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Ixelles / Elsene (Municipality, Region of Brussels-Capital, Belgium)

Last modified: 2008-11-08 by ivan sache
Keywords: ixelles | elsene |
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[Flag of Ixelles]

Municipal flag of Ixelles / Elsene - Image by Ivan Sache, 3 July 2001

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Presentation of Ixelles / Elsene

The municipality of Elsene / Ixelles (Dutch / French; 78,088 inhabitants on 1 July 2007; 634 ha) is one of the 19 bilingual municipalities forming the region of Brussels-Capitale. It is located in the south-east of Brussels and cut into two parts by the Louisia Street, which belongs to the municipality of Brussels. Elsene is therefore one of the three Belgian municipalities made of more than one part, the two other being Mesen and, of course, Baarle-Hertog.

Ixelles was in the past split by the Maelbeek (lit., "the Mill's Brook"); one part of the hamlet depended on the Magistrate of Brussels whereas the other part depended on a local lord, who became a Viscount in the XIIIth century. In 1300, Duke Jean II of Brabant founded on the foot of the Zwaerenberg (lit., "the Steep Mountain") the Sainte-Croix hospital, which aimed at housing and feeding the wood bearers coming from the forest of Soignes. The hamlet had four fish ponds watered by the Maelbeek, which were used as a food source by the neighbouring abbey of La Cambre (see below) and the villages of Etterbeek, Saint-Josse-Ten-Noode and Schaerbeek. In 1554, the Abbess of La Cambre obtained the building of the Vleurgat road to transport the trees cut in the woods surrounding the abbey. The building of the manors of Ermitage, Ten Bosch and Ixelles contributed to the increase of the hamlet. In 1795, the municipality of Ixelles was constituted by the former domains of Lower-, Upper-Ixelles and Boondael. Mayor Hippolyte Legrand prevented the destruction of the abbey of La Cambre, used as an hospital during the French period, and developed the village into a small town. The population of Ixelles grew from 677 in 1818 to 58,615 in 1900. In 1871, Léopold II founded the King's Garden, part of the Royal Donation, managed now by the Region of Brussels-Capitale.

In 1200, Lady Gisèle, a Benedictine nun from Brussels prevented to adopt the Cistercian rule by the canons of the St. Gudule Chapter, required the help from the monks of Villers. Duke of Lotharingia Henri I eventually allowed her to found a Cistercian abbey in the forest of Soignes, near the source of the Maelbeek. The abbey was consecrated by Jean de Béthune, Bishop of Cambrai. The abbey might have been named after the Room of Nazareth where the Blessed Virgin lived (in Latin, camera beatae mariae - camera gave chambre in French and chamber in English). The wood of La Cambre, surrounding the abbey, was a public place; in 1862, the municipality of Brussels commissioned the landscape designer Édouard Keiling to revamp it.
Until the middle of the XVIIIth century, the usual language in the abbey was Flemish; the abbey indeed had several estates in some 60 villages, mostly in Flanders. The abbey of La Cambre was the residence of two saints, Boniface and Alice of Schaerbeek. Born in 1182 as the son of a goldsmith, Boniface was appointed Canon of St. Gudule, Professor of Theology in Paris and Bishop of Lausanne in 1231. He had to resign and settled at La Cambre for 18 years until his death in 1260. St. Boniface is invoked against typhus and fever. The saint's remains were exhumated in 1600 after two nuns who had drunk the water used to clean Boniface's bones had been miraculously healed. Placed in a shrine, the relics were stolen in the XVIIth century and hidden in a pub in Brussels until brought back to La Cambre. Alice of Schaerbeek entered the abbey of La Cambre aged 7. She sufferred from leprosis and blindness and lived in an isolated cell, where she was visited by the Christ. After her death in 1250, her relics healed several lepers.
In 1478, the abbey was plundered during the war between Louis XI and Maximilian of Austria. A few years later, the abbot of Grimbergen attempted to reform La Cambre, where most nuns were illiterate, to which they resisted until 1512. After the beheading of the Count of Egmont in Brussels in 1567, her widow Sabine and their 11 children found refuge at the abbey. In 1585, the Spaniards burned down the church where Calvinists were said to hide.
Archduchess Isabelle funded the rebuilding of the church, which required the cutting of the most beautiful trees of the forest of Soignes. Isabelle and Archduke Albert stayed at the abbey on the eve of their "Joyous Entrance" to Brussels in 1599. In the XVIth century, several nuns came from noble families and most buildings of the abbey were rebuilt in the Louis XIV and Louis XV style. The last three abbesses built from 1718 to the French Revolution classical buildings still there. The nuns of La Cambre were excellent teachers, famous all over Europe, which explained why Joseph II maintained the abbey while he suppressed several "unuseful" religious foundations. The nuns were expelled after the French Revolution but most of the buildings were kept; they house today the National Geographic Institute, the National School of Visual Arts and the administration of parish of Ixelles.

Ixelles is famous for the borough of Matongé, named after the trading borough of Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo, ex-Zaïre, ex-Congo Kinshasa, ex-Belgian Congo), and the center of the Congolese community in Brussels. Matongé started around the Maisaf, a housing estate for the African students. Ixelles is the seat of two campuses (Solbosch and La Plaine) of the Université Libre de Brussels (ULB) and of the campus of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB - Free University of Brussels). Although its campus is also located in La Plaine, the VUB, founded in October 1969 and recognized by Law in 1970, is not related to the ULB.

