Past Cities

Anderlecht, Brussels, Belgium

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Anderlecht, a municipality in the Brussels-Capital Region of Belgium, holds a rich and diverse history that spans over centuries. As one of the 19 municipalities that make up the region, Anderlecht has played a significant role in the political, cultural, and economic development of Brussels and the nation as a whole. Its geographical location and the changing political environment have shaped its growth, population, and historical events.

Anderlecht traces its roots back to Roman times when it was a rural settlement located along the road from Bavay (France) to Cologne (Germany). The area's fertile soil and proximity to the river Senne made it an attractive location for farming and trade. Over time, Anderlecht grew into a prosperous agricultural community, known for its grain production, orchards, and vineyards.

In the Middle Ages, Anderlecht became a significant center of power due to its strategic location. It was situated on the outskirts of Brussels, which served as the capital of the Duchy of Brabant. The political influence of the city and its rulers had a direct impact on Anderlecht's development. The Counts of Leuven and later the Dukes of Brabant granted privileges and rights to the inhabitants of Anderlecht, encouraging trade and economic growth.

During this period, Anderlecht's population steadily increased. In the 13th century, the number of inhabitants was estimated to be around 2,000, making it one of the largest villages in the region. The majority of the population were farmers, but there were also artisans and merchants who thrived in the expanding market economy. Anderlecht's central location and connections to other cities via rivers and roads contributed to its prosperity.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, Anderlecht faced several challenges as political and religious conflicts swept through the region. The Hundred Years' War and the religious strife during the Protestant Reformation took their toll on the city. Anderlecht experienced periods of economic decline and depopulation as a result of these conflicts. However, it managed to recover and rebuild in the following centuries.

By the 19th century, Anderlecht underwent a significant transformation due to industrialization and urbanization. The growth of Brussels as an industrial hub had a direct impact on Anderlecht's population and economy. The construction of railways and the expansion of industrial facilities attracted a wave of workers to the area. The population skyrocketed, reaching 28,000 inhabitants by 1900.

The urbanization process led to the emergence of distinct neighborhoods within Anderlecht. The historic core of the municipality retained its rural charm, while new residential areas and industrial zones sprang up around it. The diverse population of Anderlecht included workers from various parts of Belgium, as well as immigrants from neighboring countries. This mix of cultures and backgrounds contributed to the vibrant social fabric of the city.

The political environment in Belgium, particularly during the 20th century, also influenced Anderlecht's history. The city, like the rest of the country, went through two World Wars that had a profound impact on its population and infrastructure. During World War I, Anderlecht suffered heavy damage due to its proximity to the front lines. The city experienced food shortages, displacement of residents, and the destruction of buildings.

In the aftermath of the wars, Anderlecht experienced rapid reconstruction and modernization. The post-war period brought new challenges and opportunities. The municipality became a major industrial and commercial center, attracting businesses and investments. The population grew steadily, reaching around 90,000 inhabitants by the 1960s.