€1.85 million heritage grant for vagrants’ colony in Merksplas

Summary

The former vagrants’ colony in Antwerp province will receive a grant to support the fifth phase of its renovation, as will the Basilica of Our Lady in Tongeren, Limburg, a site recognised as world heritage by Unesco

Two sites chosen for support

Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois, whose portfolio includes heritage affairs, has announced two major grants for heritage projects.

The municipality of Merksplas in Antwerp province and the non-profit organisation Kempens Landschap receive €1.85 million for the restoration of the former vagrants’ colony (pictured), which was set up in 1824 before the state of Belgium was established.

Vagrants – men without work or any visible means of support – were sentenced to serve time in the colony, working on the farm or in workshops, until they had earned enough money to be released. The colony was in fact an open prison and the law on vagrancy was only repealed in 1993.

The grant is for the fifth phase in the renovation of the colony, which is spread over a wide area adjoining Merksplas prison. The site, as well as similar sites in Wortel and in the Netherlands, are candidates for inclusion in Unesco’s register of world heritage.

Elsewhere, Bourgeois announced a grant of €1.03 million for the Basilica of Our Lady in Tongeren in Limburg, which is also in its fifth phase of renovation. The 13th-century church is already listed by Unesco by virtue of its carillon tower.

This phase of the renovation involves work on the crypt, which will be turned into a museum. The archaeological site under the church has turned out to be one of the most important sites in the Benelux for Roman murals, medieval burial places and the remains of seven prior churches, the oldest of which dates back to the fourth century.

Photo courtesy Annika Devroe/Archeonet Vlaanderen