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The geography

Time escapes from us ... but space does not !

The origins of Braine-l’alleud’s names and its villages…

Braine-l’Alleud, in Dutch Eigenbrakel, is a town located in "Roman Pais" whose name appears in written documents from the twelfth century.

On the one hand, the origins of its name go back to Roman time – with the term Brania – or to Celtic time – with the terms brakena, bracna, bragonna meaning miry river. In Dutch, Brakel is the former name to call the Hain River. On the other hand, the term Alleud, in Dutch Eigen, refering to the word alleu, indicates a frank ground derived from the restored Frankish term al-ôd, meaning total property - that is to say an exempt land, independent from all obligations or taxes, taking the alleu into account that possessed the Lord of Brabant at this place, as specifies Henry 1st in a charter of June 1197 thanks to which he puts an end to a controversy that opposed him to the chapter of Notre-Dame de Cambray.

The latter name (alleu) was probably added to the former (braine) to distinguish the town from three other neighbouring ones (Braine-le-Château, Wauthier-Braine and Braine-le-Compte).

The name Ophain (op-hain) comes from upa, meaning superior, and haima, standing for house. Ophain would therefore signify "superior house", from above or on the height. A shift in meaning translated it by haut-hain, wich lead to call the stream "Hain", its former name being Brania.

  • Bois-Seigneur-Isaac, del bos (1210) de boscho (1212), comes from the name of a knight called Isaac. According to the tradition, this great figure, who would belong to the lineage of Ittre, would probably have made a forest (in French "bois") planted near his manor, named the "Bois planté" from that time up to now.

  • Lillois, lentlo (966), lentlos (1147), lenlo (1148), lenlos (1213), originates from the Germanic word lindo (linden), and lauha, small forest spaced out on a high sandy ground, whose signification was Bois de Tilleuls.

  • Witterzee, Witrezeis (1225), Wittresees (1238), Witerzeies (1253), Witerzees (1254). These written forms remind us of Witteriaca (villa) encompassing Germanic people’s name, namely Writtrich, Writtric.

The three villages, part and parcel of Braine-l’Alleud at the present time, were erected in the Hain valley: Lillois and Braine on the right side, and Ophain on the left side, giving up in this way the very damp alluvial plains surrounding the old fortified castle located in the rue du Château in the olden days.

Situated at latitude 50,41° North and at 4,22 east, Braine-l’Alleud is surrounded with many towns - de Rhode-saint-Genèse, Waterloo, Lasne, Genappe, Nivelles, Ittre, Braine-le-Château, Hal and Beersel - and is dependent upon the district of Nivelles.

The ground and the platform

The soil, the meeting point of the mineral and living world, is made of silty and sandy structure, ochre-beige-coloured, and stretches out on our law plateaux in an almost continuous layer. This silty soil, intensely under the influence of water seepage, dragging out along very tinnest particules in depth, has therefore created a clayey and dense layer, which made the manufacturing of bricks possible. Those dark-red-coloured bricks were baked in the oven of the country. The flourishing brickyards were mainly situated in the district of Merbraine, at the beginning of the twentieth century, especially in the route du Lion and in the avenue de la Bonne Fosse. The continuous oven of the most important brickyard was made out of order in 1967, date which marks the end of the industry of brickyards in the region.

A historical event, strangly related by the soils map, enables us to draw the conclusion that the silty layer was removed in 1826 over an area of more than ten hectares in order to build the Butte du Lion (area situated between the route du Lion in the North, the chaussée de Charleroi in the East, the Butte du Lion in the West and a rood linking the Butte to the meridional wall of the la Haie-sainte’s farm in Plancenoît). At the present time, it is still possible to see a slope, from the route du Lion (between the Butte and the Gordon monument), that seems to forme the south edge of the area.

Bruxelian sand has been extracted in several sand quarries for many years. The presence of steep sides, covered with silty grounds – affected by erosion - eased their location. By way of examples, we can mention the sand quarries of the Foriest in Sart Moulin, that of the Haumont along the road of Ophain-Noucelles, another of the Cuisinier on the former way of Brussels-Nivelles and finallly that of the Culot at the West of the plateau of the Ermite. The sand quarries of Alconval are still in operation. The others were filled in by refuse or inert waste. The huge sand quarry of the Foriest is, at the present time, recolonized by a luxuriant fauna and flora, altering the place into an island of wildlife and into an area where citizens can ensure their personal blooming in the town of tomorrow.

In some places, some Bruxelian sand layers ware covered with lédien sand containing calcareous stoneware layers, formerly exploited as cobblestones and rubble stones called "pierre de marne". Many winding shafts, all filled in nowadays, are mainly situated on the eights of Braine, Lillois and Ophain.

The relief and the waters

Two entities emerge from the relief of Braine-l'Alleud: on the one hand, the horizontal plateau oscillating between 125 and 160 metres, whose summit is the Bois du Callois, rising over 162,5 metres, situated to the east of the farm of the Neuve-Cour in Lillois and on the other hand, a valley, that of the Hain, inlaid into this plateau.

The Hain valley comes to break the monotony of the areas. The Hain River has its source in Lillois (the summit of the alluvial plain – 120 metres), waters the towns of Ophain-Bois-Seigneur-Isaac, Wauthier-Braine, Braine-l'Alleud and Braine-le-Château and finally flows into the Canal of Charleroi-Brussels.

