A step back in time in Belgium | TheFencePost.com

A step back in time in Belgium

Candy Moulton
Encampment, Wyo.

The shop of the wooden shoemaker.

To get a sense of what life may have been like when my grandparents were growing up in Belgium, we went to the Bokrijk Open Air Museum, which is near the city of Hasselt.

Again we took the train from Brussels and then caught a bus at Hasselt that took us to within a half mile of the entrance of the museum. Bokrijk is a large area of about 1,350 acres that includes woods, gardens, farmland, and ponds.

Most of all Bokrijk is known for its magnificent collection of old Flemish houses and farms. A day in the area gives you a sense of what much of the Flemish countryside must have look like around 1850. The park is arranged to represent the different Flemish provinces: East and West Flanders, The Campine region, Brabant, and of course Limburg, which is where Bokrijk is located (Hasselt is the capital of Limburg province).

But more than just a collection of buildings, this is a living museum. Local people portray the old professions and on our visit we “met” bakers and hat makers, saw men repairing thatched roofs and folks thrashing wheat.

Our first view of one of the old Flemish structure was a grist mill where we could see the inner workings of this large old structure. As we began exploring, the air hung heavy and since it was late September the day was cool and many of the homes had their fireplace burning. This meant that the smoke wafted across the countryside and we could smell the earthy aroma. There were peat piles beside every home that had a fireplace, giving a sense of the type of fuel used in Belgium.

As we wandered the “roads” in the village areas, we saw all manner of livestock: horses, cattle sheep, ducks and geese. There were large gardens that had both flowers and vegetables (and one a marvelous scarecrow).

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Belgian structures from the period included houses and barns, but unlike what you would find in the United States, they were conjoined. The people build a long structure that included a house, chicken coop, and barn for cattle, sheep or other stock. This provided a couple of advantages. First, it increased the heat efficiency, second it conserved land and in a country where land is at a premium, that was indeed an important consideration. Many of the farmsteads had pigeon keeps and there were small chapels scattered throughout the museum.

The chapels were not at all what I would have expected.

The churches we saw in Brussels and in Bruges were large, ornate buildings of medieval architectural style. But these small chapels, which had come from the rural countryside, were truly tiny. Unfortunately none of them were open so we could not step inside, but I am not real certain that all four of us could have entered any one of them at the same time. They appeared not much bigger than a common Western two-holer! They were all built of brick as were many of the other structures.

We ate our lunch, homemade tomato soup for Penny, Bill and Steve, and a traditional Flemish chicken pastry for me (it was similar to chicken and small dumplings over a very flaky pastry), in a 19th century “inn.” Attached to the “inn” was the shoemaker’s shop. Of course his type of shoes were wooden. One of the gardens had a find stand of marijuana plants (which of course was used as hemp for rope making).

There was one house with a dog wheel attached to the end of the home. This wheel was the first animal-powered butter churning system. As the dog ran on the wheel (think of a hamster in a cage), the wheel turned a gear that was attached to the butter churn inside the house. Thus the dog got his exercise and the farmwoman got her butter made.

Bokrijyk has more than 100 historic buildings, rebuilt in their original condition. The furniture farming tools, and even the household goods are all authentic.

The Open Air Museum consists of three parts: Haspengouw, The Kempen and East and West Flanders.

To give a sense of the historic depth of this place, consider this timeline and realize that the buildings we saw represented all of these periods.

On March 9, 1252 Arnold IV Count of Loon and Chiny sold the wooded land located between Genk, Zonhoven and Hasselt, to the Cistercian abbey of Herckenrode near Hasselt. They called this area known as ‘Buscurake,’ and for the next two centuries lay brothers attached to the abbey cultivated the farm of Bokrijk.

In the second half of the 14th century, the abbey began renting land to tenant farmers. Those people worked the land in exchange for half of the produce they could grow. The abbey continued to own the land until the French Occupation. In 1719 the land that was identified as being “planted with beech trees next to the water” became known as “Bouchreyck.” On April 22, 1897, it was sold to a resident of Maastricht for 90,000 francs and then went to a series of owners until on March 21, 1938 it was sold by the Socialist Farmers Co-operative Credit Union to the Province of Limburg.

This purchase came at the behest of the provincial governor, who wanted to create a project bringing together nature and culture.

The rapid development occurring in Belgium following World War II meant that much of Flanders’ living environment was being permanently changed, thus on October 6, 1953 the Provincial Council of the Province of Limburg agreed to establish an Open Air Museum in Bokrijk.

In identifying structures to be relocated to the museum, the first conservator conducted a thorough inspection, including a determination of the date when the structure had been built. Each structure was then disassembled at its original location and ultimately reconstructed at Bokrijk. This led to around 100 buildings being moved the Flemish agricultural landscape to the open air museum, in the process saving the structures from destruction.

In most cases the buildings were kept even more authentic by moving with them the original tools and furnishings.

In addition to the rural structures, in 1960 the museum added urban structures as the curators created an area known as “The Old City,” which gives a perspective of urban architecture from the late Middle Ages to the 19th century. This includes old houses from Antwerp and shows the transition from timber to stone construction in the way cities developed in the late Middle Ages.

We spent the entire day exploring Bokrijk, but because of its size and the variety and number of structures to explore, we certainly did not see all of it. I loved absolutely every moment we spent at this collection of rural culture, including the slower pace of the life there.

