|• Mayor||Marc-Jean Ghyssels (PS)|
|• Total||6.25 km2 (2.41 sq mi)|
|Population (1 January 2016)|
|• Density||8,900/km2 (23,000/sq mi)|
The town is commonly known for its concert hall (French: Forest National, Dutch: Vorst Nationaal). It also houses an important jail, an Audi factory and a railway depot that is home to the Belgian fleet of Eurostar train sets.
Frankish origins and medieval period
The first houses built in this forested area along the Geleysbeek, a tributary of the Zenne, date from the 7th century. The village's first church was dedicated to Saint Dionysius the Areopagite. The legend of Saint Alena, a young convert to Chalcedonian Christianity murdered by her father's troops for hearing mass at the church of Dionysius, also takes place in the 7th century. The chapel and cult of Saint Alena, however, date only from the 12th century. The saint's cenotaph, one of the rare examples of 12th-century sculpture in Belgium, can still be admired in the chapel today. The contiguous church of Saint Denis (Dionysius) was rebuilt in the Romanesque style at around the same time.
The abbots of Affligem, which had been the ecclesiastical owners of the parish since the bishop of Cambrai ceded it to them in 1105, decided to build a priory for women in Forest, Forest Abbey. The first abbess of the Forest priory was named in 1239. Also in the 13th century, the Romanesque church of Saint Denis was rebuilt in the newer Gothic style. The neighbouring abbatial church was rebuilt in the 15th century.
17th century until today
Thanks to its abbey, Forest prospered, especially during the reigns of Archdukes Albert and Isabella. On 26 March 1764, however, a devastating fire ruined some of the buildings and destroyed many of its artworks. Three decades later, in the years that followed the French Revolution, the religious community was disbanded, the nuns forced to flee, and the buildings sold. The Forest municipality bought the abbey in 1964 and proceeded to restore it to its previous glory.
- The church of Saint Denis and the adjoining chapel of Saint Alena house unique specimens of Romanesque sculpture. The nearby Benedictine abbey is now home to a cultural centre.
- The Art Deco town hall, built in 1925 and inaugurated in 1938, is not far from the old historic centre.
- A church dedicated to Saint Augustine was built in Forest, on the Place de l'Altitude Cent / Hoogte Honderdplein (a square named due to its altitude one hundred meters above sea level), also in an Art Deco style.
- Finally, the municipality maintains several green areas, including the Duden Park and the aptly named Forest park.
Events and folklore
- The sprawling "Forest National" (Dutch: “Vorst Nationaal”) center is well known in the world of show business, arts and culture, as one of the prime venues for international star performances.
- The abbey welcomes everyone in September to a three-day-long “Medieval Celebration”, where hosts and visitors alike are dressed as knights, burghers, soldiers, and a variety of other medieval attire. Typical activities include watching assorted magicians, jugglers and fire-eaters, listening to musicians perform on period instruments, appreciating old-time crafts, and tasting forgotten drinks and dishes.
- Since 1987 Forest has giant puppets of its own: Nele and Pauline, both baptized at the abbey, and their children, Alida and Paville.
- Stuart Merrill, American poet (1863–1915)
- Jean Delville, symbolist painter, writer, and occultist (1867–1953)
- Louise Ochsé, sculptor (1884-1944)
- Paul Vanden Boeynants, politician (1919–2001)
- Raymond Goethals, football coach (1921–2004)
- Population per municipality as of 1 January 2016 (XLS; 397 KB)
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