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Aalst (Municipality, Province of East Flanders, Belgium)


Last modified: 2023-04-02 by olivier touzeau
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[Flag of Aalst]

Flag of Aalst - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 23 August 2005

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Presentation of Aalst

The municipality of Aalst (in French, Alost; 77,790 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 7,812 ha) is located halfway (25 km) between Ghent and Brussels. The municipality of Aalst is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Aalst, Baardegem, Erembodegem, Gijzegem, Herdersem, Hofstade, Meldert, Moorsel and Nieuwerkerken.

Aalst was mentioned for the first time in the 9th century. It was once the capital of the Land van Aalst (Country of Aalst), more or less the area located between the rivers Scheldt and Dender. In the 11th century, the Count of Flanders was able to take over the area, which originally belonged to Brabant, from the German Emperor. The Country remained known as Rijks-Vlaanderen or Keizerlijk Vlaanderen (Imperial Flanders), as opposed to the Kroon-Vlaanderen (Princely Flanders), because the Count of Flanders remained, for that area, under the Emperor's nominal suzereignty. The Country of Aalst was made of the towns of Aalst and Geraardsbergen, of the domains of Rode, Gavere, Schorisse and Zottegem, and of the Barony of Boelare.
From 1667 to 1706, Aalst was occupied by the French. Under the Spanish rule in the 18th century, Aalst was the capital city of the County of Flanders.

In the 15th century, Aalst was one of the European capitals of printing. Dirk Martens (1446/7-1534), from an old burghers' family from Aalst, was the most famous printer before Plantin. In 1473, he released with Johan van Westfalen the oldest known book printed in Dutch in Flanders, Speculum conversionis peccatorum (The Mirror of the Sinners' Conversion). Alone, Martens published in Aalst in 1474 De vita beata (The Lifes of the Saints) and then worked in Spain as "Theodorica Aleman" under the protection of King Ferdinand of Aragon. He came back to Aalst some ten years later and moved then to Antwerp and Leuven, where he produced from 1515 to 1529 his most significant works. Martens' prints contributed to the promotion of humanist culture all over Europe via his editions of Morus, Picco de la Mirandole, Erasmus, Agricola, etc..

Doctor Pierre Joseph De Moor (1787-1845) introduced homeopathy in Belgium. He practiced medicine in his birth town of Aalst and sent his son Charles-Justin to Paris in order to follow the classes given by Hahnemann and Simon, the founders of homeopathy. De Moor wrote or translated several books on homeopathy. He also worked freely one day per week in a people's dispensary in Brussels, where he trained young doctors. He was so estimated in Aalst that all factories of the town closed on his funeral's day.

At the end of the 19th century, Aalst was the capital of an industrial district, where social and Christian-Dempcrat ideas emerged.
The priest from Aalst Adolph Daens (1839-1907, pronounced "Donsh" in the local dialect) was the leader of the Flemish Christian-Democrat movement. Daens studied in the Jesuite school of Aalst and was ordained priest in 1873 in Sint-Niklaas. He taught later in the high schools of Oudenaarde and Dendermonde.
On 15 May 1891, Pope Leon XIII published the Rerum Novarum encyclical, in which he adressed the question of the workers' social status, proposing a kind of chart for social Catholicism. Influenced by this text, Daens founded the Christian People's Party as an alternative to Socialism and to the Catholic Party, which was not social at all. In spite of the strong opposition of the leading classes and the Catholic church, the Christian People's Party managed to have Deputies in the Belgian Chamber. Daens was elected in Aalst, later in Brussels. In 1899, the Party allied with the Socialists for the municipal election in Brussels and Daens was dismissed from his post of priest. When Daens' party grew in importance, the Socialists broke the alliance. Daens directed his party in Aalst until his death. The so-called Daensism remained very popular in Aalst and can be considered as the foundations of the Belgian Christian Democracy. The statue inaugurated in 1957 in Aalst for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Daens' death bears one of his preferred mottos: "The worker shall not be either a slave or a beggar, he must live in freedom and without material concern". The movie Daens by Stijn Coninx (1992) is a tribute to Adolph Daens.

The writer Louis Paul Boon (1912-1979) is the most famous child of Aalst. Boon contributed to the Communist newspapers De Rode Vaan (The Red Flag, 1944-1947) and Front (1947-1950). In 1949, he founded the avant-gardist magazine Tijd en mens (Time and Man) with Hugo Claus, Jan Walravens and Remy Van de Kerckhove. After his early Communist writings, Boon moved to Socialism and individualism. His masterpieces are the novels De Kapellekens Baan (Chapel Street, 1953) and Zomer te Termuren (A Summer in Termuren), which relate in a sloppy style, however, very inspired, the birth of Socialism in Flanders and the everyday's life of the Flemish workers. Boon invented a specific language based on the popular Dutch dialect spoken in Aalst.
Boon also wrote historical novels, such as the famous Pieter Daens (1971), in which the personal story of the printer Daens (Adolph Daens' younger brother) highlights the social fight of the Christian Democrats of Aalst in the late 19th century. The book contains dozens and dozens of flag references, many of which are concerned with the Daensist party colour, green. Boon's last works are erotic novels, such as Mieke Maaike's obscene Jeugd (Mieke Maaine's obscene Youth, 1972).

Aalst is the birth town of the painter, etcher and watercolourist Valerius de Saedeleer (1867-1941). Saedeleer was taught art in Ghent, where he met his great friend Georges Minne. In 1887, the painter was expelled from the family home by his father and traveled through Flanders for the next twenty years, making paintings influenced by the French Impressionists. He settled later with Minne in the village of Sint-Maartens-Latem, where he calmed down and painted big landscapes, often portraying the river Leie. In 1908, he moved to Thiegem and reached the climax of his art. During the First World War, Saedeleer exiled to England and Wales, where he was not able to produce interesting works. Back to Flanders after the war, he never recovered from exile.

