Mechelen Local Custom Tips by Pavlik_NL Top 5 Page for this destination
Mechelen Local Customs: 18 reviews and 19 photos
Example of a modern complex camouflaged in old
Mechelen has done a great job in camouflaging new buildings within the old citycentre. Though it was not everywhere successful it still worth a recommendation from my side. In various places the city administration with help of the contracters and construction companies have managed to hide away new buildings (like appartment complexes) in such a way that they do not harm the complete look of Mechelen's magnificent historical inner town.
Building outward to create more inner space
In many Lowlands towns one can witness a typical medieval thing. Ground was sold to the highest bidder within the centre of towns. Then a contracter started to built a house and sometimes this was constructed in such a way that the 80 square meters eventually came out to be a 100. By adding on front and backside of the building a few decameters each level, the house could become longer each level and thus giving more space. Rules for this were not made and in various places (in Mechelen as well as many other towns) we can witness a clever contracter making the most of it.
Old renaissance besides a more baroque house
When walking through Mechelen (and many other Lowlands town, maybe even world town or city) one must know quite a lot to destinguise one architural style from the other. Going from plane Romanic buildings along Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque to Neo-classical, Jugendstile and Art-Nouveau. It is dazzling how many styles there are and not even thinking about the mix styles that are represented even more often then the pure. Anyway, in Mechelen as well, there is a lot to see and a lot to learn about this. Often styles go hand in hand, but sometimes ... it can hurt the eyes.
Beautiful interior of Sint Jan's church - Mechelen
As sober most protestant Dutch churches are, as rich in decorations are the Belgian Catholic churches. The difference is from historical significance and has everything to do with the independance war in the 16th and 17th century, that lasted 80 years. This war started with the "Beeldenstorm" (Statue storm) after tension was rissen high between the strict rules of the Spanish rulers according to religion (Spanish inquisition) and the more and more reformed ideas of the ordinary people and parts of the nobility. In August 1566 deep in the South of Flanders (what is now the "occupied" French Flanders). The anger of the people that were restricted in choice of religion and hated the incredable wealth that the average catholic church showed, was focussed on the same churches and angry mobs started vandalising the statues, paintings and other rich decorations. This rebelion swept over the whole of The Lowlands, especially in Gent and Antwerpen the damage was immens. Still, it was also here that after this revolution the majority of the people choose Catholism in the independance war. The protestant left one by one for the fighting Northern provinces and therefor Belgium eventually became again under Habsburgian rule, now by the Austrian branch of this powerful family. Churches here were restored in their old wealth and decorated with rich ornaments, paintings and statues. Today one still can see this in the Belgian churches, Mechelen including.
"Fire ... help, the tower is on fire"
"Maneblussers" or translated, "moon extinguishers" has been the nickname for the Mechelen people for many centuries. It all started according to history in the night of the 27th of January 1687, when the moon threw a red glow on Saint Rumbold's Tower. It was foggy too while a drunk guy was going home and saw the extraordinary view.
"Fire ... help, the tower is on fire" he called out in fear, waking up the neighbours, that watched outside and saw the same scene. Quickly almost the whole population was out in the streets and the alarm-bell was ringing everywhere. Firebrigade and many volunteers started to form lines to bring water by buckets from the pump. The mayor and "schepenen" (town officials) speeded to the catastrophe and organized necessary rescue-work. Buckets of water were passed from hand to hand going up on the stairs of the tower, higher and higher, but no fire was found. At the to one only saw the moon coming through the myst and the Mechelaren realised that they were fooled by a drunk fellow citizen.
Although the Mechelen people tried to hide this story, it soon became known throughout the country and even was told abroad. One should remember that cities and towns in those times only had very competative relations. Many jokes were told about it and even articles were published in papers, thus keeping the story alive. Since then the Mechelaren are known by the name: "Maneblussers" (Moon Extinguishers).
Op-signoorke in front of the town hall
"Op-signoorke" is an ancient puppet which is carried along in special feasts in Mechelen, being is tossed in the air. In front of the city hall you see a statue simulating this tradition.
But why "signoor" (descending from Spanish "senor") as this is actually a nickname for the inhabitants of Antwerpen. Well, there is a connection between one of the many happenings in which the festivities around the tossing of the puppet, went into a fight. In 1775 people were standing along the streets all over Mechelen and the puppet was thrown up high in the air, thus going from street to street. Then the puppet fell on the floor (it is said to have happened in the Saint Katelijne straat) and Jacobus de Leeuw from Antwerp wanted pick up the doll. Immediately many people started shouting that he wanted to steal the puppet (a city mascotte as well). He got mugged by the masses and thrown in jail, though not meaning any harm. He escaped however and fled back to Antwerpen, where he wrote a letter of complaint to the Mechelen city administration. Since then the puppet has been nicknamed after the Antwerpener, thus becoming "Op-signoorke".
The original doll is kept in the Communal Museum (Busleyden-house in the Fred. de Merodestraat) where one can have a look at it. In 1949 the puppet got stolen by - guess ... yes, Antwerpen students acting as American tourists. In 1950 it was returned to Mechelen.
Saint Rombout's tower "plus" Dutch finishing touch
The Saint Rombouts tower is unfinished, that is something many people immediately see. In Antwerpen another cathedral is missing something (the second tower is never erected) and there are more examples of this "tradition" in belgium (and Dutch Brabant and Limburg). How come that when Belgian start something they don't finish it? Most often because of lack in funding? (-:
Just kidding, the eventual monumental standards in Belgian are anyway competing away the Dutch ones.
As about the Saint Rombouts tower. The original plans were made in Mechelen's wealthy decades. It was rich, centre of power and a commercial and political centre. Building towers always tried to reflect that power and wealth. The Saint Rumbold's cathedral had to had the highest tower in the Lowlands. In total, it should have reached the dazzling height of 160 meters, but financial troubles appeared when power went back to Brussel. In the cathedral one can see what should have been ... if the purse would have been filled continuously. In my picture ... also an impression (-:
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