Ixelles is located in the suburbs towards the south of Brussels' city centre and is geographically bisected by the City of Brussels municipality. It is also bordered by the municipalities of Auderghem, Etterbeek, Forest, Uccle, Saint-Gilles and Watermael-Boitsfort. It is generally considered an affluent area of the city and is particularly noted for its communities of European and Congolese immigrants. In common with all the Brussels municipalities, it is legally bilingual (French–Dutch).
The smaller western part of the municipality includes Rue du Bailli/Baljuwstraat and extends roughly from Avenue Louise/Louizalaan to Avenue Brugmann/Brugmannlaan.
The larger eastern part of the municipality includes the campuses of Brussels' two leading universities, the Francophone Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Dutch-speaking Vrije Universiteit Brussel, along with the Place Eugène Flagey/Flageyplein. The Bois de la Cambre/Ter Kamerenbos is located just south of Ixelles/Elsene.
The construction of Avenue Louise/Louizalaan was commissioned in 1847 as a monumental avenue bordered by chestnut trees that would allow easy access to the popular recreational area of the Bois de la Cambre/Ter Kamerenbos. It was also to be the first Haussmann-esque artery of the city of Brussels. However, fierce resistance to the project was put up by the town of Ixelles/Elsene (which was then still separate from Brussels) through whose land the avenue was supposed to run. After years of fruitless negotiations, Brussels finally annexed the narrow band of land needed for the avenue plus the Bois de la Cambre/Ter Kamerenbos itself in 1864. That decision accounts for the unusual shape of today's City of Brussels and for Ixelles/Elsene being split in two separate parts.
The placename was first mentioned in 1210 as Elsela, from Old Dutch Else(n)lo meaning alder woods. The origins of the village date from the foundation of the Abbey of La Cambre by a Benedictine nun in 1196. The abbey was located near the springs of the Maelbeek river in the Sonian Forest, the remnant of which closest to Brussels became known as Bois de la Cambre. The abbey was consecrated by the Bishop of Cambrai soon after its foundation. Boniface of Brussels and Alice of Schaerbeek were two of its most famous residents in the 13th century.
Around 1300, during the reign of John II, Duke of Brabant, a hostel was built near the abbey to provide meals to the wood bearers working in the forest. Soon, a hamlet and a couple of chapels were built, including the Church of the Holy Cross (French: Sainte Croix, Dutch: Heilige Kruis), also dedicated by the Bishop of Cambrai in 1459. The area included several ponds, still visible today, that provided fish to the abbey and to the neighbouring hamlets. At that time, part of Ixelles was a dependence of Brussels; the other part was the property of the local lord.
In 1478, the wars between Louis XI of France and Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor brought devastation to the abbey and the surrounding areas. In 1585, during the period of the Habsburg Netherlands, the Spanish burnt down most of the buildings to prevent them from being used as a refuge by the Calvinists. The abbey was restored in time for the Joyous Entry of the Archdukes Albert and Isabella in 1599. Further manors and castles (Ermitage, Ten Bosch, Ixelles) were built in Ixelles in the 16th century, gradually transforming the hamlet into a full-fledged village. The purity of the pond water attracted breweries to the area, some of which survived well into the 20th century.
In 1795, like many of the other towns surrounding Brussels, Ixelles was proclaimed a separate municipality by the French regime after the Revolution. The abbey was stripped of its religious functions, becoming among others a cotton-manufacturing plant, a farm, a military school, and a hospital. Many of the medieval gates of Brussels that lined what is now the inner ring road were taken down and more streets were built to accommodate the migration towards the suburbs. Ixelles' population grew nearly one-hundredfold, from 677 in 1813 to more than 58,000 in 1900.
At the end of the 19th century, some of the ponds were drained, leaving only the so-called Ixelles Ponds, and a new Church of the Holy Cross was built. The first streetcars appeared in 1884 and the first movie theatre in 1919. Ixelles and the Avenue Louise became one of the classy areas of Brussels. Artists and celebrities moved in, leading to architectural novelties such as Art Nouveau and Art Deco.
Ixelles is known throughout Belgium for its large community of people of African origin. This population is mainly concentrated near the Namur Gate (French: Porte de Namur, Dutch: Naamsepoort), and the neighbourhood is nicknamed Matongé or Matongué after the marketplace and the commercial district with the same name in Kalamu, Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo). The core of Matongé was formed in late 1950s by the foundation of Maisaf (an abbreviation of Maison Africaine or African House) which served as a centre and residence for university students from the Belgian Congo. After Congolese independence in 1960, the district faced an influx of immigrants from the new state who shaped the neighbourhood in a style to resemble the original Matongé. During the sixties and into the seventies, the area was a well known meeting place for students and diplomats from Zaire. At the time they were known locally as Belgicains. There are also communities from other African countries such as Rwanda, Burundi, Mali, Cameroon, and Senegal present in the district.
The famous shopping arcades, the Galerie d'Ixelles and the Galerie de la Porte de Namur are both located in the heart of Matongé. In the gallery and the adjoining streets, a large number of specialised food shops and suppliers can be found. The area is renowned for its clothes, shoes and material shops, hairdressers and wigmakers, booksellers, jewellers and craft shops, making the area unmissable for many local and even international visitors, men and women, young and older. Over 45 different nationalities amongst the residents and shopkeepers can be counted, including most African countries. Statistically, many of the shopkeepers are not necessarily local residents. Amongst the visitors and window shoppers to Matongé are many who appreciate African fashion and the life-style.
The district also attained notoriety from the early 2000s with gang violence perpetrated by African gangs, partly composed of exiled child soldiers like Black Démolition. It was the scene of race riots in January 2001. Matongé, with its more recent immigrant communities from Latin America, Pakistan, and India along with African ones, is seen as a symbol of multiculturalism in Belgium. The local authorities, community groups and residents with a certain degree of success have more recently re-established the area as a safe place to visit. As the area and property ages there is increased pressure and interest from property developers to expand the European Quarter on one side and the fashionable Avenue Louise on the other, effectively Matongé is sandwiched between the two.
Every year since 2001 at the end of June, a successful multi-cultural festival, Matonge en Couleurs, has been organised in the area. The date coincides with the celebration of Congolese independence. The film Juju Factory, released in 2006, was partly filmed in the area. The local television channel Télé Bruxelles broadcasts a weekly magazine programme, Téle Matongé XL.
The pedestrian street Rue Longue Vie/Lange-Levenstraat is full of snack-bars where African food is sold. Most of these have been decorated by the famous Afro-European artist John Bush. Le Soleil d'Afrique has almost become his museum, with not only his original paintings on display, but also other painted surfaces and furniture.
Several fairs are organised in Ixelles, including the Spring Fair on the Flagey Square, which takes place between the fourth and sixth Sunday after Easter, and the Boondael Fair at the end of July.
Ixelles is twinned with, in chronological order:
Born in Ixelles (sorted by first name):
Lived in Ixelles:
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ixelles.|