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Watermael-Boitsfort / Watermaal-Boosvord (Municipality, Region of Brussels-Capital, Belgium)

Last modified: 2019-07-30 by ivan sache
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Municipal flag of Watermael-Boitsfort / Watermaal-Boosvord - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 7 July 2006

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Presentation of Watermael-Boitsfort / Watermaal-Boosvord

The municipality of Watermael-Boitsfort (French) / Watermaal-Boosvord (Dutch (24,121 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 1,290 ha, including 750 ha belonging to the forest of Soignes) is one of the 19 municipalities forming the bilingual region of Brussels-Capitale.

Watermael developed in the valley of the Watermaelbeek (Watermael's brook) whereas Boitsfort developed in the valley of Voluwe. The two valleys are separated by the watershed whose highest point is located on the place called "Les Trois Tilleuls" (The Three Lindens).
The name of Watermael might come from old Germanic words water, "water", and malho, "a depression", or from wachter, "keeper", and maal, derived from medieval Latin mallum, "the place where cases were pleaded". The second hypothesis is more probable and Watermael could mean "the place where the justice court met". Another hypothesis mixing the two previous ones makes of Watermael "the place of justice located near a brook".
The name of Boitsfort might come from bouts, "a topographical irregularity" and voorde, from the ancient Germanic furda, "a ford", or from bootesvoorde, "Boote's estate". The Dukes of Brabant are said, without evidence, to have built a house there for their Hunt officers in the XIIth century. Another hypothesis relates Boitsfort to boets, "a fine", and therefore to a prison which would have existed there, maybe the prison once located in the castle of Trois-Fontaines, today in the municipality of Auderghem. Yet another hypothesis mentions a Frankish lord named Balda, not to mention another one related to Boutsvoord, the keeper of the duke's hounds.

A chart dated 30 May 914 lists Watermael among the domains transferred to the St. Martin abbey in Tours by the Lotharingian lord Guntbert and his wife Bertaide. This is the oldest written source mentioning the name of Watermael. The parish church of Watermael was probably erected at the end of the Xth century and is the mother church of all the neighbouring parish churches. In 1193, Pope Celestine confirmed that the church of Watermael belonged to the Chapter of Cambrai, which transferred it later to the abbey of Val-Duchesse. At the same time, the civil power was exerted by the magistrates (échevins), which used a seal showing St. Clement, the patron saint of the parish. The church and magistrates of Watermael ruled also the hamlets of Auderghem and Boitsfort.
Around 1050, the Counts of Leuven became also Counts of Brussels and built a hunting lodge in Boitsfort with a pond and a mill, later transformed into a ducal palace for the hunting periods, during which the court stayed in Boitsfort. A document dated around 1227 mentions the clark Léon, son of Godefroid de Boudesfort, whereas another document dated 1240 mentions Gérard de Boutsfort. In 1282, Duke Jean I of Brabant built near the ducal castle a chapel dedicated to St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunters. In the XIVth century, the castle of Boitsfort was increased so that 100 hounds and several employees were housed there.

Emperor Charles V was fond of hunting in the forest of Soignes. He also retired in the monasteries built in clearings of the forest; he had a private cell in the abbey of Groenendael. In 1556, the emperor offerred a brilliant feast in the forest, to which 12,000 riders and seven sovereigns took part. After the abdication of Charles V in 1555, the hunting lodge fell into ruins, until Duke of Alba (1567-1573), fond of hunting, ordered its rebuilding in 1570. Looted and burned down in 1584, the lodge was rebuilt by Archdukes Albert and Isabel (1598-1603). In 1604, the Dutch cavalry rushed in the valley of the Voluwe to sack the ducal castle; leaving Auderghem, they failed and took the valley of Watermaelbeek, missing Boitsfort but sacking Watermael, Ixelles and Etterbeek.
Under Philip IV, Boitsfort became an international center of venery. Falconers and huntsmen trained there, such as Michel De Cafmeyer, were sent to Madrid to show their skills to the King of Spain. After the disasters of the Thirty Years' War and Louis XIV's wars, the hounds and the furniture of the castle were sold. The royal chapel was plundered in 1684. The domain of Boitsfort was, however, saved from total destruction by Maximilian-Emmanuel, Duke-Elector of Bavaria, appointed Governor of the Belgian provinces (1692-1700) by King Charles II (1665-1700). The Chamber of Accounting of Brussels funded in 1698 the building of a network of modern roads linking Brussels to Charleroi, Namur, Nivelles and Binche; the Governor revamped the Boitsfort estate from 1698 to 1700. The chapel was rebuilt from scratch in 1721. The domain of Boitsfort was progressively abandoned during the XVIIIth century and the sovereigns moved to the newly built castles of Tervuren and Laeken.

In 1794, the French administration made of Watermael and Boitsfort two municipalities, which were merged on 1 May 1811 as prescribed by an Imperial Decree signed on 22 January 1811. In 1825, Théodore Verhaegen, former President of the Chamber and founder of the Free University of Brussels, was appointed Mayor of Watermael-Boitsfort.
During the XIXth century, Watermael-Boitsfort was progressively incoporated into Greater Brussels.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 7 July 2006

Municipal flag of Watermael-Boitsfort / Watermaal-Boosvord

The municipal flag of Watermael-Boitsfort, as shown in La Tribune de Bruxelles # 178, 15 June 2006, is vertically divided light blue-white.
The flag is a simple banner with the colours of the municipal arms.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the arms of Watermael-Boitsfort were adopted by the Municipal Council on 19 December 1913, confirmed by Royal Decree on 2 May 1914 and published in the Belgian official gazette on 24 May 1914 as D'argent à une rencontre de cerf au naturel, au chef d'azur chargé d'un cor de chasse d'or lié du même. ("Argent a deer's head caboshed proper a chief azure a hunting horn or banded of the same").
The charges in the arms recall the former ducal hunting lodge of Boitsfort.

Jan Mertens, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 7 July 2006