Once we feel the ground floor under our feet again, a short walk leads us to a handful of new highlights. First and foremost, there are the many houses on the Grote Markt, from 16th century Renaissance to 18th century Rococo. A little further on you will find the town hall, this Gothic building was later expanded with baroque elements. Once we have taken in the centuries-old splendour of the Grote Markt, the journey leads to the St John’s Church.
This 15th century Gothic church is a shining example of magnificence. Not surprisingly. When the church was built, this parish was one of the richest in the country. This resulted in some impressive treasures. The unique design of the churchwarden’s pews is a first example. They were designed to suit the church's wealthy donors. This allowed them to attend church services as comfortably as possible. Wealth is also reflected in artistic opulence. The altar of the St John’s Church is dominated by The Adoration of the Magi by Pieter Paul Rubens. This baroque masterpiece was initially part of a triptych, tailor-made for this church. The other two parts disappeared from Mechelen during the French Revolution and unfortunately never returned. Although the church also has some more gems, such as the Announcement of the Birth, from Rubens’ studio, and The Four Evangelists by Jacob Jordaens.
In addition to churches and the cathedral, in Mechelen you will also constantly encounter palaces, spacious mansions and residences. One of the most beautiful examples is the Hof van Busleyden, a beautiful Renaissance city palace. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Mechelen was the capital of the Burgundian Netherlands. In that period, the world opened up. The Renaissance dawned, everything changed, ‘man’ took centre stage. Today, this magnificent city palace tells all these stories and ideas. It recounts the exciting history of the Burgundians and reveals their many (art) treasures and stories. And there are plenty of them. Hieronymus van Busleyden — the lawyer, patron and humanist who could call this place his home — received the greatest people of the time here. Philosopher Thomas More, known for his masterpiece Utopia, was one of the family here. Theologian and writer Desiderius Erasmus also made an appearance.
The Hof van Busleyden fires an impressive salvo of ideas, artworks and stories at you. After this visit, it is high time for a late lunch, to sit back for a bit. Immediately after that, we resume our tour with a nod to Erasmus, whom we got to know a little at Van Busleyden. His most famous work is called Praise of Folly. And our next stop also pays tribute to what is mad and insane: The Mad Art Collection. This museum displays a collection of satirical paintings with metaphors depicting supposedly reprehensible behaviour and the accompanying punishment.