La Cambre Abbey in Ixelles
|o Mayor||Dominique Dufourny (MR)|
|o Governing party/ies||MR, PS, sp.a|
|o Total||6.34 km2 (2.45 sq mi)|
|o Density||14,000/km2 (35,000/sq mi)|
Ixelles is located in the suburbs towards the south of Brussels' city centre and is geographically bisected by the City of Brussels. It is also bordered by the municipalities of Auderghem, Etterbeek, Forest, Uccle, Saint-Gilles and Watermael-Boitsfort. It is generally considered an affluent area of the city and is particularly noted for its communities of European and Congolese immigrants. In common with all of Brussels' municipalities, it is legally bilingual (French-Dutch).
Ixelles is located in the south of Brussels and is divided into two parts by Avenue Louise/Louizalaan, which is part of the City of Brussels. The municipality's smaller western part includes Rue du Bailli/Baljuwstraat and extends roughly from Avenue Louise to Avenue Brugmann/Brugmannlaan, whilst its larger eastern part includes campuses of Brussels' two leading universities; the French-speaking Université libre de Bruxelles and the Dutch-speaking Vrije Universiteit Brussel, along with Eugène Flagey Square. The Bois de la Cambre/Ter Kamerenbos is located just south of Ixelles.
The construction of Avenue Louise was commissioned in 1847 as a monumental avenue bordered by chestnut trees that would allow easy access to the popular recreational area of the Bois de la Cambre. It was also to be the first Haussmann-esque artery of the city of Brussels. However, fierce resistance to the project was put up by the town of Ixelles (which was then still separate from Brussels) through whose land the avenue was supposed to run. After years of fruitless negotiations, Brussels finally annexed the narrow band of land needed for the avenue in addition to the Bois de la Cambre itself in 1864. That decision is the reason for the unusual shape of today's City of Brussels and for the separation of Ixelles into two separate areas.
The placename was first mentioned in 1210 as Elsela, from the Old Dutch Else(n)lo, meaning alder woods. The origins of the village date from the foundation of La Cambre Abbey. Hendrik I, Duke of Brabant, donated the Pennebeke domain (Pennebeek was the original name of the Maalbeek spring) to the Cistercian nun Gisela in 1201. She in turn founded the Abbey, and in 1210, acquired property on which the duke ordered the construction of a mill. The marshlands around the Abbey were later drained and sanitised, which resulted in four springs which served as a source of fish for the Abbey's inhabitants and the neighbouring hamlets. The Abbey was located near the springs of the Maelbeek river in the Sonian Forest, the remnant of which closest to Brussels became known as the Bois de la Cambre/Ter Kamerenbos in the 19th century. The Abbey was recognised by Jan III van Bethune, the Bishop of Cambrai, in 1202, soon after its foundation. The saints Boniface of Brussels and Alice of Schaerbeek were two of its most famous residents in the 13th century.
Around 1300, during the reign of John II, Duke of Brabant, a hostel was built near the abbey to provide meals to the wood bearers working in the forest. Soon, a hamlet and a couple of chapels were built, including the Church of the Holy Cross (French: Église Sainte-Croix, Dutch: Heilig-Kruiskerk), also inaugurated by the Bishop of Cambrai and dedicated to Mary and the Holy Cross in 1459 (the Bishop of Cambrai is said to have brought two pieces of the original cross with him). Initially, these hamlets and provisions were constructed for the labourers that helped drain and sanitise the marshlands. At that time, part of Ixelles was a dependence of Brussels; the other part was the property of the local lord.
In 1478, the wars between Louis XI of France and Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, brought devastation to the Abbey and the surrounding areas. In 1585, during the period of the Habsburg Netherlands, the Spanish burnt down most of the buildings to prevent them from being used as a refuge by the Calvinists. The Abbey was restored in time for the Joyous Entry of the Archdukes Albert and Isabella in 1599. Further manors and castles (Ermitage, Ten Bosch and Ixelles, for example) were built in Ixelles in the 16th century, gradually transforming the hamlet into a full-fledged village.
Thanks to the Maalbeek springs and the purity of its waters, the brewing industry became active in the area. It started inside the Abbey, but by the 16th century, had expanded beyond its walls. Due to the liberalisation of the beer industry by the Council of Brabant in 1602, the brewing industry grew, which resulted in a lively scene by the banks of the spring. By the 17th and 18th centuries, around 20 breweries-cabaretiers had settled in Ixelles, among which Saint-Hubert, De Sterre and L'Italie.
