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Petit Sablon © BITC - O. van de Kerchove

The word 'sablon' makes reference to a fine sand, which is halfway between silt and sand. It is this 'sablon', which covers the hills that dominate the valley of the Senne river, that is at the origin of the Place du Grand Sablon, the Petit Sablon (Small Sablon) and the Rue de la Sablonnière near the Porte de Schaerbeek.

Sandy hill

Originally, the Sablon was a sandy hill situated south of the ramparts of Brussels. In 1299, it was decided to transfer the cemetery of the Saint Jean hospital to this place. Five years later, the hospital gave up a part of the ground to the Guild of Crossbowmen to allow them to build a chapel dedicated to Our Lady. The chapel was finished in 1318, but would be completely reconstructed in the 15th century. In spite of numerous complaints, the cemetery remained east of the church (side Petit Sablon) up to its transfer to the Montserrat's chapel in 1704.

Drinking trough becomes fountain

Sablon Until 1754, a horse market took place every Friday at the Grand Sablon [plan]. There was also an artificial water reservoir which served as drinking trough for animals and as water reserve in case of fire. The reservoir was replaced by a fountain in 1661. This fountain was substituted for a more impressive fountain in 1751: a work by Jacques Bergé and ordered by lord Thomas Bruce, earl of Ailesbury, in his testimony. This noble Scot lived in Brussels from 1696 to his death in 1741 as a political. He stayed at a hotel situated West of the Sablon church (at the spot of the current antique market). At his death, lord Thomas Bruce offered this fountain to thank the City for its hospitality.

The origin of the Ommegang

The chapel, then Sablon church, was not the centre of a parish. It became a branch of the Notre-Dame de la Chapelle in 1801. Nevertheless it played an important role in the history of Brussels. From the 14th century, Our Lady was worshipped there by the Guild of Crossbowmen. This worship is on the base of the famous Ommegang du Sablon, which is still organized every year.

Thurn and Taxis

Sablon From the 16th century, the residential area around the palace of Brussels (at present, the Place Royale) extended more and more southward. The most important families settled down in the Sablon district and were sometimes buried in the church there. One of these families were the Thurn and Taxis, the imperial post bosses. They settled down in a magnificent palace with very beautiful gardens in front of the Sablon church, where they set up their funeral chapel, decorated with their now world famous tapestries. In the baroque period they replaced this chapel by the current and build a second, on the other side of the choir. The Thurn and Taxis lived at the Sablon until 1701, when they were forced to move to Regensburg. Several wealthy families lived at the Sablon. The Egmont palace and the hotel de Mérode still refer to that glorious past.

New plans

Rue de la Régence © Olivier van de Kerchove In the 19th century, the district was profoundly transformed. The Rue de la Régence was drawn in 2 phases, the north half in 1827, the south half in 1872. In this street appeared the Museums of Fine Arts, the Conservatoire and the Big Synagogue. The Sablon church was loosened by the demolition of the houses which surrounded it on all sides. Opposite, in the Rue de la Régence, an open space, the Petit Sablon was built with the Egmont square. On the other side of the Grand Sablon, 2 new streets were made to link the uptown and downtown city: the Rue Joseph Stevens (1894) and the Rue Joseph Lebeau (1893), which was strongly bent to ease the slope for the cars.

Antique dealers, chocolate stores and confectioners

Today, the Grand Sablon is especially known for the antique market which is held every weekend and for the numerous antique dealers who settled down in the area. A more recent phenomenon is the opening of Belgian chocolate and confectionery stores.

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