Mechelen: a thinking ground for the world's greats
At the beginning of the 16th century, Margaret of Austria – one of the most powerful women in Europe – chose Mechelen as a base. This Flemish city thus grew de facto into the capital of the Burgundian empire. Pay a visit to this beautiful city and discover for yourself why Mechelen is such an irresistible destination.
City palaces were the hotspots of their era. They exerted an irresistible pull over rulers, philosophers, writers, musicians, thinkers, doers, scientists and artists. Mechelen also had its fair share of city palaces where the Greats of the time stayed, including the likes of Charles the Bold, Charles V, Margaret of Austria, Anne Boleyn, Thomas More, Mercator and Dodoens. Emperor Charles can be considered as belonging to the later generation of 'Malines'. He spent his childhood there and grew up to be the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. Gouden Carolus, the ultimate Mechelen beer, is named after him.
You can experience Burgundian court culture to this day at the beautiful Hof van Busleyden city palace in Mechelen.
But Mechelen has a lot more to offer.
You will find, for example, masterpieces by the Flemish Masters in the following heritage locations:
Burgundian luxury extended into daily life as well, and those who could afford it organised huge banquets. Flemings still love food, drinks and entertainment today, just look at the delicious Belgian beer culture, with more than 1,500 unique beers. This is now recognised by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage. Brewery Het Anker in Mechelen is renowned worldwide for its famous Gouden Carolus beer, which dates back to 1369, and is one of the oldest breweries in Belgium. It's certainly worth a visit.
For something completely different, enjoy a private concert by a carillonneur in the St. Rumbold's Tower. In 2014, UNESCO selected Belgium's carillon culture as a template for intangible cultural heritage. Pupils from all over the world come to Mechelen to immerse themselves in the art of the carillon. The carillon school used to be located in 't Schipke, a charming corner house in the rococo style next to the Hof van Busleyden. The school moved in 2012 and is now housed in the more spacious Norbertine Priory of Leliëndaal, at Bruul 52.
Are you interested in Burgundian life? Then also visit the following places in Flanders.
The Royal Library
Dukes in the Burgundian period decided to keep publications up to date: the Librije of Brussels was one of the first libraries of its time. Later, this grew into the Royal Library of Brussels, which still exists today.
St Bavo's Cathedral: the Burgundian artefact 'The Adoration of the Lamb of God' by the Van Eyck brothers hangs here. The work is currently being restored in the MSK. During weekdays you can actually see the restorers at work.
Ghent was also an important Burgundian city, with an equally important city palace: the Prinsenhof, or the birthplace of Charles V. Charles was the heir of the Burgundians and the founder of the Habsburg empire. He inherited his desire for expansion from his grandparents, Maria of Burgundy and Maximilian of Austria. Emperor Charles – then still just Charles – was baptised in what is now St. Bavo's Cathedral. He spent his childhood in Mechelen.
This is the Burgundian university city par excellence. Great thinkers and scientists such as Erasmus and Mercator spent time here and Thomas More's iconic work 'Utopia' was printed in 1516 in the Naamsestraat in Leuven. The museum PARCUM in the Abbey Park is also worth a visit. Religion, art and culture are the focus here.
Gruuthuse - Bruges, die Scone [the beautiful], grew into the main trade centre of the Low Countries in the 15th century and the trading hub between southern and northern Europe. Bruges became a magnet for noblemen, artists and, above all, merchants. This left an indelible impression on the city. Many stately patrician residences were built, including the Hof van Gruuthuse. Today, this city palace has been transformed into a beautiful museum and visitor centre exhibiting a unique collection of historical objects and decorative art dating from the 13th to the 19th century.