In 1795, like many other towns surrounding Brussels, Ixelles was proclaimed a separate municipality by the French regime after the Revolution. The municipalities of Neder-Elsene (where the Abbey is located), Opper-Elsene (a Brussels suburb), Boondaal, Tenbos, and Solbos, all became part of Ixelles. Moreover, the Abbey was stripped of its religious functions, becoming among others a cotton-manufacturing plant, a farm, a military school, and a hospital. Many of the medieval gates of Brussels that lined what is now the inner ring road were taken down and more streets were built to accommodate the migration towards the suburbs. Ixelles' population grew nearly one-hundredfold, from 677 in 1813 to more than 58,000 in 1900. With this intense growth also came the Frenchification of Ixelles.
At the end of the 19th century, some of the ponds were drained, leaving only the so-called "Ixelles Ponds", and a new Church of the Holy Cross was built in 1860. The first trams appeared in 1884 and the first cinema in 1919. Ixelles and Avenue Louise became one of the most fashionable areas of Brussels. Artists and celebrities moved in, leading to architectural novelties such as Art Nouveau and Art Deco.
Ixelles is known throughout Belgium for its large community of people of African origin. This population is mainly concentrated near the Namur Gate (French: Porte de Namur, Dutch: Naamsepoort), and the neighbourhood is nicknamed Matongé or Matongué after the marketplace and the commercial district with the same name in Kalamu, Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo). The core of Matongé was formed in late 1950s by the foundation of Maisaf (an abbreviation of Maison Africaine or African House) which served as a centre and residence for university students from the Belgian Congo. After Congolese independence in 1960, the district faced an influx of immigrants from the new state who shaped the neighbourhood in a style to resemble the original Matongé. During the sixties and into the seventies, the area was a well known meeting place for students and diplomats from Zaire. At the time they were known locally as Belgicains. There are also communities from other African countries, mainly from Rwanda, Burundi, Mali, Cameroon, and Senegal, present in the district.
The famous shopping arcades, the Galerie d'Ixelles and the Galerie de la Porte de Namur are both located in the heart of Matongé. In the gallery and the adjoining streets, a large number of specialised food shops and suppliers can be found. The area is renowned for its clothes, shoes and material shops, hairdressers and wigmakers, booksellers, jewellers and craft shops, making the area unmissable for many local and even international visitors, men and women, young and old. Over 45 different nationalities amongst the residents and shopkeepers can be counted, including most African countries. Statistically, many of the shopkeepers are not necessarily local residents. Amongst the visitors and window shoppers to Matongé are many who appreciate African fashion and the life-style.
The district also attained notoriety from the early 2000s with gang violence perpetrated by African gangs, partly composed of exiled child soldiers like Black Démolition. It was the scene of race riots in January 2001. Matongé, with its more recent immigrant communities from Latin America, Pakistan, and India along with African ones, is seen as a symbol of multiculturalism in Belgium. The local authorities, community groups and residents with a certain degree of success have more recently re-established the area as a safe place to visit. As the area and property ages there is increased pressure and interest from property developers to expand the European Quarter on one side and the fashionable Avenue Louise on the other, effectively Matongé is sandwiched between the two.
Every year since 2001 at the end of June, a successful multi-cultural festival, Matonge en Couleurs, has been organised in the area. The date coincides with the celebration of Congolese independence. The film Juju Factory, released in 2006, was partly filmed in the area. The local television channel Télé Bruxelles broadcasts a weekly magazine programme, Téle Matongé XL.
The pedestrian street Rue Longue Vie/Lange-Levenstraat is full of snack-bars where African food is sold. Most of these have been decorated by the famous Afro-European artist John Bush. Le Soleil d'Afrique has almost become his museum, with not only his original paintings on display, but also other painted surfaces and furniture.
The Flagey Building or former Maison de la Radio on Flagey Square
An Art Nouveau doorway in Ixelles, dating to 1902. Ixelles was a centre of Art Nouveau architecture in the first decades of the 20th century.
Several fairs are organised in Ixelles, including the Spring Fair on Place Flagey, which takes place between the fourth and sixth Sunday after Easter, and the Boondael Fair at the end of July.
Ixelles is twinned with, in chronological order:
Born in Ixelles (sorted by first name):
Lived in Ixelles: