From lepers to art lovers, an ever-changing Brussels district

Fri Aug 28, 2015 7:01am EDT
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By Barbara Lewis

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Once the last refuge of lepers and criminals, one of Brussels' quirkiest neighborhoods teems with vintage furniture sellers, flea markets and linguistic invention.

Les Marolles in French, or de Marollen in Dutch, stretches from the Gare du Midi, where Eurostar trains arrive, to the city's highest point, the Mont des Pendus or Galgenberg (Gallows Hill), where you can look down on half of Brussels.

The district is dominated by a massive law court that has helped to form the Marolliens' rebellious spirit.

Nicknamed the ink-pot because of its giant gilded dome, the 19th-century Palais de Justice sprawls over 26,000 square meters (6.4 acres). It was designed by Joseph Poelaert, who was promptly dubbed the "skieven architek" or crooked architect.

The expression is still a potent insult for the Marolliens who were outraged by the number of houses cleared to make way for the hated court on a site where criminals were hanged in the Middle Ages.

As city guide Didier Rochette points out in his tour, there was a positive aspect to the hangings: the corpses, left to rot until they dropped from the gallows, allowed doctors to improve their understanding of anatomy.

Today's Marolles is a center of medical expertise.

The Saint Pierre hospital, affiliated to Brussels university, stands where the nuns of Maria Colentes, or Marikollen (hence Marolles), tended lepers in the Middle Ages.   Continued...