MIXITY Walk: Saint-Josse-ten-Noode

MIXITY Walk: Saint-Josse-ten-Noode

Though small, Saint-Josse is incredibly diverse. 153 nationalities and 60 dialects can be found in the municipality. The European Institutions are just a stone’s throw away.


We will spend most of the time walking around the area known as Saint-Josse-ten-Noode. This is the smallest and most densely populated municipality in the Brussels Capital-Region and has the youngest citizens. The average inhabitant is ‘barely’ 33 years old.But in  particular: Saint-Josse is extremely diverse. 153 nationalities live here close together, and 60 languages are spoken. There are many people originating from Asia Minor, West Africa and Southern Europe in Saint-Josse, as well as residents from places like Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. The nearby European district and the European administration located in the Madou towers and on place Rogier, ensure that many European officials also walk around the streets of Saint-Josse. This is certainly also the case for the squares neighbourhood, located in the city of Brussels area.


Saint-Josse was once a rural, marshy part of the countryside. The centre of the village was located where the ancient approach road from Louvain/Leuven to Brussels crossed the Maelbeek/Maalbeek stream, quite near what is now Saint-Josse square. Urbanization began relatively early, in the middle of the 19th century. The traces of streets were straightened and included in a well-ordered chequerboard pattern. Houses were built in the Neo-Classical style and the Maelbeek stream itself was covered with a vault. In 1853, Saint-Josse was forced to give up half of its territory - the Leopold district and the future Squares district to its neighbour, the ambitious city of Brussels.


Saint-Josse had an attractive and fertile brook landscape during the 15th and 16th centuries, but today there is very little greenery left in the municipality. Fortunately, there is the Botanique, the early botanical garden. However, just like Saint-Josse itself, this was also drastically reduced at one time. What remains is a beautiful city park in various styles, full of sculptures and lots of greenery, and a garden with many different types of irises - the marshland plant that became the symbol for the Brussels Capital-Region. The fabulous glasshouse, now Le Botanique cultural centre, now adorns the park. Square Armand Steurssquare, another green space, was constructed above the vaulted train track to Luxembourg. In order to provide children with playing areas, patches of greenery – interior areas in urbanized spaces – were made available and transformed into playgrounds. Examples of such spaces are Liedekerke park (rue de Saint-Josse/Sint-Joosstraat), parc Saint-François/Sint-Franciscuspark, the Jardins de Maelbeek/Maalbeektuin (rue du Moulin/Molenstraat) and the garden in rue Traversière/Dwarsstraat.


The fact that large areas of the 19th-century belt that surrounds Brussels city centre are a huge open-air museum of architectural styles cannot be solely attributed to great Art Nouveau architects like Victor Horta or Paul Hankar. Their successors might not always have been as skilled or as radical in the field of innovative design of residential buildings, but they shared the same aesthetic concerns and developed fascinating constructions. Works by Léon Govaerts, originally from Saint-Josse/Sint-Joost, for example, are dotted throughout the capital. He built in many places, including around the squares, and also designed the town hall building. His own home, with its very striking Art Nouveau gable, is located in rue Liedekerkestraat.


Saint-Josse used to have several cinemas, which ha ve since acquired other functions. The most famous is the Mirano at the start of chaussée de Louvain/Leuvensesteenweg, now a nightclub. The Marignan, on the other side of the street, was acquired by  Saint-Josse/Sint-Joost, and will accommodate a House of Cultures. Saint-Josse/Sint Joost is also home to many Brussels theatre and dance companies. Some only have offices and rehearsal spaces while others can welcome their audiences in their theatres. One such venue is Théâtre Le Public, located in the former Aerts brewery in rue Braemtstraat. And, of course, there is also the Botanique, the most famous concert and exhibition space of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. Saint-Josse/Sint-Joost is also a jazz district. Once the chaussée de Louvain/Leuvensesteenweg shopkeepers have rolled down their shutters, you are in an open-air gallery of paintings of jazz musicians, including Manu Dibango. But the jazz heart of Saint-Josse/Sint-Joost beats mainly in Jazz Station.