Diest Tourist Attractions
Diest, situated on both banks of the Demer in the transition zone between the fertile and hilly Hageland and the wooded Kempenland, is the market center of an intensively farmed area.
The main products grown here are asparagus, early potatoes and vegetables. Diest, which received its charter in the second half of the 13th C., ranked among the most important towns in Brabant because of its famous cloth-making, an industry which has long since disappeared. It has been replaced by flour-milling and other branches of the food industry. From its rich history remarkable buildings and parts of the fortifications have been preserved. Diest is closely associated with the House of Orange-Nassau, to which the present day Queen of the Netherlands belongs. Like Breda in the Netherlands, Dillenburg in Germany and Orange in France Diest was the seat of the royal house. Its most important representative was Prince William I of Orange-Nassau, called William the Silent, who led the Dutch revolts against Spanish domination.
In the southwest of the town square is the pre-Classical Stadhuis (town hall) built in 1728.The cellars of the town hall house the Stedelijk Museum (municipal museum) which is impressive not only because of its valuable collections but also because of its medieval premises. The Gothic hall has a collection of weapons, a fine painting on wood of the "Last Supper" (around 1450) and goldsmiths' work belonging to the guilds. In the Romanesque room are paintings depicting scenes from the life of William the Silent's son, Prince Philipp of Orange-Nassau, who was born in Diest.The Van der Linden room is named after the museum's founder and contains prehistoric finds from the surrounding area of Diest.
In the Demerstraat which leads away from the right of the town hall are the refuges of the abbeys of von Tongerlo ("Het Spiker"; 16th C.) and von Averbode (15th C.)
In the midst of the market stands the noteworthy collegiate church of Sint Sulpitius, one of the finest examples of Brabant Gothic (Demer Gothic). It was built mainly in 1417-1534 using the characteristic reddish brown brick. The choir dates from 1320. The small tower, known as "mostaardpot" (mustard pot), has a carillon with 43 bells.
The church houses interesting works of art including superb carvings on the pulpit, altars and confessionals. In the choir can be seen magnificent Late-Gothic choir stalls dated 1491 and the tomb of Philip of Orange-Nassau, who died in 1618; the font of St Jan Berchmann in the right side aisle and the treasure in a room adjoining the choir also warrant close examination. The main altar (18th C.) is by Michael van der Vorst; before it on the right is a work of the Antwerp school "Worship of the Kings".
In Begijnenstraat is the begijnhof founded in 1252 together with the Gothic Sint Katharinakerk.The béguinage of Diest is one of the oldest and most important in Belgium. Its well-preserved 17th C. houses stand around a square and in five small streets. The houses are separated from the street by a magnificent Baroque portal with a likeness of the Madonna and Child. Today the béguinage is used chiefly as a youth and cultural center; house No. 5 in the Engelen Conventstraat is still furnished in keeping with the béguinage period.
Behind the béguinage extend the former 19th C. double fortifications of Brialmont with the Schaffense Post gate on the left. Leopoldsvest street follows the line of the fortifications with a good view of the béguinage. To the south it leads to the 18th C. Lindenmolen.
Within the ring of the Leopoldsvest lies the Warandepark, part of the former hunting lodge of the Princes of Orange-Nassau. Opposite the main entrance of the park stands the Nassau residence (1516), a brick building with a typical gable and octagonal tower.
An excursion to the picturesque Premonstratensian Abbey of Averbode, 6km/4miles northwest of Diest, is well worth while. The monastery was founded in 1134. The oldest part of the building, which dates from the 14th-18th C., is the entrance gate which stands at the point where the three provinces of Brabant, Limburg and Antwerp meet. A large number of monks still live in the abbey and their activities include the operation of a large printing press for daily newspapers.
Abdij Averbode Church
The Baroque abbey church built by Jan van Eynde in 1664 has rich interior furnishing (pews from 1672, high altar from 1758, beautiful organ) and noteworthy paintings by P.J. Verhaghen.The size of the interior is surprising.The monastery building, which was set on fire in 1942, cannot be visited. The 18th C. cloisters, chapter house and sacristy survived the fire.
Scherpenheuvel, 6km/4miles west of Diest is a popular place of pilgrimage. Seven paths lead to the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwkerk (Church of Our Lady) standing on high ground. This Baroque building shows strong Italian influence with an oriental cupola. It was built in 1609-1627 according to plans by W. Coebergher and marks the beginning of the Baroque style in present day Belgium. The interior houses beautiful paintings by Th. van Loon, a marble relief by F. Duquesnoy and a rich treasury.
Specially built with families in mind, the recreation center in Diest offers an open-air swimming pool, a white sand beach, mini-golf, boating, fishing and numerous sports activities to visitors.