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Koekelberg (Municipality, Region of Brussels-Capital, Belgium)

Last modified: 2007-12-22 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Koekelberg]

Municipal flag of Koekelberg - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 2 June 2005

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Presentation of Koekelberg

The municipality of Koekelberg (18,541 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 114 hectares, therefore one of the most crowded Belgian municipalities) is one of the 19 municipalities forming the region of Brussels-Capital. The region is officially bilingual, but the town has the same name in French and Dutch.

Koekelberg is located in the outer crown of Brussels suburbs. The municipality is watered by the Paruck, which joins the Maelbeek near the Black Ponds and flows into the Senne. Until 1869, the Paruck was the border between Koekelberg, then a borough of Berchem-Saint-Agathe / Sint-Agatha-Berchem, and Molenbeek-Saint-Jean /Sint-Jans-Molenbeek. In the Middle Ages, a small fortified castle was built on the confluency of the Paruck and the Maelbeek, and a small town developed in the neighborhood. The lords "de Coeckelberge" are mentioned in 1220.
There are several possible origins for the name of Koekelberg; the most widely accepted etymology refers to the Dutch words koek, "a lump of earth", and berg, "a hil"l, Koekelberg being a roundish hill.
The population of Brussels dramatically increased in the Middle Ages and food supply was even more difficult; the neighbouring rural areas were demanded more and more wheat, vegetables, milk, butter, cheese, and the Magistrate (administration) of Brussels tried to increase its jurisdiction. However, the lords of Koekelberg defended their independence and never joined the "Cuve of Brussels", a kind of precursor of the region of Brussels-Capital. The village of Jette shipped its products to Brussels via the road of Dieleghem (chaussée de Dieleghem, today chaussée de Jette), which joined the main road of the region, the road to Ghent (chaussée de Gand), in Koekelberg. When the abbey of Dieleghem-Jette was powerful and wealthy (XVII-XVIIIth century), the traffic through Koekelberg increased and the town developed along the road of Dieleghem. After the suppression of the abbey by the French Revolutionaries, Koekelberg became destitute.

In the beginning of the XIXth century, industrialization started in Molenbeek. The plots were watered by the arms of the Senne and often flooded, and therefore not suitable for high rank urbanization. Workers settled there on all the available land. The newcomers moved to the lower part of the neighbouring, then rural, village of Koekelberg. In 1842, Koekelberg officially seceded from Berchem.
The upper part of Koekelberg, a plateau dominating Brussels, was urbanized later and attracted the upper classs; mansions, family houses and apartment buildings were built in a much less crowded environment than in the lower town.

Koekelberg is mostly known for its basilica, the fifth biggest church in the world (length, 141 m; width, 107 m; height, 100 m), surrounded by Parc Elisabeth. The building of the basilica and the park were decided by King of the Belgians Léopold II. The full name of the church is Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Bruxelles (Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Bruxelles), and it was inspired by the basilica of the same name built in Paris from 1876 to 1912. It is mostly known as the basilica of Koekelberg. King Léopold I (1790-1865, King in 1831) probably planned to build a royal residence on the plateau of Koekelberg, but the laying out of the site has to be credited to his son Léopold II (1835-1909, king in 1865). Originally, Leopold wanted to design a solemn alley heading to a pantheon of the Belgians; the only remains of the project are the streets named avenue des Gloires nationales and avenue du Panthéon. The Catholic bourgeoisie rejected the project as not religious; it is said that Léopold decided to build a national basilica even bigger than the Sacré-Cœur in Paris after having visited the French building site in 1902. At that time, Art Nouveau triumphed in Brussels, represented by the architect Victor Horta (1861-1947), but the king commissioned the more consensual architect Pierre Langerockque and asked him to build a neogothic basilica. The cost of the building was very high and the ministers did not enjoy the project; Léopold planned to fund the project partially with his own money (at that time, the Independent State of Congo was his private colony). The king inaugurated the building site on 12 October 1905.
After the First World War, Léopold II's project was continued by King Albert I (1875-1934, King in 1909), but with significant modifications; the size of the basilica was decreased and a public subscription was launched. The new plan of the church was drafted by Albert Van Huffel, who kept a conventional neobyzantine design but included some elements from the German movements Bauhaus and Deutscher Werkbund. The architect promoted the use of reinforced concrete to decrease the costs. Unfortunately, the 1930s economical crisis and the Second World War delayed the building of the basilica. The consecration of the church was made on 14 October 1951 but the building was achieved only in 1970.
Like the Sacré-Cœur in Paris, the basilica of Koekelberg was often mocked as an example of "pastrycook's architecture", which could have been dedicated to St. Honoré, the pastrycooks' patron saint; it was even nicknamed the Koekelique of Basilberg.

Since 15 November is Albert and Léopold's Day, King Baudouin proclaimed in 1951 the 15 November as the King's Day. Every year on that day, a Te Deum was sung in the basilica, in the presence of the royal family, except the King and the Queen, and of the high authorities of the kingdom. Since 2002, the ceremony takes place in the cathedral of Brussels.

In December 2004, the famous football coach Raymond Goethals was buried in the basilica of Koekelberg. Among the coffin carriers were Basile Boli, former captain of Olympique de Marseille, and Robbie Rensenbrink, former captain of RSC Anderlecht. The Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and the cyclist Eddy Merckx attended the ceremony, among hundreds of people. Goethals won the Champions' League with Marseilles in 1993 (1-0 against Milan AC, goal by Basile Boli) and was highly estimated in Marseilles; he was nicknamed there Raymond-la-Science or Le Vieux Belge.


Ivan Sache, 2 June 2005

Municipal flag of Koekelberg

The municipal flag of Koekelberg is vertically divided green-white.

[Old flag of Koekelberg]

Old municipal flag of Koekelberg (1841-1984) - no longer used - Image by Ivan Sache, 2 June 2005

According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the flag used from 1841 to 1984 was vertically divided green-pink.

[Former flag of Koekelberg]

Former municipal flag of Koekelberg (1995-?) - no longer used - Image by Pascal Vagnat, 2 June 2005

The current flag appeared in 1984 and was replaced in 1995 by a flag with a forked green field, alluding to the letter K for Koekelberg. However, the municipality recently resumed the use of the simple vertically divided green-white flag.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 2 June 2005