Cureghem is Anderlecht’s hidden gem. It used to be an industrial district sandwiched between Gare du Midi - Zuidstation (Brussels South Station) and the city’s canal. Today, countless cultural initiatives are blossoming in the area and aim, along with the ambitious Cureghem abattoir masterplan, to put the neighbourhood on the map as culinary centre of Brussels.
APPENDAGE BECOMES MODERN SUBURB
“There were pastures and bleachfields all around, as far as the eye can see, separated by rows of trees and populated with grazing cattle and horses. The Senne, with its numerous branches, meandered lustily through the meadowland.” This description of the place we know today as Cureghem or Kuregem was written down by a traveller at the end of the 18th century. In less than a century, this idyllic landscape located a mere stone’s throw away from the centre of Brussels would grow into one of the most urbanized suburbs to date. The bleachfields gave way to factories, the gently meandering river was straightened and channelled, and the cattle slaughtered and processed into canned meat. Cureghem grew into a prominent centre of the meat-processing, textile and the car assembly industries. In the 19th century, this former appendage of the centre of Anderlecht became one of the first districts of the Brussels metropolitan area to receive a modern sewage system, street lighting and – as a crowning glory – a magnificent town hall in the Flemish Neo-Renaissance style.
The present inhabitants of Cureghem have a wide diversity of backgrounds. This is no different than a hundred years ago, when labourers from all over came here to seek their fortunes. The first migrants to arrive here came from East and West Flanders. They established themselves near Porte d’Anderlecht and La Rosée district. Most of them were self-employed, and took great pride in their business. It was also around this time that Polish Jews began to settle in what would later be referred to as the Golden Triangle: a district that still boasts numerous clothing shops. The synagogue and the National Monument to the Jewish Martyrs are the only tangible traces left of the Jewish migrants who populated the district in the pre-war era.
Wandering through the district, one of the first things you notice is its cultural diversity. Lebanese restaurants and garages, Moroccan and Turkish tea houses, ‘fixers’ from Nigeria and Cameroon who are all too willing to buy your car and export it to Western Africa, Polish and Romanian delicatessens, Italian pizzerias and Greek groceries: you will find them all virtually back-to-back in this multicoloured, dynamic district occupying a surface area just shy of two square kilometres. The first migrants arrived in Cureghem in the 20th century. They were Jews from Lithuania, Poland and Russia, who had fled here to escape the pogroms and the worsened economic situation in Eastern Europe. After the Second World War, they were joined by migrants from Italy and Spain. Living proof of the influx of Spanish immigrants is the Pablo Iglesias Centre on rue Ropsy Chaudronstraat, named after the founder of the Spanish Socialist Party. The late 1950s and early 1960s saw the arrival of many Moroccan and Turkish labourers in Cureghem. However, the economic crisis of the 1970s caused one-fifth of the population of Cureghem, consisting of about half the indigenous Belgian population, as well as many Italian, Spanish and Greek immigrants, to leave. At the same time, the Moroccan and Turkish population continued to grow. In the 1970s the first asylum-seekers from Latin America arrived in Cureghem and ten years later the district was witness to a notable influx of immigrants from all over Africa.
THE BELLY OF BRUSSELS
In 2012, the company that ran the slaughterhouses (or abattoirs) of Anderlecht drew up an ambitious master plan which is being completed gradually and with a number of adjustments. The most tangible result to date is the new ‘Foodmet’; an indoor market executed in sleek, minimalist concrete and where fruit and vegetables from all corners of the globe are sold each week. A gigantic vegetable garden occupies the roof of the market, including greenhouses. It is the intention that, in the near future, the neighbourhood will grow into the “belly of Brussels”: numerous initiatives with regard to food production and distribution will take root both on and around this covered market. This location, ‘Les Abattoirs’ will be fulfilling the same role in Brussels as ‘Les Halles’ once did in Paris. The difference is that here, in Anderlecht, there will be a distinct focus on sustainability and ecology.
STARTING POINT: TRAM STOP CONSEIL (TRAM LINE 81) CLOSE TO THE BRUXELLES MIDI TRAIN STATION