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Saint-Gilles prison is nearly closed for good

Credit: Wikipedia

The closure of the historic Saint-Gilles Prison is nearly completed, following the Brussels government’s sign off of the latest reclassification for the old castle-like structure on Thursday.

The newest classification is part of the future conversion of the whole site, said the Secretary of State in charge of Heritage, Pascal Smet.

According to Smet, the federal government intends to start transferring prisoners from Saint-Gilles Prison to Haren Prison as early as 2022.

Minister-President Rudi Vervoort recently sent a letter to the federal government inviting it to clarify its intentions regarding the future of the site and the timetable for its liberation, while insisting on the particular attention that the Brussels Region will pay to not leaving this symbolic place unoccupied.

“We want a mixed, balanced, integrated project that respects the heritage value of the site,” said Vervoort. “I am counting on a close collaboration between all the partners to define together the operations of these ambitions.”

The classifications are intended to protect the historical building, and the latest covers the entire wall on the Avenue Ducpétiaux side. Also covered are all the watchtowers, the gardens on either side of the entrance, the central core (façades and roofs), the chapel (in its entirety) and the first bay of the wings housing the cells connected to it.

In order to prepare for this future development, the Brussels-Capital Region has reaffirmed its desire to become the owner of the premises as soon as possible.

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According to the Secretary of State, the feasibility study already carried out shows that the main buildings of the Saint-Gilles prison can be reallocated to housing and equipment, while taking into account the heritage aspect of the premises.

The mayor of Saint Gilles, Charles Picqué, welcomed the classification of the prison that the municipality had requested.

The vast, neo-medieval style complex was designed by the architect Joseph Jonas Dumont and built between 1878 and 1884 by the architect François Derre.

The prisons were designed on the basis of the theses of Anglo-Saxon criminologists and developed by Édouard Ducpétiaux, who was responsible for the plans of many Belgian prisons. The system applied prescribes an arrangement of spaces allowing for optimal surveillance of all inmates from a central point.

The prison has five wings that radiate out from a central core, with the kitchen, bakery, infirmary and laundry rooms in between, linked to the centre by a long corridor.

Helen Lyons
The Brussels Times