Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Aalst
Sint-Martinuskerk, AalstAalst (French Alost), once the capital of a largely autonomous Flanders, straddles the banks of the river Dender. It is the administrative center of the arrondisement, with schools which serve a large rural catchment area. Cotton processing, textile manufacture and mechanical engineering are among Aalst's many well-established industries; hops are grown in the surrounding countryside and marketed in the town. Flower growing is now a particularly important source of employment. Every morning wholesalers gather to buy cut flowers at the modern flower market (Bloemenveilingshal) in Albrechtlaan. Since the Belgian capital with its wealth of job opportunities lies only 28km/17miles to the southeast, many of Aalst's residents are commuters who work in the Brussels area.Aalst Castle is mentioned in documents dating from as early as 866. The town itself received its charter in 1164 having previously been granted in fief to the counts of Flanders. In the Middle Ages, because of its location on the navigable Dender and the trade route between Bruges and Cologne, Aalst quickly developed into the major center of the Flemish county of that name. During the Netherlands' long struggle for independence the town was the scene of repeated fighting in which many of its inhabitants were killed and numerous of its buildings destroyed or damaged. The same fate befell it at the time of Louis XIV's wars and again in the two World Wars. A number of buildings of historic interest have nevertheless survived.The printer Dirk Martens (1446-1534) and the priest Adolf Daens (1839-1907) were both born in Aalst. The Flemish writer Louis Paul Boon also lived there.
Every morning wholesalers gather to buy cut flowers at the modern flower market (Bloemenveilingshal) in Albrechtlaan.
One of Aalst's major attractions is its carnival which opens on the Sunday before Shrove Tuesday with a "Parade of the Giants", among them Aalst's "own" giant Ross Bayard. The celebrations continue on the Monday with onion throwing from the Belfry and end on Tuesday with the procession of "Vuil Jeannetten" ("Dirty Jeanette").
Original Town Hall
Begun in 1225 and now the oldest building of its kind in the Netherlands, the Schepenhuis (the original town hall) dominates the Grote Markt. The entire evolution of Gothic architecture over three centuries can be clearly traced in this ancient sandstone edifice. The rear facade and side facing onto Kattestraat both date from the first half of the 13th C. and are of particular interest. The other side and the main facade were built later, following a fire in 1407. The beautiful Belfry (1470) with its carillon of 52 bells juts out to the right of the main facade. Embellished with Flamboyant Gothic pinnacles (1543-44) the tower bears the town's motto "Nec spe nec metu" ("Neither hope nor fear").The tower is a UNESCO site.
The Daensmuseum en Archief van de Vlaamse Sociale Strijd (D.A.V.S.) on the second floor of the Belfry is dedicated to the movement for social justice founded by the priest Adolf Daens. Expelled from the Catholic Church because of his political activities Daens established the social-democratic "Christian People's Party" which, after the First World War, was absorbed into the "Vlaamse Beweging".
Dirk Martens Memorial
In front of the Schepenhuis a memorial (1856) by Jan Geef commemorates the south Netherland's most famous printer, Dirk Martens. A close friend of Erasmus of Rotterdam, Martens began printing in 1473. He developed his own lettering system and was the first person in the Netherlands to print Greek and Hebrew texts. After spending many years in Antwerp, Louvain and also Spain he eventually returned to his birthplace at Aalst. From his printing press came, for example, the first editions of Thomas More's "Utopia", major works by Erasmus, and the first report of Columbus's journey of discovery, the latter appearing little more than a year after the navigator's return.
Built between 1630 and 1634, the brick and sandstone Flemish Late Renaissance Borse van Amsterdam (Amsterdam Bourse) on the west side of the Grote Markt was once the site of the Vrije Vleeshuis (Butchers' Hall) and then later the headquarters of the Barbaristes, a literary guild. Above its arcaded lower story rise four round Baroque gables and a slender central tower (1908).