The main tributaries of the Hain River are the Légère Eau, the Ri Patiau, the Ri des Vervois and

Water capture

In order to supply Brussels in water, a great number of springs feeding the Hain have been pumped since the middle of the nineteenth century. As a consequence, the flow of the river has decreased considerably.

Water capture and superstructure works have changed the face of the country up to such an extent that the urban landscape cannot be seen without recalling several historical and technical events.

As seen above, Braine-l'Alleud and Lillois represent huge water capture areas to supply Brussels. Two reasons can explain the choice of these countries: on the one hand, the proximity of the capital and on the other hand, the richness of the water-bearing layer of tertiary sand, containing huge stocks of water in the empty spaces between the quartz grains.

A small historical reminder

Thanks to the fair agreement between the countries of Braine-l'Alleud and Brussels, signed January, 16th 1854, Brussels received a certain amount of sources from Braine-l'Alleud and gave the right to build an aqueduct through Braine-l'Alleud up to its city, for an amount of twenty thousand Belgian francs !

The so-called upper sources flew to Brussels by gravity; the so-called lower sources were extracted thanks to mechanical pumps, initially by steam engine and nowadays by electric motor, and were poured into the aqueduct. This aqueduct, located in the Rue des piles and inaugurated in 1855, left the hydraulic plant situated in the rue des Eglantiers, came into the Bois de la Cambre after a journey of 15,188 kilometres where water flew out towards Brussels by gravity.

In 1933, the C.I.B.E. – also known under the name of VIVAQUA since 2006 – substituted for the city of Brussels and became the owner of water captures. The former acqueduct was made out of order and was replaced by a superstructure put into service in 1972, built not far from the Tout-lui-Faut’s farm on the plateau of the Ermite. Waters do not reach Brussels by gravity anymore as the initial aqueduct, but by draught. The average daily flow of the water capture of the Hain amounts to more or less 24,000 cube metres. It has had the tendency to decrease over the last few years, due to the expansion of housing development.

The Brainois do not drink water of water capture of the Hain sources. The municipality is connected to a water main leaking the waters of the Meuse, the Bocq, the Houyoux, ending up to a new tank of the Callois in Lillois.

The geomorphology

The geomorphology or the study of landforms attributes the numerous dissymmetries, noticed on the territory of Braine, to the cold climatic conditions of the icy periods. The sides exposed to hours of sunshine of the afternoon, dependent on a more frequent and more intense thaw, would have undergone the attack of erosion by digging at the base of the slopes.

The vigour of some sides sometimes astonishes, for example the one of the rue Kattekop, coming down from the Grand-Place, on which stairs had to be built.

Numerous slopes were made flatten over the centuries, especially in cleared areas, where surface waters exerted their slow but uninterrupted action pulling up the thinnest particles of the highest areas and digging them at the bottom of the sides.

In addition to this natural erosion, there is the indirect action of the man and in particular the use of heavy agricultural machines tamping down the ground, the use of chemical fertilizers, less favourable to a good texture of the grounds and the tendency to uniform crops on large areas. This is the reason why the forests, that have never been cleared, have kept their small valleys in their original shape and rough relief.

The hollow paths…

The hollow paths, resulting from the incessant driven cartage and water streaming, are part of our picturesque and varied landscape. Embellished with vegetation or cleared through the woods, they are particularly attractive and deserve all of our attention. Let’s quote the paths going down the Foriest’s Forest towards Noucelles, the path linking the lower part of the district of Saint-Zèle to the Bois du Foriest, the rue de la Chiennerie edged with willow trees where the church tower stands outlined, the lower section of the rue Longue, the chemin Lazard to the Triage des Sept-Fontaines, the paths going from the farms of Bertinchamps and of Faut-Bien, respectively located in Ophain and in Lillois at the farm of Grand Peine under Witterzee… Other small valleys are particular, such as the farm of the Grainette in Braine, of the Tour des Vaux at the west of the church of the Ermite and (les fonds humides) at the west of the lieudit the Hayetttes.

The urbanization

Among the geographical factors that explain the development of the urbanization, the communication axes have been preponderant.

With 16,969 inhabitants in 1961, Braine-l’Alleud has become a modern town of almost 40,000 inhabitants.

The railway, inaugurated in 1874 and electrified in 1950, has certainly encouraged the town to build houses, not very occupied at that time, to the east of the Menil, the Saint-Sébastien and of the Barrière.

The ring A202, opened in 1978, has tied up in a loop the network of roads converging to Braine-l’Alleud. As a consequence, Lillois and Ophain-Bois-Seigneur-Isaac expanded considerably.

Other factors explain urban development and among others land policy pursued by the political power between 1959 and 1979, namely the allocation in building housing estate constituting 25% of the agricultural area, redducing 3,749 hectares in 1959, that is 70% of the cadastral area, to 2,809 hectares in 1979, that is 54% of the cadastral area.

Municipality merged with two towns of rural character, namely Lillois Witterzee and Ophain-Bois-Seigneur-Isaac, Braine-l’Alleud has become an attractive area in many respects thanks to its execellent communication routes and to its line of service it offers.