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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 ˈmoːləmˌbeːk])[2] or Molenbeek-Saint-Jean (French, pronounced [molənbek sɛ̃ ʒɑ̃]) is one of 19 municipalities in the Brussels-Capital Region (Belgium). It is bordered by the City of Brussels, Anderlecht, Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, Dilbeek, Jette and Koekelberg.

In 2014, the municipality had a population of 94,854 inhabitants.[3] It is densely populated, at 16,357/km², twice the average of Brussels. The upper area is greener and less densely populated.


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”[4] and its inhabitants lived through an extended period of misery. 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 revitalisation 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 mayor Philippe Moureaux announcing its withdrawal from the town.[5] As a result, serious questions were raised about governance, security and the administration of Moureaux.[6]

Where Molenbeek was once a centre of intense industrial activity, concentrated around the canal and the railway, most of those industries have disappeared to make way for large-scale urban renewal following the modernist Athens Charter. The 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.[7] The area is 5.9 km², making the density over 16 000/km². The population has been described as 'mainly Muslim' in the media;[4] however, actual figures range between 25% and 40%, depending on the catchment area. The population of Molenbeek itself, while already impoverished and overcrowded, has further increased by 24.5% in the last decade.[8]

There are two distinct areas of Molenbeek: a lower area and a higher area. The lower area consists of working-class, mainly migrant, communities, mostly of Turkish and Moroccan descent, with many being second- and third-generation. The higher area is modern, green and mostly residential.[9]

Muslim community[edit]

Over the past four decades, a substantial Muslim community of mainly Moroccan descent has established itself in Molenbeek, particularly on the eastern inner-city side of the municipality.

After several convicted and suspected terrorists were found to have lived in the suburb, Molenbeek received criticism in regards to combating Islamic terrorism and the radicalisation of young Sunni Muslims. It has been taking place in private homes rather than in more open places, such as mosques.


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 Belgian local elections, 2012, an alternative majority was formed headed by mayor Françoise Schepmans (fr) (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 rundown industrial buildings have been renovated and converted into prime real estate and other community functions. Examples include the Raffinerie, a former sugar refinery, now the site of a cultural and modern dance complex; the Fonderie, a former smelter now home to a labour and industry museum; the Bottelarij, a bottling plant that housed 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.
  • A 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. ^ "Chiffres-clés par commune — fr". Retrieved 2015-12-23. 
  4. ^ a b "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. 
  5. ^ "Insécurité à Molenbeek" [Insecurity in Molenbeek]. (in French). 17 June 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  6. ^ "BBDO zwaar ontgoocheld in Moureaux" [BBDO greatly disappointed by Moureaux]. De Standaard (in Dutch). 17 June 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  7. ^ "Molenbeek-Saint-Jean (Commune, Region of Brussels)". Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  8. ^ "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. 
  9. ^ "Molenbeek-Saint-Jean". Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  10. ^ "Paris attacks: Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud identified as presumed mastermind". CBC News. 16 November 2015. Retrieved 16 November 2015. 
  11. ^ "Toots, an icon of the Brussels jazz scene". 

External links[edit]