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Aarschot - Scherpenheuvel - Diest
is a very typical town with a long history, dating back to the era of the Roman emperors, according to myths. The church, which dominates the look of the city, is built with the typical brown stone harvested from the hills in the neighborhood. The same hills that, in the middle ages, were home to some of the most well-regarded vineyards of Europe. Today the chain hills, which originate in Diest and continue as far as Calais in France, are mainly covered with woods and fruit yards.
While the church definitely leaves its mark on the appearance of the city, nothing defines Aarschot better than the river that passes through it: the Demer. Aarschot is situated in the valley of this brown-colored river.
is a place-name meaning sharp (or steep) hill which, since it falls within Dutch-speaking Brabant, is also known as Montaigu. Located just south of the river Demer between Diest and Aardschot, it is held in particular veneration by the inhabitants of the Kempen (provinces of Antwerp and Limburg) across the Demer to the north. However for the annual Candlelight Procession held outdoors at 2pm on the first Sunday after All Saints, thousands of pilgrims flock here from all over Belgium and from other countries as well.
This particular ceremony dates from 1629, when it occurred spontaneously as a special intercession to the Virgin for Relief from an epidemic. Veneration of Our Lady of Scherpenheuvel, however goes back much earlier to a time when a statue of the Virgin was discovered in the boughs of an oak tree at the very top of the hill.
The early Baroque church which now houses the statue, draped in a rich Spanish cloak and wearing a crown, was built in 1609. Seven-sided square, out of the model of St. Peter’s Rome, the church stands on a seven-sided square, out of which streets lead to form a small community itself seven-sided in plan. The geometric perfection stems from the fact that Montaigu was constructed all of a piece to the order of Albert and Isabella, the Spanish Hapsburg rulers of the Low Countries after the death of Philip II.
Diest is a quiet leafy town, best known for its well preserved Beguinage. Wander around the Beguinage's cobbled streets lined with simple cottages, which are now home to Diest's artists. Diest was also home to Willem I of Orange-Nassau, who fought against the Spanish occupation.