The carnival of Aalst is one of the oldest and most famous in Flanders. It is locally called Vastenavond (Mardi Gras). During the carnival, thousands of people, most of them masked, dance in the streets of the city. The festival is announced in the beginning of January with the Magi's Festival; a few weeks later, the Prince is elected. On carnival's Saturday, the Mayor of the town gives the full power to the Prince, who rules the town for the rest of the festival. On Sunday afternoon, some 50 dressed groups, all from Aalst, parade through the town. The cortege parades again on Monday after the ceremony of the Onion Throwing. Mardi Gras is the Vuil Jeannetten day: men dressed like big-breasted women and holding ludicrous objects tickle the participants to the festival. In the evening, the carneval mannequin is burned on the Great Square and the official order is restored.

The region of Aalst is famous for onion growing. The inhabitants of the city are nicknamed ajuinboeren (onion farmers), ajuinpelders (onion peelers), or simply ajuinen (onions). The Aalst onion soup (where onions are cooked in water with potato and garlic) is a must of Belgian gastronomy and is recommended against New Year's Day hangover.

And there is of course a famous cyclist rally in Aalst, run every year since 1934 (except in 1941 and 1944). Famous winners are Fred Debruyne (1956); Rik I Van Steenbergen (1958, 1959, 1960); the famous Benoni Beheyt (1964), who once defeated Rik II Van Looy in the last meters of a World Championship; Rik Van Looy (1967, 1968); Eddy Merckx (1969, 1971); Walter Godefroot (1972); Roger de Vlaminck (1973, 1975, 1982); Lucien Van Impe (1977, 1981); Francesco Moser (1978); Johan Museeuw (1990); Tom Steels (1996, 1998); Robbie MacEwen (2002; 2004) and Alessandro Petacchi (2003).


Ivan Sache & Jan Mertens, 11 February 2007

Municipal flag of Aalst

The municipal flag of Aalst is vertically divided red-white-yellow with a red sword, pointing upwards, in the middle.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02], the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 7 May 1984, confirmed by the Executive of Flanders on 5 March 1985 and published in the Belgian official gazette on 8 July 1986, with the following description:
Drie even lange banen van rood, van wit en van geel, met op het wit een rood zwaard paalsgewijze geplaatst.
The municipality offers the present flag in two sizes, 1 m x 1.5 m and 2 m x 3 m.

The colours of the flag are those of the municipal arms; the white stripe with the sword is a reproduction of the ancient banner of Aalst (but the original colour of the sword is unkknown). This banner is still portrayed on the honour medals granted by the municipality of Aalst, for instance, recently, to the organist and composer Flor Peeters.
The municipal arms of Aalst show on the chief of a white shield two smaller shields separated by a red sword pointing upwards and dividing the whole shield; on dexter, the shield is yellow with a black double-headed eagle with red tongues and claws (Holy Roman Empire); on sinister, the shield is yellow with a black lion with a red tongue and claws (Flanders).
According to Servais [svm55a], those arms were granted in 1819 and confirmed on 6 February 1841.
The oldest known seals of Aalst (13th-14th centuries) show a knight holding a sword in one hand and the Flemish banner in the other, but there is a seal dated 1237 showing the banner with the sword, and even an older seal, dated 1174, with the same features. A later version of the seal (1339-1559) shows a local banner with the sword. A seal from 1407 adds a small shield with the Flemish arms.
The arms of Aalst were first shown in the roll of arms of Gaillard (1557). The sword is probably taken from the old seal with the knight. The two shields show the Imperial eagle and the Flemish lion, recalling the odd status of the Country of Aalst.
A coin from the Country of Aalst, dated 1617, shows the arms of Aalst and Geraardsbergen, again with the two escutcheons within the shield. The coin can be seen on the website of the historical society Het Land van Aalst.

[Another flag of Aalst]

Another municipal flag of Aalst - Image by Ivan Sache, 23 August 2005

Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel states that Aalst once adopted another flag, made of four vertical red-white-red-white stripes. This flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 30 June 1981, confirmed by the Executive of Flanders on 2 February 1982 and published in the Belgian official gazette on 21 April 1982. It seems that the current flag of Aalst was adopted simultaneously, and therefore readopted a few years later.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat, Jarig Bakker, Jan Mertens & Ivan Sache, 16 December 2008

Former municipality of Baardegem

Quoting the International Civic Heraldry website:

The arms [of Baardegem] obviously indicate the importance of agriculture for the village, and show a farmer holding three wheat ears. The farmer also holds a banner with a lion. As the council did not apply for colours, the banner was granted in the Dutch national colours (blue and gold). In 1818 Belgium formed part of the Netherlands. When the arms were confirmed by the Belgian government in 1847 the colours were not changed. Most likely the local council applied for the colours of Flanders, in gold a black lion and not for the Dutch lion.

Officially this is the Dutch lion according to the original grant:
In zilver waarop een landman, houdende in deszelfs regterhand een standaart vercierd met den Nederlandschen Leeuw, en in deszelfs linkerhand drie koorn-airen, alles in hunne naturelijke kleur (Argent a peasant holding in his right hand a standard bearing the Dutch Lion and in his left hand three ears of corn, all in natural colours).
The gold billets or sword of the Dutch arms are not shown on the arms of Baardegem, so it is perfectly possible that the intended Flemish lion was Dutchified in 1818.

Jan Mertens, 8 June 2005