Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Place du Petit Sablon - Brussels

One of the most attractive small gardens in Brussels, Place du Petit Sablon was created in 1890 by architect Henri Beyaert and is dedicated to the memory of martyred Counts Egmont and Hornes, whose statues rise above an elaborate fountain. It is an attractive tree-lined space enclosed by magnificent wrought iron fencing and gates, encircled by 48 bronze statuettes, each representing a different medieval guild.

The Sablon is one of the most prestigious and attractive areas in central Brussels. In recent years it has become known as the center of antiques shops and art galleries.

The name “sablon” refers to the yellowish earth layer that could be seen along the shoulders of the dirt roads. This type of sandy clay was called "zavel" in Dutch and "sablon" in French. In the 14th century a small chapel in the sablon area was transformed into an important pilgrimage site where a miraculous statue of Our Lady was venerated. Soon the area became more populated and was enclosed within the 14th-century city walls. Around 1450 the little chapel had been transformed into a beautiful Gothic church, the Sablon church, known as Our Lady of the Victories. In the following centuries more and more noblemen settled in the area because it was close to the duke's palace.

A dramatic change occurred in the second half of the 19th century. The Sablon was divided into two parts by the construction of the Regentschapstraat/Rue de la Régence. During this period the church was renovated in neo-gothic style and the houses which had been attached to it were demolished. On the eastern side of the church a new park was laid out, called "De kleine zavel/Le petit sablon".
The Église Notre Dame du Sablon (Church of Our Lady of Sablon) is noted for its gallery with brightly colored stained glass windows which are illuminated from the inside at night. The celebrated statue of St. Hubert inside was once stolen from Brussels and taken to Antwerp, but was seized and returned to the church in 1348, where it has remained ever since.

Not only famous for its antiques, the Sablon area also offers a range of good restaurants and pleasant cafés. A visit to Wittamer, the most exclusive pastry maker in Brussels, is also a must.

Bottom photo: Several of the 48 columns supporting bronze statues, each representing one of the trade guilds. (click to enlarge)

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