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Merchtem (Municipality, Province of Flemish Brabant, Belgium)

Last modified: 2004-06-19 by
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[Flag of Merchtem]by Ivan Sache

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Presentation of Merchtem

The municipality of Merchtem (13,000 inhabitants) is located in the north-west corner of the province of Flemish Brabant, in the middle of the 15-km diameter circle Brussels-Dendermonde-Vilvorde.

In 1974, the municipality of Merchtem was increased with the incorporation of the former municipalities of Brussegem and Hamme, whereas the hamlet of Oppem was incorporated into the neighbouring municipality of Meise. The municipality of Merchtem has today an area of 3,672 ha (Brussegem, 1,449 ha; Hamme, 136 ha; Merchtem, 2,086 ha).

The exact origin of the name of Merchtem is not known. The city was mentioned in the past as Martinas, Merchetenen, Markedunum, etc.. Two possible meanings of its name are "fort on the border" and "place with a market". As early as the VIIth century, Merchtem was located in a rich and crowdy area which belonged to the bishop of Kamerijk.
In 1251, Merchtem was granted municipal rights by duke of Brabant Henri III and the city developed around the market place. Later, duke Anton of Burgundy allowed the establishement of a weavers' guild, causing the anger of the weavers from Brussels, who obtained its suppression in the XIVth century.

The development of Merchtem was linked to its location on important roads. In the Roman times, the main way linking Bavay and Asse through Hainaut had a diverticulum (secondary branch) going to Rumst via Merchtem and Londerzeel and another going to Baasrode, located on the river Scheldt. Later, the safe road from Bruges to Liège went through Ghent, Dendermonde, Merchtem and Vilvorde. Since the XIVth century, Merchtem was a main stopping place on that road due to its location on the border between Brabant and Flanders. After the rising of Brussels, a road from Brussels to Merchtem via Wemmel and Brussegem was used by the bourgeois from Brussels who settled in Merchtem.
In 1561, the opening of the Brussels-Willebroek canal dramatically decresaed the economical importance of Merchtem.

In the past, Merchtem mostly lived from agriculture. Starting around 1200, several grain watermills were built on the river Molenbeek (lit., the mills' river), including a communal mill. The Kouter windmill was built around 1400 by Peeter Pipenpoy. Between 1880 and 1906, Merchtem was a famous place for hen breeding, and two international exhibitions, both visited by king Leopold II and prince Albrecht, were organized in the city. Since the end of the XIXth centuries, several breweries were set up in Merchtem, as well as diaries, clothing workshops etc..

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 13 March 2004

Description of the flag of Merchtem

The flag of Merchtem, adopted on 6 June 1989, is officially described as follows:

Drie banen van wit, van rood en van wit, hoogteverhouding 1 : 2 : 1, met op de middelste baan het gemeentewapen.

That is, three [horizontal] white-red-white stripes, with proportions 1:2:1, with the municipal arms placed on the middle stripe.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 13 March 2004

Coat of arms of Merchtem

The municipal coat of arms is officially described as follows:

In goud een uitkomende gekanteelde poort van keel, geopend van het veld, met een aangebouwde gekanteelde weermuur van keel die de schildranden raakt, beide gemetseld van het veld, de poort getopt met een omgewende banier van sabel met stok van goud en beladen met een leeuw van hetzelfde, geklauwd en getongd van keel.

This description is problematic in that the main field is said to be of gold, as well as the staff of the flag hoisted over the castle (stok van goud), which would make the staff not distinguishable from the field of the shield. In the image of the flag shown above, I have followed the municipal website which shows the staff as red.

According to Servais,, the municipal arms of Merchtem were granted in 1925. They are based on a seal of the local council dated 1336.The arms show a city wall, with a gate and on the gate a banner with the lion of Brabant. As said above, Merchtem was granted city rights in 1251 by duke Henri III,which is symbolised by the arms.

Ivan Sache, 13 March 2004