To Be Continued …

To get a sense of what life may have been like when my grandparents were growing up in Belgium, we went to the Bokrijk Open Air Museum, which is near the city of Hasselt.

Again we took the train from Brussels and then caught a bus at Hasselt that took us to within a half mile of the entrance of the museum. Bokrijk is a large area of about 1,350 acres that includes woods, gardens, farmland, and ponds.

Most of all Bokrijk is known for its magnificent collection of old Flemish houses and farms. A day in the area gives you a sense of what much of the Flemish countryside must have look like around 1850. The park is arranged to represent the different Flemish provinces: East and West Flanders, The Campine region, Brabant, and of course Limburg, which is where Bokrijk is located (Hasselt is the capital of Limburg province).

But more than just a collection of buildings, this is a living museum. Local people portray the old professions and on our visit we “met” bakers and hat makers, saw men repairing thatched roofs and folks thrashing wheat.

Our first view of one of the old Flemish structure was a grist mill where we could see the inner workings of this large old structure. As we began exploring, the air hung heavy and since it was late September the day was cool and many of the homes had their fireplace burning. This meant that the smoke wafted across the countryside and we could smell the earthy aroma. There were peat piles beside every home that had a fireplace, giving a sense of the type of fuel used in Belgium.

As we wandered the “roads” in the village areas, we saw all manner of livestock: horses, cattle sheep, ducks and geese. There were large gardens that had both flowers and vegetables (and one a marvelous scarecrow).

Belgian structures from the period included houses and barns, but unlike what you would find in the United States, they were conjoined. The people build a long structure that included a house, chicken coop, and barn for cattle, sheep or other stock. This provided a couple of advantages. First, it increased the heat efficiency, second it conserved land and in a country where land is at a premium, that was indeed an important consideration. Many of the farmsteads had pigeon keeps and there were small chapels scattered throughout the museum.

The chapels were not at all what I would have expected.

The churches we saw in Brussels and in Bruges were large, ornate buildings of medieval architectural style. But these small chapels, which had come from the rural countryside, were truly tiny. Unfortunately none of them were open so we could not step inside, but I am not real certain that all four of us could have entered any one of them at the same time. They appeared not much bigger than a common Western two-holer! They were all built of brick as were many of the other structures.

We ate our lunch, homemade tomato soup for Penny, Bill and Steve, and a traditional Flemish chicken pastry for me (it was similar to chicken and small dumplings over a very flaky pastry), in a 19th century “inn.” Attached to the “inn” was the shoemaker’s shop. Of course his type of shoes were wooden. One of the gardens had a find stand of marijuana plants (which of course was used as hemp for rope making).

There was one house with a dog wheel attached to the end of the home. This wheel was the first animal-powered butter churning system. As the dog ran on the wheel (think of a hamster in a cage), the wheel turned a gear that was attached to the butter churn inside the house. Thus the dog got his exercise and the farmwoman got her butter made.

Bokrijyk has more than 100 historic buildings, rebuilt in their original condition. The furniture farming tools, and even the household goods are all authentic.

The Open Air Museum consists of three parts: Haspengouw, The Kempen and East and West Flanders.

To give a sense of the historic depth of this place, consider this timeline and realize that the buildings we saw represented all of these periods.

On March 9, 1252 Arnold IV Count of Loon and Chiny sold the wooded land located between Genk, Zonhoven and Hasselt, to the Cistercian abbey of Herckenrode near Hasselt. They called this area known as ‘Buscurake,’ and for the next two centuries lay brothers attached to the abbey cultivated the farm of Bokrijk.

In the second half of the 14th century, the abbey began renting land to tenant farmers. Those people worked the land in exchange for half of the produce they could grow. The abbey continued to own the land until the French Occupation. In 1719 the land that was identified as being “planted with beech trees next to the water” became known as “Bouchreyck.” On April 22, 1897, it was sold to a resident of Maastricht for 90,000 francs and then went to a series of owners until on March 21, 1938 it was sold by the Socialist Farmers Co-operative Credit Union to the Province of Limburg.

This purchase came at the behest of the provincial governor, who wanted to create a project bringing together nature and culture.

The rapid development occurring in Belgium following World War II meant that much of Flanders’ living environment was being permanently changed, thus on October 6, 1953 the Provincial Council of the Province of Limburg agreed to establish an Open Air Museum in Bokrijk.

In identifying structures to be relocated to the museum, the first conservator conducted a thorough inspection, including a determination of the date when the structure had been built. Each structure was then disassembled at its original location and ultimately reconstructed at Bokrijk. This led to around 100 buildings being moved the Flemish agricultural landscape to the open air museum, in the process saving the structures from destruction.

In most cases the buildings were kept even more authentic by moving with them the original tools and furnishings.

In addition to the rural structures, in 1960 the museum added urban structures as the curators created an area known as “The Old City,” which gives a perspective of urban architecture from the late Middle Ages to the 19th century. This includes old houses from Antwerp and shows the transition from timber to stone construction in the way cities developed in the late Middle Ages.

We spent the entire day exploring Bokrijk, but because of its size and the variety and number of structures to explore, we certainly did not see all of it. I loved absolutely every moment we spent at this collection of rural culture, including the slower pace of the life there.

To Be Continued …