- The suburb in the Brussels Capital Region directly south of the porte de Hal, Saint-Gilles is first mentioned in 1216 and a mayor and aldermen are recorded in existence in 1222, when it was called Superior Bruxella in Latin and Obbrus-sel (Op Brussel [upper Brussels]) in the Dutch dialect, a name given it by the religious authorities in the abbey of Forest in whose territory it was located. In 1298, John II, duke of Brabant, granted its citizens the same liberties as those enjoyed by their neighbors in Brussels. The community was included within the cuve of Brusse1s, except in religious matters for which it fell within the parish jurisdiction of the powerful abbey of Forest. In the 18th century, the abbey established a separate parish denominated as Op-Brussel-Saint-Gilles, which was shortened in time to Saint-Gilles.The original area was much larger, but construction of the second town wall expanded the limits of Brussels to the south, leaving Saint-Gilles as the village closest to the city. Large pools located near the ramparts and the Leybeke, a stream running through the area, served as sources of water. In 1661, the city bought two parcels of land from the congregation of Riches-Claires to utilize the water sources located thereon; lead pipes and a hydraulic mechanical prop were installed to bring water to southeastern sections of the city, which, together with water from Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, serviced residents for three centuries.The community was ravaged by troops of John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy, in 1414 and again in 1489 by those of Maximilian of Austria. In 1672, a fort was built by order of the count of Monterey, governor-general of the Netherlands. Constituting a forward post of the porte de Hal, it was demolished in 1782.Until the 19th century, Saint-Gilles was largely agricultural. The major industrial enterprise — linen weaving—was established near the porte de Hal in 1841.In 1864, the commune ceded a strip of land to Brussels to enable construction of the avenue Louise. The prison in Saint-Gilles, constructed in English Tudor Style, was built between 1878 and 1884. Throughout the 19th century middle-class and well-to-do city residents bought inexpensive rural parcels of land on which to build homes. Wide streets were laid out. By 1900, Saint-Gilles was an opulent town of 50,000, a community where renowned art nouveau architects built innovatively designed homes for wealthy clients.Saint-Gilles is divided into two distinct sections. The lower town is situated around the porte de Hal and the square fronting the church of Saint-Gilles. The latter is the third to be built here. The first was demolished in 1578 and the second proved too small for the growing congregation. The current edifice in the neo-Romanesque style was built beginning in 1866 and consecrated on 12 April 1880. The lower section is heavily populated by recent immigrants. The upper section consists of residential areas to the south and east of the church. The locale constitutes a treasury of art nouveau masterpieces, including Victor Horta's workshop, now a museum.Many middle-class residents have moved out of Saint-Gilles in the last several decades for communities farther to the south and east. Immigrants, most especially North Africans, have replaced them.
Historical Dictionary of Brussels. Paul F. State.
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