How it got its name
Gembloux is probably derived from the Celtic word Gemel, via the Latinised form Gemmelaus. It may refer to the name of a person or a bifurcation or a junction of tracks.
Geographical profile and altitude : located on the northern tip of the Province of Namur Gembloux is situated on a fairly uneven upland. the altitude in Gembloux varies between 140 and 175 metres. St. Guibert parish church is built at an altitude of 153 m on a rocky promontory that is 10 or so metres higher than the Orneau valley. The tiny river crosses the town of Gembloux. Urban profile :
The original settlers had a predilection for the valley and its sides. The new districts are situated on adjacent platforms.
Accessible via public transport and by road :
Gembloux stands at the crossroads of the Namur-Brussels and Charleroi-Tirlemont roadways. Gembloux is located on the railway line 161 from Brussels to Namur and at the head of line 144.
Crossing the northern part of Gembloux, the Bavay-Cologne Roman road connected the Channel to the Rhine via its extensions and was thus of huge importance in strategic, commercial and civilising terms. Its presence promoted the emergence of villas (farms) close to its path. In the wake of a period of prosperity in the 2nd century, in common with the neighbouring regions, Gembloux had to contend with the Germanic invasions.
These incursions were so violent that the inhabitants were compelled to leave the Roman road's surrounding areas and seek protection in the hinterland, as a result of which people settled on the rocky promontory where the historical centre of Gembloux is located.
In the 10th century, the knight Wicbertus, who was canonised in 1110 as St. Guibert, created a Benedictine abbey in Gembloux and donated his personal possessions to the establishment.
The monastery was the powerhouse of the locality's cultural and economic development during the 11th century.
The 12th century was a disaster for Gembloux. The small town was incorporated into the duchy of Brabant but at the border of the earldom of Namur. These two principalities were major rivals. Troops from the earldom of Namur launched several attacks on Gembloux during the 12th century, leaving the town devastated. The ramparts the town was allowed to erect in 1152 covered a surface area of roughly seven hectares. The abbey occupied three of the hectares.
Subsequent to the Burgundian unification towards 1430, Gembloux lost its reputation of being a dangerous borderline town.
During second half of the 15th century, Gembloux became caught up in the religious wars of that epoch and was even the scene of the battle, on 31 January 1578, between that army of the States, the Gueux (a league of Flemish and Dutch patriots formed to resist the introduction of the Spanish inquisition in the Netherlands) and Spanish troops led by the natural son of Charles the Fifth, Don Juan of Austria.
As a result of the wars Louis XIV waged in our provinces Gembloux continued along its path to ruination.
6 August 1678 is the date of a huge fire that accidently broke out, devastating the town. Not until the second half of the 18th century did Gembloux begin to enjoy a period of comparative prosperity. The cutlery industry sprang up during that time and this development meant the market town would lose its character as an area devoted exclusively to farming.
The abbey buildings were then completely rebuilt under the supervision of the architect Laurent-Benoît Dewez. The building activities were completed in 1779. It was in the middle of the 17th century that Gembloux was officially established as an earldom and the abbey prelate was invested with the title of abbot-earl.
Nonetheless, the monks lived in their new building for only very short time. The French Revolution, the revolutionary troops' incursion into the Austrian Netherlands and the latter's annexation to France in 1795 dealt the death blow to the Ancien Regime. The earldom of Gembloux was dissolved, so the French succeeded in bringing Gembloux's inclusion in the Brabant sphere of influence to an end. The town therefore became a municipality of the department of Sambre-Meuse. The French Director also called for the religious orders to be abolished and their possessions to be confiscated. Gembloux abbey was eradicated and its possessions disposed of in 1797. The abbey estate's religious purpose thus drew to a close.
Gembloux was linked to Brussels by a railway line in 1855 and to Namur the following year.
1860 was the year in which the State Agricultural College was founded within the former abbey. After several decades the establishment became what is now the University Faculty of Agricultural Sciences.
On 14 and 15 May 1940, Gembloux found itself in the midst of the French army's Dyle Manoeuvre. The 4th Corps of the 1st French Army, comprising the 1st Moroccan Division and the 15th Division of the Motarized Infantry, held two German armoured divisions in check for two days.
During the second half of the 20th century Gembloux gradually lost its character as a small semi -industrial town. As a result of the municipalities being merged between 1965 and 1977 Gembloux was established in the thick of a new municipal entity comprising 12 former municipalities. The size of Gembloux's population has grown significantly since then.
The University Faculty of Agricultural Sciences announced its decision in 1992 to buy up the former abbey farm, rebuilding all of the former monastic buildings for the benefit of the Faculty, apart from the church, which gained parish status in 1810.
The Gembloux belfry (the tower of a former parish church that was closed down then demolished in the early 19th century) was included in UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 2005.
St. Guibert square : placed here in October 1910 the statue of Sigebert was created thanks to a legacy from the former mayor Gustave Docq, who died in 1906.
Born towards 1030, Sigebert, a monk from the Gembloux abbey, was responsible for his monastery's enviable cultural reputation. His writings are riddled with approximations or mistakes but Sigebert is regarded as one of the most distinguished medieval historians.
His works include the Geste des Abbés de Gembloux, a chronicle of his abbey, from its inception to 1112, the date of his death.
Sigebert also wrote a Universal Chronicle building upon the work of the Greek writer Fusèbe de Césarée (265-340) and following the major events from the 4th century to the early 12th century.
André Henin square : the St. Guibert decanal church was part of the Benedictine abbey reconstruction programme overseen by the architect Laurent-Benoît Dewez in the second half of the 18th century. It originally had the shape of a Greek cross. The original plan was changed towards 1810 when the building was assigned parish status. A lower nave was added at the time. This was raised in 1885 to create the appearance it now has. The changes are obvious owing to the different coloured bricks apparent in the façades.
Rue Docq : Notre-Dame des Remparts chapel was built in 1852 at the request of the Savoye family. It name is a reflection of it being located on the former fortifications.
Rue Chapelle-Dieu : dating from the second half of the 18th century the Chapelle-Dieu was created to replace an original oratory built in the memory of a battle that took place in Gembloux on 31 January 1578 between the troops of Don John of Austria and the States army which was struggling against the absolutism of Philip II.
The building has an octagonal plane form and is encircled by a wall. The chapel was then surrounded by seven potales (recesses containing protective statuettes) each one comprising two stations of the way of the cross. The only remains of these are one or two scattered stones.
Rue St. Adèle : St. Adèle chapel dates back to the second half of the 17th century. The coat of arms of Martin Draeck, abbot of Gembloux, from 1651 to 1667, is set in an inner wall. The building has a rectangular plan form completed with three sections cantoned with buttresses. The openings are surmounted by a semi-circular arch. St. Adele was invoked to cure eye pain.