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Sint-Jans-Molenbeek (Dutch)
Brusel, Ninoofsestenweg.jpg
Flag of Molenbeek-Saint-Jean
Coat of arms of Molenbeek-Saint-Jean
Coat of arms
Molenbeek-Saint-Jean is located in Belgium
Location in Belgium
Coordinates: 50°51′N 04°20′E / 50.850°N 4.333°E / 50.850; 4.333Coordinates: 50°51′N 04°20′E / 50.850°N 4.333°E / 50.850; 4.333
Country Belgium
Community Flemish Community
French Community
Region Brussels
Arrondissement Brussels
 • Mayor Françoise Schepmans (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 [sɪn ˈcɑns ˈmoːlə(n)ˌbeːk])[2] or Molenbeek-Saint-Jean (French, pronounced [molənbek sɛ̃ ʒɑ̃]) is one of the nineteen municipalities located in the Brussels-Capital Region of Belgium.


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” 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 haven, 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.

Attempts at revitalizing the municipality have, however, not been successful. The multinational company BBDO in June, 2011 citing over 150 attacks on their staff by locals, posted an open letter to the mayor, Philippe Moureaux announcing their withdrawal from the town.[3] As a result, serious questions have been raised about governance, security, and the administration of Mayor Moureaux.[4]


Muslim community[edit]

Over the past couple of decades, a substantial Muslim community of mainly Moroccan and Turkish ancestry has established itself in Molenbeek, very visible (people, shops, cafés) in the oldest neighbourhoods of the commune, near the canal, while the new neighbourhoods are more akin to the population of neighbouring communes Jette or Berchem-Sainte-Agathe. There are several mosques in the commune, including a Pakistani one, and a Shi'a Turkish mosque.[5]


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 various residences, as well as commercial enterprises.
  • The Karreveld castle is used for a variety of cultural events, but also for the meetings of the municipal council.
  • Regional nature park "Scheutbos".
  • A brewery, the Brasserie de la Senne.

Famous inhabitants[edit]


  1. ^ Population per municipality on 1 January 2013 (XLS; 607.5 KB)
  2. ^ The first two words in isolation: [sɪnt ˈjɑns]
  3. ^ "Insécurité à Molenbeek...", 17 June 2012 and 27 August 2012.
  4. ^ "BBDO zwaar ontgoocheld in Moureaux," De Standaard, 17 June 2011.
  5. ^ "Mohammed-Ali association" (PDF), Moniteur belge (in French) (Brussels: Kingdom of Belgium), April 24, 2004. 

Twin cities[edit]

External links[edit]