MIXITY Walk: Anderlecht Downtown

What began life in the middle ages as a collegiate church on top of a hillock, grew during the 19th century into a dynamic industrial town. Today Anderlecht is a captivating Brussels municipality with a lot to offer if you’re looking for culture and gastronomy.

SAINT-GUIDON/SINT-GUIDO

It seems as if life in Anderlecht has revolved around the figure of Guido for centuries: a saint who lived around the year 1000 and who was honoured by the inhabitants of Anderlecht with processions and fairs as patron of merchants, cattle traders, farmers, servants, sextons, carillonists, bell ringers, pilgrims and freight carriers. Guido was the Brabantian son of a farmer who started as a sexton in the Chapelle Notre-Dame in La(e)ken. Later he would become a merchant. He undertook a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Rome, but returned from that dangerous journey seriously ill. On 12 September 1012, he died in Anderlecht from the effects of dysentery and a hundred years later, the church in which he was buried developed into the place of pilgrimage for all the farmers from the area. Today, 12 September still is a holiday in Anderlecht.

FRANKS AND ROMANS

The Anderlecht landscape is extremely diverse: the municipality stretches from the border of the densely populated and densely built capital to the green wide-open spaces of Pajottenland. Anderlecht is an ancient settlement: a name such as allée de la Villa Romaine/Romeinse Villastraat refers to the earliest economic activities. And in the 19th century, an archaeologist discovered that the inhabitants had figurines of Merovingian origin on their mantelpiece. In the Middle Ages, the village became famous due to the grave of Saint Guido and the presence of a culturally very dynamic community of canons. Today, the municipality has more than 115,000 inhabitants, a large portion of which is from foreign origin.

PASSION FOR THE CLUB

The renowned Anderlecht soccer club was founded in 1909, but it would take purple-white a long time to become the undisputed number one of Belgian soccer. It was not until 1936 that the club gained a fixed place among the elite. One of the players was named Constant Vanden Stock and the stadium was named after him. In 1942, Sporting Anderlecht bought player Jef Mermans from Tubantia Borgerhout for a record amount of 125,000 Belgian francs. A golden transfer, since the striker turned into a true goal-getter. In the years 1970 and 1980, Anderlecht put itself on the international map, coached by Raymond Goethals. Purple-white has won the national title 33 times and in addition is a three-time European cup winner; there has not been any other Belgian club with a better track record. Parc Astridpark, a stone’s throw from the old downtown area of Anderlecht is still the home base of the club. During matches, the bars surrounding the stadium are packed with supporters.

ALL INHABITANTS OF ANDERLECHT

Between 2010 and 2015, Anderlecht gained 11,000 new inhabitants: the largest growth spurt of all municipalities in the Brussels region. This is not only caused by a high birth rate – 25 percent of the population is under 17 – but also by the fact that the house and rental prices in Anderlecht are relatively cheap compared to other municipalities, in particular than in the richer East and South of the region. Young couples looking for a place to live, are more likely to pick a municipality such as Anderlecht, than, for instance, Uccle/ Ukkel or Watermael-Boitsfort/Watermaal-Bosvoorde. If Anderlecht wants to properly cope with the demographic tree, it must build additional day-cares and schools. The Anderlecht population also has a fairly multicultural composition. Seventy percent of the inhabitants of Anderlecht have the Belgian nationality, but many are of foreign origin. The largest groups originate from Morocco (15 percent), Romania (14 percent), Italy (9 percent) and Poland (7 percent).

STARTING POINT: SAINT-GUIDON (METRO LINE 5)