Aalst is a city and municipality on the Dender River, 31 kilometres (19 mi) northwest from Brussels in the Flemish province of East Flanders. Aalst is crossed by the Molenbeek-Ter Erpenbeek in Aalst and Hofstade. The town has a long-standing (folkloric) feud with Dendermonde (north along the river), which dates from the Middle Ages.
|• Mayor||Christoph D’Haese (N-VA)|
|• Governing party/ies||N-VA, Open VLD, CD&V|
|• Total||78.12 km2 (30.16 sq mi)|
|• Density||1,100/km2 (2,800/sq mi)|
- The 15th-century Belfry of Aalst next to the town hall contains a 52-bell carillon, the oldest in Belgium. Together with the adjacent Aldermen’s House, it was classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1999 (part of Belfries of Belgium and France).
- The famous “unfinished” St. Martin’s Collegiate Church, in Gothic style, dates back to 1480. It contains a painting by Rubens, Saint Roch beseeching Christ to terminate the Plague at Aalst, and it also has a tabernacle (dated 1605), which features sculptures made by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder, whose most famous creation is Manneken Pis.
- The statue of Dirk Martens (1450–1534), first printer in the Netherlands.
- The old breweries that grow their own hops.
- The Town square has a gallery with a second statue of Martens along with Charles V.
Aalst is known for its carnival festivities, celebrated every year before Lent. During this celebration, the former town hall belfry is the site of the traditional “throwing of the onions”. A Prince Carnival is elected, who is allowed to “rule” the city for three days. A big parade crosses the city on Sunday, with about 70 groups of costumed volunteers and parade cars. Carnival Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday (by tradition, the day before Ash Wednesday), is known as the day of the ‘Voil Jeannetten’ (literally: “the Dirty Jennies”), i.e., men dressed as women. The festivities traditionally end with the “Burning of the Doll”, happening on Tuesday evening. In recent years the carnival has been accused of anti-Semitism due to the repeated us of derogatory imagery of Jews.
The textile industry is still vibrant in Aalst, in part because of the French occupation. Aalst produces not only the textiles themselves, clothing and footwear, but manufactures many of the needed machines. The more rural regions are noted for their production of hops, which are sold to the old breweries there. They also have a large active cut flower business in the region.