Grand Sablon, Place du/Grote Zavelplein

Grand Sablon, Place du/Grote Zavelplein
   Known simply as "Sablon," the place du Grand Sablon ("big sand") slopes down from just below the church of Notre-Dame du Sablon toward the lower town. The site is mentioned in 1374 in the archives of the Cathédrale des Saints-Michel-et-Gudule as a "sandy lake" (Zavelpoel). Crossbowmen trained here and they built a chapel to the Virgin Mary, their patron saint. Processions and festivals followed and the population grew. By the mid-16th century, it became a favored locale for the aristocracy, and families such as Egmont, Bréderode, Culembourg, and Thurn and Taxis built lavish townhouses, which made the Sablon district the wealthiest in Brussels in the 17th and 18th centuries. The marshes were filled in at the beginning of the 17th century. Since the 15th century, the northern end of the square has traditionally served as a marketplace, notably for horses (straw was stored nearby at rue de la Paille), and that practice continues today, notably as a venue for an antiques and book fair held on weekends. The square in surrounded by upscale antique shops and cafés.
   In the center of the square is the Fountain of Minerva, designed by Jacques Bergé and built in 1743. It was endowed by Thomas Bruce, the earl of Aylesbury, in gratitude for the welcome accorded him in Brussels, where he spent 45 years in exile as a supporter of the Jacobite cause in Britain. The sculpture features a 2.5 m (8 ft.) high statue of the goddess Minerva holding medallions of Empress Maria Theresa and her consort Francis of Lorraine. Although it was completed in 1743, permission was not granted to erect the monument until 1749 and it was finally put up in 1751.

Historical Dictionary of Brussels. .

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