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Geraardsbergen (Municipality, Province of East Flanders, Belgium)


Last modified: 2017-04-16 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Geraardsbergen]

Flag of Geraardsbergen - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 19 September 2006

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Presentation of Geraardsbergen

The municipality of Geraardsbergen (in French, Grammont; 31,543 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 7,971 ha; municipal website) is located 20 km south-west of Aalst, close to the borders of Flanders with Hainaut and Brabant. The municipality was established in 1976 as the merger of the former municipalities of Geraardsbergen (including the former municipalities of Onkerzele, Overboelare, Goeferdinge and Nederboelare since 1971), Grimminge, Idegem, Moerbeke, Nieuwenove, Ophasselt, Schendelbeke, Smeerebbe-Vloerzegem, Viane, Waarbeke, Zandbergen, and Zarlardinge.

The current municipal territory was in the past shared between two local entities: the town of Geraardsbergen belonged to the Country of Aalst, whereas most of the surrounding rural villages belonged to the Barony of Boelare, itself part of the Country of Aalst.
The Country of Aalst was 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.
In 1067-1070, Count Baudouin VI of Flanders (also Count of Hainaut) built a fortified city (oppidum) in a strategic place. In order to attract people, he granted several rights to the new town, initially not written but later confirmed by Count of Flanders Philip of Alsace (1168-1191). A replica of the charter, written in old, calligraphied Dutch, can be seen in the town hall of Geraardsbergen since 1993. At the end of the 11th century, the Count convinced the monks from the abbey of Dikkelvenne (a village incorporate to Gavere in 1976) to move to the new town, where they founded the St. Adrian abbey. The abbey was so popular that Geraardsbergen was once renamed Adrianopolis. Around 1200, the Our Lady Womens' Hospital, one of the oldest hospitals in Belgium, was built in Geraardsbergen.
Geraardsbergen is the birth town of Canon Constant Van Crombrugghe (1789 - 1865), the founder of the religious order of the Josephite Fathers (Congregatio Josephitarum, CJ), established in 1817 for the Christian instruction and education of young people.

The current municipality of Geraardsbergen includes nine out of the twelve villages which formed the Barony of Boelare, that is Goeferdinge, Idegem, Nederboelare, Nieuwenhove, Onkerzele, Overboelare, Smeerebbe, Vloerzegem and Waarbeke. The Barony is probably not as old as the County of Flanders; it was, along with Pamele, Cisoing and Eine, one of the four Peerages of Flanders. The lord of Boelare was therefore Peer of Flanders but also Baron. His castle, probably originating from a 9th-century fortress, was located in Nederboelare (Lower Boelare); it was nearly ruined at the end of the 16th century and disappeared eventually in the early 1600s.

Geraardsbergen is famous for his Manneken Pis, said to be older than the world-famous Manneken of Brussels and the mattentaart pie, made with fermented milk. However, most of the fame of Geraadsbergen is due to its "Wall" known as Muur van Geraardsbergen or Mur de Grammont. The Wall is one of the hotspots of the cyclist race Tour of Flanders and has the same legendary aura as the Wall of Huy in the Flèche Wallonne, the Gap of Aremberg in Paris-Roubaix and the Poggio in Milan-San Remo.
The Wall of Geraardsbergen starts near river Dender (elevation 18 m asl) and reaches the top of the Oudenberg (110 m). Its length is 1.075 km, therefore the average slope is 9.2% with a staggering peak at 19.8%. The Our Lady chapel, rebuilt in 1906 on the Oudenberg by the Josephites, marks the top of the Wall, which is also known as Kapelmuur (or simply De Muur, The Wall). There is also there a restaurant called "The Paradise"!
The legend says that the first racer to reach the chapel will eventually win the race ("The Wall shall choose the winner"). This is not exactly true, but what is sure is that racers not reaching the chapel in the first places have no chance to catch up the lead, since the finish line is located only 17 km further. However, famous winners of the Ronde, such as Johan Museuuw and Peter Van Petegem, have won the race after attacking in the Wall.
The Wall is very narrow, made of nasty, horizontal cobbles particularly skiddy when weather is wet, something not uncommon in Flanders. The fall of an unexperienced, inattentive or exhausted racer usually causes the fall of all those who follow him and the incredible vision of a mess of bikes and fallen racers, quickly morphing into a flock of mud-coated racers pushing their bikes up to the top of the hill.
The Wall was included in the route of the Ronde in 1950, 1951 and 1952, and then skipped until 1970. In 2004, the municipality of Geraardsbergen decided to fully restore the Wall and the removed cobblestones were sold 2.5 € each. The total cost of the renovation was 1,256,494 €.

Ivan Sache, 19 September 2006

Flag of Geraardsbergen

The flag of Geraardsbergen is white with a red, three-stepped calvary, flanked by two yellow shields, the one on the viewer's left being charged with a black double-headed eagle (Empire) whereas the one on the viewer's right is charged with a black lion (Flanders).
According to According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02], the flag, adopted on 23 March 1987 by the Municipal Council, is prescribed by a Decree adopted on 26 May 1987 by the Executive of Flanders and published on 3 December 1987 in the Belgian official gazette.

The flag is a banner of the municipal arms, granted by Royal Decree No. 65,831, signed on 19 April 1907 by éopold II (text). The grant states that the Municipal Council applied for arms on 27 July 1906. The Council required the permission to use the arms shown on the seals commonly used by the municipal magistrates before 1795. The granted arms are described as "Or a red three-step calvary masoned argent, flanked dexter by a black double eagle and sinister by a black lion armed and lampassed red and crowned or, the shield topped with a golden municipal crown".
Servais [svm55] adds that these arms were originally granted by (Dutch) Royal Decree on 4 August 1818. The oldest known municipal seal, dated 1244, shows a mountain (berg) with trees and a cross; a later seal (13th century) shows the mountain with the cross only. The mountain, the cross, the lion and the eagle appear on a seal dated 1287. They reflect of course the geographical location of Geraardsbergen in the Imperial Flanders. The mountain was then progressively transformed into a monument.

Johannes Blaeu's Atlas Major (1648) shows a sight on Geraardsbergen labelled Gerardimontium vulgo Gheertsberghe. The upper left corner of the plate is decorated with the coat of arms of Flanders, whereas the upper right corner of the plate is decorated with the coat of arms of Geraardsbergen, which is similar to the today's one, but with the cross blue instead of red.
A coin from the Country of Aalst, dated 1617, shows the arms of Aalst and Geraardsbergen, again with the two shields within the shield.
Therefore, it seems that the today's arms of Geraardsbergen are closest to the historical arms than were the arms applied for and granted in the 19th century.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 19 September 2006