Several famous people have their name associated with Ixelles. The talented singer Barbara (Monique Serf, 1930-1997) married in Ixelles in 1953, sang in several local theaters and left the town in 1954. The writer Charles De Coster (1827-1879) wrote his famous novels "The Flemish legends" and "The legend and the heroic, merry and glorious adventures of Ulespeigel and Lamme Goedzak in the country of Flanders and elsewhere", lived and was buried in Ixelles. The movie director Jacques Feyder (Jacques Frédérix, 1887-1948), one of the founders of the poetic realism school, was born in Ixelles. The writer Michel de Ghelderode (Adhémar Martens, 1898-1962), author of some 40 books, including Sire Halewyn and La Balade du Grand Macabre, was born in Ixelles, too. So was the cartoonist Greg (1931-1999), the inventor of Achille Talon.
The charming American actress Audrey Hepburn (Audrey Ruston, 1919-1993), who played in Roman Holiday, Sabrina Fair, Charade, My Fair Lady, Two for the Road..., was born in Ixelles and lived there until 1935. The naturalist writer Camille Lemonnier (1844-1913), author of some 70 books, was born and died in Ixelles, where he was often visited by his friends Emile Verhaeren and Georges Eekhoudt. The best-seller machine Amélie Nothomb (1967) lives in Ixelles; in her novel Hygiène de l'Assassin (The Murderer's Hygiene), a character lives in Ixelles and suffers from the Elsenveiverplatz syndrom (more or less "the syndrom of the Ixelles ponds"). The architect Auguste Perret (1874-1954), a great promoter of reinforced concrete and rebuilder of the town of Le Havre after the Second World War, was born in Ixelles. So was the singer Pierre Rapsat (1948-2002), who represented Belgium at the Eurovision song contest in 1976 (Judy & Cie.).
The anarchist geographer Elisée Reclus (1830-1905), author of "The Man and the Earth", lived in Ixelles from 1894 to his death; per his request, he was buried in the common grave. The sculptor Auguste Rodin lived in Ixelles from 1871 to 1877; enjoying his stay, he made there the sculpture "The Idyll at Ixelles". The movie director Jacob Van Dormael, author of "Toto the Hero" and "The Eigth Day" was born in Ixelles in 1957. Several other famous people stayed for a while in Ixelles, including exiles such as Lenin (1914) and Karl Marx (1846-1848).
However, the most famous inhabitant of Ixelles was the Spanish opera singer María-Felicité García (1808-1836), aka la Malibran, after the name of her first husband, Charles Malibran, whom she married in 1825 in the USA to escape her father's tutorship. Back to Paris, she met the Belgian violonist and composer Charles-Auguste de Bériot (1802-1870). Their son Charles-Wilfrid de Bériot (1833-1914) became a famous pianist and had Maurice Ravel among his students. The singer's first marriage was eventually cancelled and she remarried in 1836 with Bériot, who had built a private mansion in Ixelles, today used as the town hall. The same year, la Malibran, pregnant, fell down from her horse but still performed on stage; exhausted, she died in Manchester and was buried in a big mausoleum in the cemetary of Laeken, the other famous cemetary of Brussels.

The cemetary of Ixelles was the last site of the adventures of General Georges Boulanger (1837-1891), who once threatened the French Republic. After having heroically served in Kabylia, Italy and Cochinchina, Boulanger contributed to the defense of Paris during the 1870 war and to the repression of the Commune; in 1882, he was appinted Director of the Infantry and promoted very popular reforms. Appointed General in 1884, he was appointed Minister of War in 1886 and his popularity increased. Boulanger set up a series of provocative measures against Germany and was nicknamed Général Revanche (General Revenge). No longer member of the new government set up in 1887, the general found the Boulangist movement. In 1888, he left the army and was triumphally elected at the Chamber. Funded by the Duchess of Uzès, the Boulangist party increased and presented candidates in all French districts. On 27 July 1889, Boulanger was elected in Paris and his frenetic supporters asked him to apply his program Dissolution, Révision, Constituante.
However, Boulanger refused to march against the Élysée and disappointed his supporters, who had expected a coup and abandoned him. His parliamentary immunity was suppressed and he was sentenced to jail, but the government helped him to flee to Belgium, just to get rid of him. He was not welcome either in Brussels, where his mistress, Madame Bonnemains died on 15 July 1891; on 30 September 1891, Boulanger committed suicide on her tomb in the cemetary of Ixelles. Clémenceau, who had contributed to the military rise of Boulanger, said: Il est mort comme il a vécu, en sous-lieutenant (He died like he had lived, as a sous-lieutenant).

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 21 June 2007

Municipal flag of Ixelles / Elsene

The flag of Ixelles is vertically divided green-white.
The colour of the flags are taken from the municipal arms. According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the arms of Ixelles, "Argent an alder proper" were adopted by the Municipal Council on 4 May 1886 and confirmed by Royal Decree on 17 February 1888. The municipal website explains that the arms are canting, recalling that the name of Elsene comes from els (pl., elzen), in Dutch, "the alder". The tree is represented in a stylized manner and covers the whole field of the shield.

The cover of Vexillacta [vxl] #12 (June 2001) shows a painting by Pierre Thévenet (1870-1937), entitled Bruxelles - Porte de Namur - 21 juillet 1932. The 21st of July is the National Day in Belgium. Four flags are hoisted on the main building represented on the painting:
- the flag of Belgian Congo;
- the national flag of Belgium ("Belgian square", with the official proportion, 13:15);
- the old municipal flag of Brussels, red with a green border;
- the municipal flag of Ixelles.

Ivan Sache, 21 June 2007