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Locals campaign to save Palais du Midi from metro construction works

14:51 14/07/2023

Locals living in the Stalingrad-Lemonnier district in central Brussels are battling to save the historic and, in the words of urban action group ARAU director Marion Alecian, “architecturally extraordinary” 19th-century Palais du Midi from being dismantled due to complex construction works for metro line 3.

Residents have formed a group called Notre Palais/Ons Paleis (Our Palace) to protect the gigantic 175-metre building with a stunning central courtyard.

Formerly a covered market built by Belgian architect Wynand Janssens in 1875, it houses 35 businesses, 37 sports clubs and a further education college with 1,200 students.

Last month, the Brussels government announced that it would have to destroy the interior of the complex as the only solution to make way for tunneling work for the city's new metro line.

This blow comes on top of years of disruption for the area, due to the construction works.

“This is killing the district,” said Isabelle Marchal, from the federation of neighbourhood committees, Inter-Environment Brussels. “It is now four years that people are having to live in dust and dirt.”

Campaigners say the dismantling of the Palais du Midi – the buzzing hub of the community – would result in it being devalued (given the further years of rebuilding work required) and then gentrified.

They say that this will have far-reaching consequences, according to those who live and work in the area: “They are going to eradicate the meeting point for all the children here,” one resident said.

But despite the city’s plans, with mayor Philippe Close saying in 2020 that “there is nothing much” behind its walls, no permit has actually been given to destroy the building, ARAU director Marion Alecian told The Bulletin.

ARAU is notably putting in an application for the Palais to be classified, she said. This would be a huge spanner in the works of any demolition plans – especially if it stalls decisions until the 2024 elections.

Meanwhile the group Notre Palais is fighting on, she said. The group will address the first Brussels city council meeting on 4 September with several contributions expected from the building's shopkeepers and other organisations.

Additional actions will follow to save this architectural gem, which, up until now, has not been known at all. But this will change, Alecian insisted: “We will publicise the Palais to all of Brussels, so the campaign is effective.”

Photo: Ben2/Wikimedia, licensed under Creative Commons

Written by Liz Newmark