MIXITY Walk: Chatelain

MIXITY Walk: Chatelain

Nowhere in Brussels will you find as many expats from the pre-2004 enlargement countries of the EU than in the Châtelain neighbourhood. The heritage is fantastic, and the area is bursting with restaurants and cafés. There is a large concentration of small, yet delightful shops that sell the most incredibly diverse range of products. There is also an abundance of art galleries in the area.


This walk takes us to the border of Ixelles/Elsene and Saint-Gilles/ Sint-Gillis, more specifically to the Tenbos(ch) district, which is located between avenue Louise/Louizalaan, chaussée de Charleroisesteenweg and chaussée de Waterloosesteenweg. The name Tenbos(ch) is not familiar to everyone: today we tend to refer to rue du Bailli/Baljuwstraat and place du Châtelain/Kasteleinsplein district, the two most prominent ‘places to be’ in this part of the capital.


This neighbourhood is extremely popular with the expat community: no other part of Brussels has such a high concentration of people from ‘the Europe of Fifteen’. French nationals are overrepresented. The Tenbos(ch) district is relatively close to the European institutions and the lush Bois de la Cambre/Terkamerenbos. The historic buildings exude style and grandeur. Expats also come here for the shopping and the nightlife. The area is full of restaurants and cafés: whatever culinary tradition you fancy is represented here. There are a huge number of small but very fine shops that sell the most diverse products. Are you looking for a specialty shop for, say, Basque products El Vasco in rue du Page/Edelknaapstraat has everything on your list. Would you prefer to eat Basque food right now? Cross the street and go into Le Fils de Jules. Fancy some Japanese, Lebanese, or a dish from Kashmir? Not a problem. There are also plenty of art galleries. Expats have also invested in the district: French expats have opened a gallery named La Patinoire Royale in rue Veydtstraat in the building of the old ‘Royal Skating’.


It is the construction of avenue Louise/Louizalaan as from 1860 which caused the Tenbos(ch) district to thrive. This was initially a project of two private investors, but when the work came to a standstill, the project was taken over by the government. There was also a plan to construct residential districts in the vicinity of this prestigious lane, designed by Victor Besme. Still a rural area, this hilly place was transformed into an almost geometric checkerboard structure, which can still be seen today.


The division over municipalities is still somewhat controversial in this neighbourhood. The border between Ixelles/Elsene and Saint Gilles/Sint-Gillis zigzags through the checkerboard pattern of the streets. At one time, little border signs were put out to mark the districts: one of the Ixelles/Elsene side, another on the Saint Gilles/Sint-Gillis side. You can still see a number of this signs. And another amusing sideeffect of the border: rue  Américaine/Amerikastraat is in Saint Gilles/Sint-Gillis. Whereas the continuation of this street in Ixelles/Elsene is called Amerikaansestraat (still rue Américaine in French).


Brussels is home to an exceptional number of Art Nouveau treasures, but the very best of these are at this location. By the master of Art Nouveau Victor Horta himself, there is first of all his own house located in rue Américaine/Amerikastraat, now accommodating the Horta Museum. Hotel Tassel, one of his earliest designs, is located in rue Paul Emile Jansonstraat. Nearby are other creations by Horta: Hotel Solvay and Hotel Max Hallet, both on avenue Louise/Louizalaan. Another great artist from the Art Nouveau movement is Paul Hankar, whose house is situated on rue Defacqzstraat, and on the same street, there is also Hotel Ciamberlani, with its spectacular sgraffito gable. Then, you have the buildings by Octave van Rysselberghe and Benjamin De Lestré and so many others… These architectural pearls are strewn throughout the area. And while Art Nouveau buildings in Barcelona are open to tourists, this is not the case in this area: most still have people living in them, or businesses operating out of them. But you can visit some of them during the Brussels Art Nouveau and Art Deco biennial. For more information, check on www.explore.brussels.


There was never much industry in this district, certainly no heavy industry. Because of the vicinity of the Sonian Forest (Forêt de Soignes), a number of cabinet-making workshops set up shop in the area. Carriage-building businesses were also thriving, as the bodywork involved was originally related to the timber industry. And from carriages came cars, and all  kinds of professions related to the bodywork industry: forges, ironmongers, screw/soldering iron factories.... Today, D’Ieteren, located in rue du Mail/Maliestraat, is the most famous car dealership in the Tenbos(ch) district. And anyone wishing to see what an ironmonger’s business looked like a century ago, should go eat in brasserie La Quincaillerie in rue du Page/Edelknaapstraat.