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"Molenbeek" redirects here. For other uses, see Molenbeek (disambiguation).
Molenbeek-Saint-Jean (French)
Brusel, Ninoofsestenweg.jpg
Flag of Sint-Jans-Molenbeek
Coat of arms of Sint-Jans-Molenbeek
Coat of arms
Sint-Jans-Molenbeek is located in Belgium
Location in Belgium
Coordinates: 50°51′28″N 04°18′57″E / 50.85778°N 4.31583°E / 50.85778; 4.31583Coordinates: 50°51′28″N 04°18′57″E / 50.85778°N 4.31583°E / 50.85778; 4.31583
Country Belgium
Community Flemish Community
French Community
Region Brussels
Arrondissement Brussels
 • Mayor Françoise Schepmans (fr) (MR)
 • Total 5.89 km2 (2.27 sq mi)
Population (1 January 2013)[1]
 • Total 93,893
 • Density 16,000/km2 (41,000/sq mi)
Postal codes 1080
Area codes 02

Sint-Jans-Molenbeek (Dutch, pronounced [sɪnt ˈjɑns ˈmoːlənˌbeːk])[2] or Molenbeek-Saint-Jean (French, pronounced [molənbek sɛ̃ ʒɑ̃]) is one of nineteen municipalities in the Brussels-Capital Region (Belgium). It has 93.000 inhabitants.


Rural beginnings[edit]

The name Molenbeek comes from two Dutch words: molen, meaning “mill”, and beek, meaning “brook”. Although first applied to the brook that ran through the village, the name eventually came to be used to designate the village itself around the year 985. In the early Middle Ages, Molenbeek was known for its miraculous well of Saint Gertrude, which attracted thousands of pilgrims.

The village was made part of Brussels in the 13th century. As a result, Molenbeek lost many of its lands to its more powerful neighbour. In addition, its main church was dismantled in 1578, leading to further decline. The town’s character remained mostly rural until the 18th century.


At the end of the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution and the building of the Brussels-Charleroi Canal brought prosperity back to Molenbeek, through commerce and manufacturing. In 1785, the town regained its status as an independent commune. Attracted by the industrial opportunities, many workers moved in, first from other Belgian provinces and France, then from South European, and more recently from East European and African countries. The growth of the community continued unabated throughout the 19th century, leading to cramped living conditions, especially near the canal.

The town became known as “Little Manchester”.[3] At the end of the 19th century, Brussels reintegrated the canal area within its new port, which was thus lost to Molenbeek. The industrial decline, which had already started before World War I, accelerated after the Great Depression. In some areas of the town, the ensuing poverty left its mark on the urban landscape and scarred the social life of the community, leading to rising crime rates and pervading cultural intolerance. Various local revitalization programs are currently under way, aiming at relieving the most impoverished districts of the municipality.

Tour L'Ecluse, Boulevard Mettewie, Molenbeek

Attempts at revitalizing the municipality have, however, not been successful. In June 2011, the multinational company BBDO, citing over 150 attacks on their staff by locals, posted an open letter to then-mayor Philippe Moureaux announcing their withdrawal from the town.[4] As a result, serious questions were raised about governance, security, and the administration of Mayor Moureaux.[5]

Where Molenbeek was once a centre of intense industrial activity, concentrated around the canal and the rail line, most of those industries have disappeared to make way for large-scale urban renewal following the modernist Athens Charter. This industrial past is remembered in a museum of social and industrial history built on the site of the Foundry.

21st century[edit]

The population as of January 1, 2015 was 95,576.[6] The area is 5.9 square km, making the density over 16 000 per square km. The population of Molenbeek has increased by 24.5% in the last decade.[7]

There are two distinct districts of Molenbeek, a lower region and a higher region.[further explanation needed] The lower region consists of working-class, mainly migrant communities, mostly of Turkish and Moroccan descent, with many being second and third generation. The higher region is modern, green and mostly residential.[8]


The municipality is governed by an elected municipal council and an executive college of the mayor and aldermen. The longtime mayor from 1992 to 2012 was Philippe Moureaux (PS). Following the 2012 elections, an alternative majority was formed headed by mayor Françoise Schepmans (MR) and consisting of MR (15 seats), CDH-CD&V (6 seats) and Ecolo-Groen (4 seats). The Socialist Party (16 seats) became the opposition next to the Workers' Party of Belgium (PTB), Democratic Federalist Independent (DéFI), the ISLAM party and the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), each having one seat.


The Molenbeek football team, FC Brussels, used to play in the Belgian first division. Nowadays they play in the Belgian second division.

Points of interest[edit]

Regional nature park "Scheutbos"
  • Several run-down industrial buildings have been renovated and converted into prime real estate and other community functions. Examples include the Raffinerie, a former sugar refinery that is now the site of a cultural and modern dance complex; the Fonderie, a former smelter that is now home to a labour and industry museum; the Bottelarij, a bottling plant which was housing the Royal Flemish Theatre during the renovation of the theatre in the centre of Brussels; and the most impressive Tour & Taxis building and surrounding area, which will be turned into residences, as well as commercial enterprises.
  • The Karreveld castle is used for cultural events and the meetings of the municipal council.
  • Regional nature park "Scheutbos".
  • A brewery, the Brasserie de la Senne.

Notable inhabitants[edit]

Twin cities[edit]


  1. ^ Population per municipality on 1 January 2013 (XLS; 607.5 KB)
  2. ^ Pronunciation in the local dialect of Dutch: [sɪn ˈcɑns ˈmoːləˌbeːk], though the first two words in isolation also in dialect: [sɪnt ˈjɑns]
  3. ^ "Paris attacks: Visiting Molenbeek, the police no-go zone that was home to two of the gunmen". The Independent. 17 November 2015. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  4. ^ "Insécurité à Molenbeek" [Insecurity in Molenbeek]. (in French). 17 June 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  5. ^ "BBDO zwaar ontgoocheld in Moureaux" [BBDO greatly disappointed by Moureaux]. De Standaard (in Dutch). 17 June 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  6. ^ "Molenbeek-Saint-Jean (Commune, Region of Brussels)". Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  7. ^ "La population de Molenbeek augmente de 25% en 10 ans" [The population of Molenbeek increases 25% in 10 years]. l' (in French). Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  8. ^ "Molenbeek-Saint-Jean". Retrieved 18 November 2015. 

External links[edit]