planned in 1958 in Brussels caused drastic modification in the town; to improve communication, several narrow streets had to be widened and several historical buildings had to be demolished or diminished. The central borough around rue des Bouchers / Beenhouwersstraat (Butcher's street) and rue des Dominicains / Predikherenstraat (Dominicans' street), located close to Grand Place / Grote Markt (Greater Square) was specifically targeted. The borough inhabitants, storekeepers and local associations protested so that the borough was spared. The anarchic town planning, which caused the suppression of several historical buildings and the erection of horrible skyscrapers, was called by the architects opposed to the system the "brusselisation".
In 1959, the Mayor of Brussels, Lucien Cooremans, set up a Consultative Commission for Town Planning, whose main goal was to create protected blocks (îlots). On 21 March 1960, the specific urban plan #30/10 was adopted. It prohibited any modern building and promoted the restoration and harmonization of the existing buildings in the îlots. A Royal Decree signed on 24 August 1960 created seven protected îlots.

The Free Municipality of Îlot Sacré (Commune Libre de l'Îlot Sacré) is the follower of the storekeepers' association Îlot Sacré numéro 1, founded on 3 June 1960 in the Van Dijck Tavern, on 26 rue des Bouchers in Brussels. The aim of the association was "to revive the folkloric characteristics of the borough without any profit making". The founders of the association were Jean Van Calck, working at the newspaper Le Soir;, the baker Émile Paulwen, the taverner Georges Lempereur, and the provincial civil servant Julien Beelen. Mayor Lucien Cooremans accepted to be the Honour President of the association.
The association organized its first festival on 3 September 1960, as a reenaction of the visit made to the borough by the Municipal Council, then presided by Mayor Émile Demot, in 1900. Jean Van Calck played the Mayor and retained the honorific title of Mayor after the ceremony. The festival was a great success, washed down with a lot of beer and rain, which blocked the procession for two hours on Place de la Monnaie (Mint Square).
In 1964, a few members of the association proposed to transform it into a Free Municipality, on the model of the Commune Libre du Vieux Montmartre in Paris, in order to establish more efficient relations with the authorities and to gain a juridical existence. On 1 March 1965, the general assembly decided to transform the folkloric association Îlot Sacré numéro 1 into the non-profit making association Commune Libre de l'Îlot Sacré. The statutes of the new association were approved by the assembly and published in the Belgian official gazette on 11 May 1967. The founding members of the new association were Claude Bucken (La Perle Noire), Serge De Backer (Le Bourgeoys de Broecksele), Albert Defays (La Petite Provence), Georgette Desmet (La Taverne Royale), Paul Vanderkeerssen (Chez Stans), Paul Vanlancker (Chez Léon) and Calixte Veulemans (Aux Armes de Bruxelles).

The creation of Îlot Sacré had a very positive effect on the borough, which escaped the "brusselisation". More than 50 houses were restored in the Italian-Flemish style, once widespread in Brussels. Îlot Sacré is considered today as the most genuine, picturesque and lively borough in the town. Due to the number and diversity of its restaurants, it was also nicknamed "the Stomach of Brussels".
In 1965, the Board of Governors of the association was renamed Municipal Council (Conseil Communal), with members elected for two years by the general assembly. The President was renamed "Great Bailiff" (Grand Bailli), the Vice-President, "Bailiff" (Bailli) and the other governors Échevins. Several honor titles were created: Ambassador, Consul, Chaplain and Honour Citizen, as well as Honour Great Bailiff and Honour Echevin. These titles are awarded by the Municipal Council on behalf of the inhabitants of Îlot Sacré.
The territory of the Free Municipality is delimited by rue des Fripiers, rue de l'Écuyer, rue d'Arenberg, rue de la Montagne and rue du Marché aux Herbes / Grasmarkt. All the streets, dead ends and galleries located within this perimeter, as well as the adjacent streets and squares, are part of Îlot Sacré.

One of the most famous places of Îlot Sacré is the Royal Toone's Theater, one of the most renowned puppet theater in the world. The Toone dynasty is not necessarily hereditary; the first Toone was Antoine Genty (Toone is the local short form of Antoine), a street puppet master active from 1830 to 1890. Toone II (François Taelemans aka Jan van de Marmit, 1848-1895) was appointed by Toone I, who was his son's godfather. Toone III (Georges Hambeuf, aka Toone de Locrel, 1866-1898) employed ten workers and a scene shifter; he owned 400 puppets and put on some 1,000 plays. He was challenged for the title of Toone III by Jan Schoonenburg (aka Jan de Crol, 1852-1926), who eventually lost his customers and hung himself among his puppets. Hambeuf's son, Jean-Baptiste (1884-1966), succedeed his father as Toone IV. He set up a partnership with the puppetmaker Antoine Taelemans, son of Toone II. Toone IV created in 1934 "The Mystery of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ", specially written for puppets by the famous Belgian writer Michel de Ghelderode. Toone V (Daniel Vanlandewijck, 1888-1938) was expelled from his theater by the Hygiene Commission and sold all his puppets; the Mayor of Brussels Adolphe Max and the jeweller Marcel Wolfers purchased the puppets and offered Toone V a new theater. The most famous performance of Toone V caused a great fuss because the puppet Giant Woltje was shown naked in bed with a toofe mokske (cute girl). Toone VI (Pierre Welleman, 1892-1974) had to move his theater from place to place, in spite of the support of famous artists, including Ghelderode. When Toone VI decided to give up, the painter Jef Bourgeois, curator of the Toone museum, founded the associations "The Toone's friends", which appointed José Géal as Toone VII on 10 December 1963, with the support of Toone IV and Toone VI. Toone VII, a professional puppet master of international fame, transfered the theater in Îlot Sacré in 1966. On 10 December 2003, Nicolas Géal, Toone VII's son, was set up Toone VIII. He played Geneviève de Brabant, a puppet opera by Erik Satie.

Source: Îlot Sacré website

Ivan Sache, 3 June 2005

Flag of the Free Municipality of Îlot Sacré

The first flag of the Free Municipality of Îlot Sacré, offered by a patron, was inaugurated on 15 September 1965. It was a 2 x 2 m square flag with a red and green fringe. The shield of the municipality was placed in the middle of the flag, with two scrolls above and below the shield. The writing on the obverse of the flag was in French (Commune Libre above, Centre Gastronomique below), on the reverse, it was in Dutch (Vrije Gemeente and Gastronomische Centrum, respectively).
The shield of Îlot Sacré is tierced; the upper field is red and the lower field is green. Ancient houses are shown on a white background in each field. The stripe is charged with the writing "L'Îlot Sacré" in Gothic letters on a white background.
The current flag has slightly different writing, "Commune Libre de l'Îlot Sacré", above, and "Bruxelles 1960 Brussel", below.

Source: Îlot Sacré website

Arnaud Leroy & Ivan Sache, 3 June 2005