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Schaerbeek / Schaarbeek (Municipality, Region of Brussels-Capital, Belgium)

Last modified: 2018-06-28 by ivan sache
Keywords: schaerbeek | schaarbeek |
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Flag of Schaerbeek / Schaarbeek - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 17 December 2005

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Presentation of Schaerbeek / Schaarbeek

The municipality of Schaerbeek (French) / Schaarbeek (Dutch) (113,493 inhabitants on 1 July 2007; 815 ha) is one of the 19 municipalities forming the bilingual region of Brussels-Capitale.

Schaerbeek is named after the brook Schaerbeek, which watered in the past a forest located on the site of the modern borough of Linthout. The vaults of a probable Roman fortress have been found under the foundations of the Royale Sainte-Marie church. The brook was renamed Maelbeek in the Middle Ages, when it powered several grain mills. The village of Schaerbeek appeared in the first time in an official act in 1120 as Scarenbecca. The modern written form of the name was fixed in 1841.
The village of Schaerbeek was represented for the first time on Jacques De Deventer's map, published in 1540. It was then a 600-inhabitant rural village, with vineyards, vegetable gardens and orchards. The speciality of Schaerbeek was the griotte, a small sour cherry (Morello cherry) used to brew kriek beer. The villagers of Schaerbeek were also famous donkey breeders, an activity known at least since the Crusades. This is the origin of the nickname of Schaerbeek, "The Country of the Donkeys".
In 1795, Schaerbeek left the old Cuve de Bruxelles administrative system; four years later, the first Municipal Council, presided by Mayor Goossens, was set up. The municipal independence was completely effective only after the 1830 revolution and the independence of Belgium. Following the urban development of Brussels out of its city walls and the building of the railway Brussels-Mechelen (1835), Schaerbeek was progressively transformed in a modern town. New streets and hundreds of houses were built. In 1865, water conveyance was completed and the Maelbeek was covered to prevent epidemics, especially cholera, then very prevalent in towns.

On 16 September 1844, the project of church proposed by a young architect from Ghent ,Louis van Overstraeten, was accepted as the winner of a contest launched in 1843. The new church, then called Notre-Dame de l'Assomption, was built on the Zavelberg, a sandy hill separating the valleys of Senne and Maelbeek. The architect combined Romanesque, Gothic and Byzantine elemnts. It is thought that the church should have housed the Royal crypt, a project later transferred to Notre-Dame de Laeken. The building site started in 1845 and the expenses never stopped increasing. In L'Indépendance Belge, 5 March 1852, the French writer Alexandre Dumas supported the church project and proposed to open a national aid fund. Van Overstraeten died from cholera in 1849 and was succeeded by Louis Hansotte. On 15 August 1853, the unended church was blessed and open to the public. Queen Marie-Henriette patroned in 1880 a fund-raising tombola. The cost of the achievement of the church is estimated to 2,547,888 Francs. In 1923, the architect Victor Horta, a pioneer of Art Nouveau in Brussels, wrote a very positive report on the church and its integration on the neighborhood. The Italian musician Giacomo Puccini had a solemn funeral in the church in 1924.
With time, the church deteriorated and was often closed for revamping. In 1966, a urban project proposed to replace the church with a 30-floor tower. Fortunately, the municipalities of Schaerbeek and Saint-Josse-ten-Noode / Sint-Joost-ten-Noode decided in 1968 to save the church, which was protected by Royal Decree in 9 November 1976 and officially reopened to the public in 17 April 1996.

The first railway station of Schaerbeek, built in 1864, was a small wooden hut. It was replaced at the end of the 19th century by a stone building designed by Franz Seulen, today the left wing of the station. Seulen was asked to increase the station in 1913 and built a second wing in Flemish neo-Renaissance style; the monumental iron structure of the building was deliberately left visible in some parts of the station. The Schaerbeek station, the biggest in Greater Brussels, was protected on 10 November 1994 by a Decree of the Government of the Region of Brussels-Capital. A terminal for the high-speed train (TGV) should be built in Schaerbeek in 2015, in order to relieve the station of Bruxelles-Midi.
The Belgian designers Schuiten and Peters have produced a series of books entitled Les Cités obscures (Casterman), in which they describe futurist cities based on real ones. One of the obscure cities is called Brüsel and its station is called Schaerbeek, designed on the model of the real station of Schaerbeek.

The jewel of Schaerbeek is the Josaphat Park, inaugurated by King Léopold II on 26 June 1904. In 1574, a pilgrim back from Jerusalem erected near brook Roodebeek a votive column, later destroyed during the French Revolution. The pilgrim found that the valley of Roodebeek recalled the valley of Josaphat in the Holy Land. A small house surrounded with woods was located near the valley of Roodebeek; its last owner, Mrs. Martha, proposed in 1902 to suppress the wood. In order to protect the area, Léopold II bought the 6-ha domain for 331,718 Francs. After the opening of the park, the landscape architect E. Galoppin was commissionned to redesign it. The area of the park was progressively increased to 40 ha; it was protected in 1974. The parc is decorated with some twenty sculptures portraying writers and the famous Love Fountain. This fountain is indeed one of the three sources of the Roodebeek; its ancient name of Rinneborre (Clear fountain) was transformed to Minneborre (Love fountain). A local legend reported by Dekoster says that a young peasant abandoned by his bride cried so much that he became blind; when he soaked his eyes in the fountain, he recovered his vision and his bride, who promised to remain faithful.

The Schaerbeek Beer Museum, inaugurated on 26 March 1994, shows more than 1,000 bottles of Belgian beers and the associated glasses, brewery tools and documents on the ancient and modern breweries. The museum houses a pub where the local Schaerbeekoise is offered to the visitors.
The Clockarium Museum (website), located in a beautiful Art Déco house, shows some 1,000 earthenware clocks. Those items, produced in Belgium, France and Czechoslovakia, were very popular between the two world wars in Belgium and Northern France, where they were used to decorate the fireplace and to give time, personal watches being very expensive at that time.
Schaerbeek is the birth town of the unfortunate President of the French Third Republic Paul Deschanel.

Ivan Sache, 17 December 2005

Municipal flag of Schaerbeek / Schaarbeek

The municipal flag of Schaerbeek, as communicated by the municipal administration, is vertically divided green-white.
The colours are derived from the coat of arms adopted by the Municipal Council on 4 September 1986, De sinople à la bande ondée accostée de deux fleurs de cerisier le tout d'argent ("Vert a wavy bend argent surrounded by two cherry flowers of the same"). The cherry flowers recall the griottes of Schaerbeek.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 17 December 2005