Cityhall has two parts. The striking part, in the picture on the left, was supposed to be the seat of the high court of the United Netherlands in the 1500's. But the palace was not finished because of a lack of money. It took untill the early 20th century to finish the building. Today it houses the wedding room and the assembly room for the cities council. At the right is the Clothhall from the 14th century. It was here the trading of cloth took place. But due to the war between England and France there was no supply of wool to make cloth and trading collapsed. That is why the belfry (in the middle of the picture) was never finished.
Cityhall can visited inside with a guide, see the website for more info.
More pictures also from the iside in the Cityhall travelogue
This is a wonderfull do-center for sience and technique.
You will be able to participate in several sience projects, discover wonderfull things about everyday things we take for granted.
A must do acivity with children from 3-99.
Sory no pictures available, but check out their cool website!
As in other Flemish cities I’ve visited, the Grote Markt is clearly the heart of Mechelen, and you’ll almost certainly find yourself spending much of your down time here as I did. It’s ringed by cafes and bars, and although prices may be a little higher here than on the side streets (though my research wasn’t conclusive on this), in my view it’s worth any extra to be able to enjoy this prime people watching position!
But there’s more to this great square than eating and drinking. I was fascinated to learn something of its history; apparently recent excavations for the new underground car-park, which has thankfully removed the ranks of parked cars from this splendid scene, revealed large holes beneath its surface. Historians have concluded that a wooden cloth hall, the precursor of the later one now incorporated into the fabric of the Town Hall, once stood here. Mechelen in those days was a significant centre for weaving, using wool imported from England, and the cloth hall here would have been at the heart of the city’s trade. With the better access to the sea afforded by a now filled-in network of canals, ships would have docked nearby to deliver the bales of wool and to transport the finished cloth to its final destination.
The square is particularly pretty at night, with the cathedral, Town Hall and various other buildings nicely illuminated. I found that the aluminium bollards designed to keep traffic out of its centre also made great improvised rests for my camera to enable me to capture these shots. Another thing I liked here was spotting the various animal statues on top of some of the buildings, including a pig and this cockerel (photo 4), although I never found out their significance. On a Saturday there’s a general market in the square, which spills over too into the streets leading off it and the nearby Vee Markt.
Limited time (and some restricted opening hours) meant that I didn’t manage to see inside any of Mechelen’s eight churches other than the cathedral, but I did get to admire the varied architecture and learn a little about them. Two are worth mentioning in particular:
St John’s church (Sint-Jan) is one of the most famous medieval churches of Mechelen, mainly because of its Rubens painting, a triptych depicting the adoration of the Magi, which was painted in 1619. It is said that the Madonna has the face of Isabella Brant, Rubens’ first wife. The church itself was built in the 15th century.
The Baroque church of Saints Peter & Paul was built in 1670 as a Jesuit church, part of a monastery of which nothing else remains. The façade is notable for statues of Indian princes, reflecting the Jesuits’ missionary work in that country. The church has an impressive interior which unlike some others in the city (including the cathedral’s) survived the iconoclastic religious wars of the 16th century, when Mechelen was sacked by the Spanish army under the command of the Duke of Alva. Its splendours include a collection of paintings from the 17th century, fine oak panelling with fourteen confessionals and a magnificent pulpit made by the sculptor Verbruggen around 1700 that illustrates the Jesuits’ missionary work in the four continents then known (Australasia had not been discovered).
Mechelen is proud of the fact that it has been home to two great queens, both called Margaret. The first was Margaret of York (1446-1503), who was wife of Charles the Bold, sister of Edward IV of England and arch-enemy of Henry Tudor. She plotted from Mechelen to place the pretenders Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck on the English throne. Of her great palace here, only the former entrance hall remains, and is now the city’s cultural centre and theatre. The young Charles V was brought up here between 1500 and 1515.
This Renaissance palace was built at the turn of the 16th century by the humanist Hieronymus van Busleyden, a teacher of the Emperor Charles V and a member of Mechelen’s Great Council. He was also a friend of Erasmus and a patron of Thomas More, both of whom would have visited him here. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit the museum it now houses, which includes a work by Hans Bol and the original version of the town’s mascot, Op-Signoorke (a wooden doll which is processed in special feasts in Mechelen and tossed in the air – there is a statue depicting this in the Grote Markt near the Town Hall). There are also many items reflecting the various crafts for which Mechelen was renowned: gold leather work, furniture, lace and sculpture.
We were however able to enjoy the pretty garden which combines traditional and modern features, e.g. the sculpture of a duck in my 3rd photo, to recreate the spirit of the Renaissance approach to design in a present-day form.
The opening hours of the museum are 10.00 – 17.00 (closed Mondays except public holidays}. Admission is €2.00 for adults, €1.00 for senior citizens or adults in a group, and free for children.
