A marketsquare (Grote, or just, Markt) is typical for all Lowlands towns that have gotten cityrights. one of the priviliges that a city gained with these rights was the possibility to have markets (selling goods in public). Market-squares always became central places squares that also were places to show "your" power to everybody else. Therefor, surrounding these squares the houses were more decorated, bigger and of exquisit architecture. Guilds, nobility, the church, city-governement etc. all strived to show off their power and might. Resulting in marketsquares throughout the Benelux that are belonging to the most beautiful of the world. Diest has a wonderful marketsquare as well.
A little poorly maintained stands, in the middle of the Beguinage, the Saint Catherine's church. Renovations are urgent, but it seems that there is a lack of funding for this. This Beguiange church dates back the the 14th century and was in the first place the relgious gathering place for the "Begijnen", the inhabitants (all female) of the "Begijnhof". It was not like now only on Sunday, but each day were messes and on Sunday even several, to attend to.
The shape of "Begijnhoven" variates, but is often a large carre with a special entrancegate and in the sides of this carre many small houses for the communitymembers. Always there was a chapel or a church withing the building and also a kind of hospital was taken in the architecture. "Begijnhoven" can be found in all Belgian towns and one of the most beautiful and largest ones is in Diest. It actually makes up a whole town quarter! Also UNESCO recognises this special monument and put it on the list of world-heritages buildings. The Diest Beguinage lies little outside the town's centre, but can easily be reached by car, public transport or on foot.
This easily can be called one of the most beautiful "Begijnhoven" (Beguinages) within Belgium, the country that has the most famoust of these old community-houses. The were started as housing-complexes belonging to a church, abbey or monastery. They were often occupied by (young) ladies of quiet rich families. The family let them stay in these religious atmosphere to safeguard their virginity until marriage. Other women devoted themselves here to God.
The town of Diest has a wonderful park of which the entrance is situated next to the Oranjehof (visited earlier on the must see activities). This park, "the Warande", is offered to Diest by one of it's most beloved citizens (a doctor, but sorry, I forgot his name). The ground it is created on, was always property of the historical "Lords of Diest", a group of gentlemen that were rulers of the town in medieval and later times. The park itself is lovely and - of course - exquisitly green. Old trees and shady places offer cool spots in warm summerdays and throughout the park are several statues to be seen.
Diest has quite a few refuge-houses. Nicely shaped buildings around a court, that provided shelter for the weaker people, like elderly, ill, handicapped or - moer temporeraly - people from the countryside or neighboring towns that were caught up in warsituations or so. They too (like the beguinages) often belonged to a monastry, abbey or church and were founded by the grace of their wealth. In Diest many are opened to public, though few are still in use in the same object as before: elderly-homes.
On the Marketsqauer, besides the old trader's houses and the magnificent Saint Sulpitius, one can find the cityhall of Diest. This building is charmfully decorated with the flags of Europe, Belgium, the Flemish Brabant province and of course the town Diest and many flowers on balconies and terracewalls. Inside is a special treasure hidden. In the cellar Diest keeps it's historical treasures, which visitors can watch the golden, silver and other preciosu materials gathered throughout the centuries by church and royalties of Diest.
Old town centres were often including a marketsquare. A town got it's cityright which actually ment as most important "right" that one could start having markets. Market for grane, market for fish, market for meat, market for vegetables etc. etc. etc. This draw a lot of traders towards the freshly born city and of course a large quantity of (agricultural) products. Around the marketplace the wealthy traders built there homes, resulting to be the mirror of the town's wealth. Beautiful facades with many decorations showed off the richness of it's inhabitant. Further from the marketsquare there were the shops of the (handi)craftsmen, also pulled here by the knowledge that many people will pass along their doors on their way to the market. Diest's marketsqauer contains perfect examples of these traders-houses in realy great shape still.
The "Oranjehof" is not that far from the Marketsquare and next to the entrance to the town's park. It is a simple building with a little tower besides a court-shaped house (carre). Here early members of the Orange-Nassau family residated in the 15th, 16th and 17th century. They ruled over Diest and surroundings as well as other parts throughout Europe (Dillenburg in Germany and of course Orange in France). As there was often a good bound between the members of this - later royal Dutch family - even now Diest proudly claims to be one of the Orange-towns. The house can be visited and here one can read about the things the Oranges did for the surroundings and town. Sadly it also brought a rivalry with the Spanish forces that the independance-war was against, having the effect that Diest was twice plundered by these troops.
In the middle of town on the central Marketsqauer the most significant building is by far the Saint Sulpitius church. This partly Romanic, partly Gothic built basilica-church is dominating the view over Diest and brings many Orange-fanatics to the grave of William of Orange (the Silent)'s oldest son: Filips-Willem. Most other royal Dutch familymembers are buried in the New Church in Delft, but this is a big exception. Filips-Willem also lived his whole life in Diest and had a very close bound with the inhabitants. His house is also still there, the "Oranje-hof" (see next "must see activity"). More impressions about the Saint Sulpitius can be found under the travelogue about this monumental church.