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Merksplas (Municipality, Province of Antwerp, Belgium)

Last modified: 2011-11-12 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Merksplas]

Municipal flag of Merksplas - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 14 February 2007

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Presentation of Merksplas

The municipality of Merksplas (8,270 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 4,455 ha) is located in Northern Kempen, 40 km of Antwerp.
The inhabitants of Merksplas are nicknamed spetsers and the town the spetserdorp (the spetsers' village). The village is located in an area watered by the Scheldt and the Maas, and was in the past rich in ponds (in Dutch, plassen), peat bogs, duck ponds and fish ponds. The travelers heading to Merksplas had to go wading through wet places, therefore the name of spetsers, splashers (this a dialectal form, the usual Dutch word for "to splash" is bespatten), given to the inhabitants of Merksplas. They seem to enjoy it since there is a fountain on the market square of Merksplas called De Spetser, designed by Krys Druyts.
The village was named after the river Mark, which takes its sources and forms the northern border (march) of the Margravate of Antwerp. The oldest mention of Merskplas is shown, as Marcblas, in a document dated 1148 confirming the transfer of the village church to the Norbertine fathers, who ran it for six centuries. The domain of Merksplas belonged later either to the Country of Turnhout or to the Country of Hoogstraten. In the Middle Ages, it was a popular place of pilgrimage where St. Roch was invoked against the black plague.

Merksplas is mostly known for its prison, one of the four prisons located in Northern Kempen, the three others being in Turnhout, Wortel and Hoogstraten. The Turnhout and Hoogstraten prisons are local prisons whereasthose of Merksplas and Wortel were specially set up to house tramps.
The Merksplas prison, one of the biggest in Belgium, was opened in 1822 as a house for beggars, and evolved to a State charity house for tramps, eventually to a big prison. Some 700 can be interned there whereas the former tramps' dormitories are used today to house up to 150 illegal immigrants. The prison is surrounded by a big domain, officially protected by law since 1999, which makes of Merksplas a place unique in Europe. The 600-ha domain, surrounded by a circulary canal, was designed according to a grid pattern including open fields, pastures, pine and beech woods, moors and remains of peat bogs as well as a few clay pits, used today as storing places or fish ponds. The five main buildings of the domain are the prison, the center for illegal immigrants, the Great Farm, the former school and the prison's chapel, today used as the visitor's center with the Museum of the Loss of Liberty.

Sources: Municipal website

Ivan Sache & Jan Mertens, 14 February 2007

Municipal flag of Merksplas

The municipal flag is horizontally divided green-white-green (1:2:1) with the former municipal arms, a black shield with a white lion, in the middle of the white stripe.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02a], the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 22 July 1987, confirmed by the Executive of Flanders on 13 October 1987 and published in the Belgian official gazette on 16 September 1988.
Green and white are the traditional colours of Merksplas, which had in the past an unofficial green-white flag. The design of the flag might have been derived from the flag of Antwerp, green symbolizing the environment of Merksplas.

The new arms of Merksplas, as shown in Van evers en heiligen: Wapens en vlaggen van gemeenten in de provincie Antwerpen [pbd98], are made of a white shield with a black lozenge charged with the lion, but having red claws and tongue. The coat of arms was adopted on 20 July 1993.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat, Jan Mertens & Ivan Sache, 4 November 2006