Title: Redeveloping the City: Urban Transformation after the Secularization of Convents in Brussels and Antwerp at the Turn of the 19th Century
Other Titles: Session M29: "Convent Confiscation and Disposal, and its Role in Urban Change"
Authors: Coomans, Thomas
Issue Date: 2014
Conference: Cities in Europe, Cities in the World -- European Association for Urban History, International Conference on Urban History edition:12 location:Lisbon date:3-6 September 2014
Abstract: The suppression of the religious houses in the Belgian towns between 1773 and 1796 contributed to a deep metamorphosis of the urban landscape. The combination of three historical reasons makes the Belgian large towns an exceptional case: 1°) a high urban tradition in which an important presence of religious orders since the Middle Ages, reinforced at the Counter-Reformation; 2°) successive dependence on Austrian, French and Dutch rulers at the turn of the 19th century giving a unique historical context to secularization processes and changing relationships between Church and State; 3°) because Belgium was the cradle of the industrial revolution on the continent, towns rapidly grew and changed thanks to capital from private investment and industry.
This paper results from an on-going research project on urban transformation and ‘heritagization’ after the suppression of religious houses in Belgian towns at the dawn of the modern age (1773-1860), and focuses on two major cities: 1°) Brussels (2 abbeys, 28 convents), the capital and most populated city of the country, with needs for aesthetic modernisation, public, administration, military and sanitation buildings, as well as early industry; 2°) Antwerp (1 abbey, 26 convents), a provincial capital and strategic military town with a regional textile industry, an important harbour and wharfs.
Comparing Brussels and Antwerp reveals different urban redevelopment strategies, and actors, according to the private or public status of the promoter. In the case of reuse, religious houses were assigned to the new institutions of the lay State (court of justice, barrack, school, hospital, prison, museum) or used by private owners for industry or housing. In the case of demolition, religious houses were replaced with new urban tissue, from private housing projects to new public space including prestige buildings for the new elite (theatre, botanic garden).
The owners of old convents often changed because of speculation, economical crisis and diversification of investment. It was not rare that buildings, after having been first reused, later were demolished and replaced with new buildings according to rationalisation of infrastructures and modernisation of state institutions.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Architecture and Society (+)

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