Address: Grote Markt 26, B-9300 Aalst, Belgium
The Stadhuis (Town Hall) on the opposite side of the market square was rebuilt in 1830, at which time it acquired its Roccoco facade and Late Neo-Classical banqueting hall. The original building, the "Landhuis", constructed between 1643 and 1645, was the meeting place of he Aalst provincial assembly which represented not just Aalst itself but also Geraardsbergen and 150 rural parishes.
A short distance east of the Grote Markt the road opens onto Priester Daensplein with Sint-Martinuskerk in the center. The church was begun around 1480 under the direction of a little known masterbuilder Jan van der Wouwe. However the choir and its ring of chapels, much the most interesting part of the building, are the work of more famous architects, in particular Herman and Dominic de Waghemakere who built Antwerp Cathedral, and the great Laurens Keldermans from Mechelen. The religious wars of the 16th C. prevented the church's completion.
The church interior, plain in itself, contains some exceptionally fine works of art.On the left of the altar can be seen a stone tabernacle by Jerôme Duquesnoy the Elder (1604). Two of the chapels encircling the choir deserve particular mention: the first chapel on the right, in which hangs an especially fine painting by Ambroise Francken entitled "Shepherds Praying"; and the fourth chapel along, containing the tomb of Dirk Martens. Amongst the church's other treasures is a three-part monstrance by the Antwerp goldsmith Lestiens (1631).
St Roch and the Plague Sufferers
Outstanding among the church's works of art is the painting "St Roch and the Plague Sufferers" attributed to Peter Paul Rubens. This hangs in the chapel located to the left of the right-hand aisle.
Stedelijk Oudheidkundig Museum
Items on display include chains of office belonging to the various guilds, mementos of the Battle of the Golden Spurs, carnival costumes and furniture.
Of the once thriving béguinage in Pontstraat to the southeast of Sint-Martinuskerk only the Neo-Baroque Sint-Antoniuskapel and Neo-Classical Sint-Catherinekerk remain.
The world famous "Oktoberfeesten", a Munich style festival, takes place every autumn in Wieze, 6km/4miles northeast of Aalst.
Gijzegem, 12km/7mi northeast of Aalst, is noteworthy for a farm dating back to 1688. This originally belonged to Gijzegem Castle of which, with the exception of two pavilions, no trace now remains. Its name however lives on as that of the farm, known today as "Hof van Gijzegem" or "Neerhof".
The parish church of Sint-Martinus (second half of the 18th C.) has a splendid high altar.
Abdij van Affligem
To the east 3km/2miles lies the Abdij van Affligem, founded by Benedictine monks in 1083. The old abbey was largely destroyed in 1797 by French Revolutionary troops. Rebuilding began in 1869 and has continued in a variety of architectural styles. Parts of the original 12th and 13th C. nave can be seen in the garden.
Address: Abdijstraat 6, B-1790 Affligem, Belgium
Abdij van Affligem Museum
The abbey houses a museum in which items of archaeological interest from the grounds are displayed.
At Moorsel, 5km/3miles east of Aalst, there is a moated castle (waterkasteel). This Renaissance château, constructed entirely in red brick, was built in 1520 as a summer residence by Charles de Croy, Abbot of Affligem and later Cardinal of Tournai. According to tradition, Moorsel's 13th-15th C. Sint-Martinuskerk grew out of a seventh C. communion chapel dedicated to St Gudula. The present church contains three Baroque altars by Jacob Ulner.
St Margarethakerk, Baardegem, Belgium
The original Sint-Margarethakerk in Baardegem (8km/5mi east), a three-aisle Late Romanesque church first constructed in 1260, was extensively damaged by fire in 1592. Restored in the 17th C. and partly rebuilt, further restoration work in 1969 revealed the choir to have been part of a 10th C. pre-Romanesque hall church.
Hof ter Linde
Baardegem's imposing Hof ter Linde dates from 1803 and is also well worth a visit.
Above the high altar hangs a painting of "St Veronica" by Gaspar de Crayer (1650).
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