Across the road from Margaret of York's Palace is that of Margaret of Austria. She was the step-grand-daughter of Margaret of York and often spent time with her grandmother in Mechelen after the death of her mother when she was only two. She was very unlucky with her choice of husbands – both the first, Juan of Spain, and then Philibert of Savoy died young. She wanted to enter a convent but her father Maximillian demanded that she act as regent of the Low Countries so she made her home here in Mechelen, first in her grandmother’s palace before having this one built for herself.
It is a mainly late-gothic building; however the gatehouse is one of the first buildings to be designed in the Renaissance style. The Great Council had its law courts here between 1616 and 1796, and today it again fulfils its historical function as the city’s law court. Visitors aren’t allowed inside but you can enter the courtyard to admire the architecture and the formal garden at its centre.
I found myself inside the Town Hall twice on my brief visit to Mechelen. On the final evening of the conference I was attending, all the delegates (from six European countries) were invited to a reception with the Mayor here. The next morning I’d arranged to go on a city walk with a few of my companions, and was pleased to find a thorough tour of this interesting building included. We first visited the main council chamber with its ornate wooden seating and neo-gothic fireplace (see photo 2). Its stained glass windows depict the coats of arms of the 72 territories claimed by Charles V, including Jerusalem and Morocco. The town council officials were preparing for a ceremony to be held here later in the day for couples celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary – a lovely idea. On a landing we saw a De Wit cartoon and then went to the Reception Room where we saw more stained glass windows and viewed the Battle of Tunis tapestry we’d seen briefly on the previous evening (see my Local Customs tip for more about this and the cartoon).
On the opposite side of the Grote Markt to the cathedral is the impressive Town Hall, actually a grouping of several buildings. This is Mechelen’s third town hall and has been in use since 1911 (the previous one is across the square near the cathedral and now serves as a post office – see photo 3).
The oldest part of the complex is the building on the right as you look from the square, part of which is shown in my main photo. This dates from the start of the 14th century and was originally intended to be a great cloth hall rivalling that of Bruges (these Belgian cities were fierce rivals) but the Hundred Year War started, cloth production was halted and plans for the building cut back. The bell-tower was never built; instead a temporary roof was added, which still remains to this day. The tower is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
To the left of this section is a two-storied gothic building (photo 2). Its lower floor dates from the 16th century and was built to house the Supreme Court, but as with the cathedral the city’s ambitions outstretched its purse and building was stopped in c. 1550. Three hundred years later the upper floor was added in a neo-gothic style to match the original plans, and Mechelen’s Town Hall was complete. It has since been added to further, however, as you can see if you go through the arched entrance in the 14th century section – you’ll find yourself in a courtyard whose sides are completed by a rather unattractive 1970s extension.
Guided tours of the Town Hall are included in the city walks led by guides from the tourist centre. See my next tip for some descriptions and photos of the interior.
The tower of St Rumbold’s Cathedral dominates this small city despite being over 60 metres shorter than originally planned! The original plans were made when Mechelen was a rich and powerful commercial and political centre, and determined to show its wealth by building a huge tower, intended to be the highest in the Low Countries, reaching a height of 160 metres. Unfortunately the city ran out of money in the 16th century and the plan was halted, leaving the tower at a mere 97.28 metres.
The cathedral was built over a period of 300 years, from the 13th until the 16th centuries and is named after Saint Rumbold, an Irish missionary who converted Mechelen to Christianity. He built a monastery in the area and died later a martyr.
Behind the altar here you can see a series of 25 panels from the 15th and 16th centuries depicting his life and miracles – follow them in the intended order (first left to right viewing the front of each, then in reverse looking at the back) to “read” the story as if in a strip cartoon.
Also in the cathedral you can see a beautiful oak pulpit, and a painting of the Crucifixion by Anthon Van Dyck. I also liked the very modern marble altar – our guide explained that in Mechelen they preferred to mix new with old rather than create an unreal pretence of age when restoring historic buildings and monuments, a practice I admire.
I recommend venturing across the river Dijle which runs South of the center for more beautiful historic sites. The first street is Korenmarkt which leads to the ancient gatehouse. Enjoy how well the ancient and the modern is mixed in Mechelen.
North of the city center is the Belgian Holocaust museum. It is located in the barracks used by the Nazis to intern the Jews. (Mechelen was chosen because it is roughly equidistant from Antwerp and Brussels where most Jews lived.) Unfortunately, it is closed in mid-August.
This beautiful Renaissance palace houses a small city museum and the famous carillon school which attracts students from around the world. The craft is difficult, and the diploma takes six years to complete.
The city's "Golden Ages" are connected with two Margarets. The first of one, Margaret of York, was the wife of the Duke of Burgundy, and made her court here. Her granddaughter, Margaret of Austria, did the same. Illustrious figures of their time made a visit to Mechelen, or stayed there, and most of the city's outstanding building date from those periods.
There is a large monument to Margaret of Austria at the Western corner of Grote Markt to honor her contribution to the city.
The boulevard Ijsenleen leads from Grote Markt to the river. It is also lined with Flemish renaissance townhouses, has many shops and restaurants.
Here is located the Waag, the medieval market weighing house, common to Flemish and Dutch market towns.