Aalst (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈaːlst]) (French: Alost, Local dialect: Oilsjt) is a city and municipality on the Dender River, 19 miles northwest from Brussels. It is located in the Flemish provinceof East Flanders in the Denderstreek. The municipality comprises the city of Aalst itself and the villages of Baardegem, Erembodegem, Gijzegem, Herdersem, Hofstade, Meldert, Moorsel, and Nieuwerkerken. Aalst is crossed by the Molenbeek-Ter Erpenbeek in Aalst and Hofstade. The current mayor of Aalst is Christoph D'Haese, from the New-Flemish Alliance party. The town has a long-standing feud with Dendermonde (situated north along the same river), which dates back from the Middle Ages.
The first historical records on Aalst date from the 9th century, when it was described as the villa Alost, a dependency of the Abbey of Lobbes. During the Middle Ages, a town and port grew at this strategic point, where the road from Bruges to Cologne crossed the Dender. While it was within the Holy Roman Empire it was considered the capital of the province of Flanders. In 1046, Aalst was transferred to the Countship of Imperial Flanders, and absorbed a portion of Brabant, and in 1173 it was united with the remainder of the Flanders province. Its frontier position on the border of the Holy Roman Empire allowed the town to keep a certain degree of independence. Its relation with Brabant has been preserved in the city’s white and red coat of arms, the colours of Lotharingia.
Construction of the town hall began in the middle of the 12th century, making it the oldest surviving town hall in Belgium. Several manuscripts from this period still survive in the town archives. The town hall, and the city itself, were almost entirely destroyed by fire in 1360. The town was soon rebuilt and a new belfry in gothic style was built in the 15th century. This was a time of great prosperity for the city, dominated by the powerful weavers' guild. It is also at that time that Dirk Martens, a local citizen, became the Southern Netherlands’ first printer, founding a printing shop in 1473 that published books by various authors including Christopher Columbus; Martens would later become a professor at theCatholic University of Leuven.
Aalst suffered considerably under the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648). It was later taken by the French Marshal Turenne in the War of Devolution of 1667, then occupied by France until 1706, when it became independent once more following the Battle of Ramillies, along with Southern Flanders in general. The textile-based economy flourished under the French. The 19th century was marked by social crises engendered by the Industrial Revolution, with Father Adolf Daens and his Christene Volkspartij emerging as the local defender of workers' rights. The 20th century was marked by bombardment and occupation by the Germans during both world wars.
The textile industry is still vibrant in Aalst, in part because of the French occupation. Aalst produces not only the textiles themselves, but manufactures many of the needed machines. The more rural regions are noted for their production of hops, which are sold to the old breweriesthere.