Sint-Jans-Molenbeek

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Sint-Jans-Molenbeek (Dutch, pronounced [sɪncˈjɑnsˈmoːlə(n)ˌbeːk]  ( listen)) or Molenbeek-Saint-Jean (French, pronounced [molənˈbek ˈsɛ̃ ʒɑ̃]) is one of the nineteen municipalities located in the Brussels-Capital Region of Belgium.

Contents

History

Rural beginnings

The name Molenbeek comes from two Dutch words meaning “mills” and “stream”. Although first applied to the brook that ran through the village, the name eventually came to be used to designate the village itself around the year 985. In the early Middle Ages, Molenbeek was known for its miraculous well of Saint Gertrude, which attracted thousands of pilgrims.

The village was made part of Brussels in the 13th century. As a result, Molenbeek lost many of its lands to its more powerful neighbour. In addition, its main church was dismantled in 1578, leading to further decline. The town’s character remained mostly rural until the 18th century.

Industrialization

At the end of the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution and the building of the Brussels-Charleroi Canal brought prosperity back to Molenbeek, through commerce and manufacturing. In 1785, the city regained its status as an independent commune. Attracted by the industrial opportunities, many workers moved in, first from other Belgian provinces and France, then from South European, and more recently from East European and African countries. The growth of the community continued unabated throughout the 19th century, leading to cramped living conditions, especially near the canal.

The city became known as “Little Manchester” and its inhabitants lived through an extended period of misery. At the end of the 19th century, Brussels reintegrated the canal area within its new haven, which was thus lost to Molenbeek. The industrial decline, which had already started before World War I, accelerated after the Great Depression. In some areas of the city, the ensuing poverty left its mark on the urban landscape and scarred the social life of the community, leading to rising crime rates and pervading cultural intolerance. Various local revitalization programs are currently under way, aiming at relieving the most impoverished districts of the municipality.

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