Social History the Flemish Way at the Huis Van Alijin

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by duskmaiden on December 12, 2009

Familiarity breeds contempt so they say, but sometimes it can also be very comfortable. Recently whilst in Ghent I visited the Huis Van Alijin Museum of Folklore and found it to be very much the latter.

The Huis van Alijin Museum is housed in some charming almshouses that surround a central courtyard located opposite Ghent's main canal. These medieval almshouses came about in a very romantic but tragic way. In the fourteenth century there were two rival families in the cloth trade. These were the Alijins and the Rijms. The Rijms murdered two of the Alijins and due to this the Rijms were sentenced to death but were pardoned as long as they founded almshouses to provide shelter for poor elderly women. The houses were bought by the city council in 1959 to house the museum of folklore's collection.

I found my welcome to the museum very friendly and the reception staff were very helpful when I was looking for somewhere to put my luggage. Lockers are provided but all the smaller ones had been taken. They nicely kept my stuff in their personal cloakroom and even provided me with a stronger plastic bag, as the one from the supermarket was disintegrating. I thought that the adult entrance price of 5 euros was very reasonable for the couple of entertaining and nostalgic hours I spent at the museum. There are concessionary rates. It's 3.75 euros for groups and senior citizens (those over 55) and one euro for young people under 26. Children and the disabled can enter for free. Its open six days a week Tuesday to Sunday 11 until 5.

If you are familiar with social history museums such as the Castle Museum in York and Wigan Pier you will be very familiar with the exhibitions in he Huis Van Alijin. I do like social history museums and it was nice to have a Flemish take on the subject and luckily there was not a mangle in sight as far as I could see! The first section concerns the traditional rituals and rhythms of life from birth, childhood, marriage and burial in 19th and early 20th century Flanders. I knew what to expect. There were cradles, and toys galore along with wedding dresses but it was nice. Labelling was very sparse about the specific exhibits but to compensate you could take little booklets. I was impressed with the standard of these little handouts that detailed a lot of information I I did not know such as the rituals for pregnancy and birth. I also liked the little blackboards with questions on aimed at children.

Next I entered the pretty chapel where there is an exhibition about school photos. There are individual and group ones. School photos seem to be universal. I was able to guess accurately how old the photos were before checking the dates, as I've seen so many old photographs. I could particularly date the 50s one , as the Flanders ones look almost identical to the ones I've seen of my parents right own to the short back and side haircuts and long bobs or plaits for the girls.

Even as a small child I loved the old fashioned shops they had in Beamish and the Castle Museum so it was nice to see them all from chemists to the pub in the Huis Van Alijin. My favourite (like in the Castle Museum) was the sweet shop with its wonderfully evocative smells of my new favourite Belgium delicacy Spekuloos. At this point my progress was impeded in a nice way by two school groups (one in French and one in Dutch if I remember rightly). It was nice to see the kid's excitement at the collection and trying old fashioned sweets! Next was a section on leisure and holidays rounding off everyday living.

The Huis Van Alijin maybe quaint but it also embraces multimedia to great effect. I enjoyed watching their archive of film footage surrounding special days such as birthdays and first communions. The other nice touch in recording Flemish life were CDs of different accents and dialects from all over the region.

The final section of the museum must have been set up for school children and adults wanting a trip down memory lane. We had rooms with objects from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Its quite disturbing to see things you remember in a museum collection such as the good old Mastermind , which I'm sure every household in Flanders, Britain and further afield had in the 70s and 80s! On a side note once you leave the museum cross the street to find a brilliant little interior design shop that sells mostly wall paper and materiel that comes straight form the 60s and 70s. I was so enchanted with this place I just had to take a photo and the 60 wallpaper is now my wallpaper on my computer.

Museum visiting is thirsty work and went looking for refreshment to quench my thirst. I was not disappointed, as his being Belgian there was a Museum Inn instead of a tea room meaning I could have a nice glass of cold Belgian beer whilst reflecting on my experiences. The Inn feels like a real pub and is very well run by enthusiastic friends of the museum. The prices were comparative to drinks in a normal Belgian pub. I think I paid about 2 euros 50 for my beer. Just remember to ask for the drinks list and not the menu! The poor lady volunteer was bemused by my request and thought I was asking for a man rather than the menu! A menu of men sounds good to me as well as a menu of beer (and other drinks). There is also a small shop selling books and other things linked with the collection but i did not find myself inspired by it.

The Huis Van Alijin may not be ground breaking stiff and very similar to museums I have visited in England. However it is a great way to spend a couple of hours in pretty surrounding in the heart of Ghent.

Kraanlei 65 Kraanlei 65
9000 Gent 9000 Gent (in Dutch only)
Kraanlei 65
Ghent, Belgium

© LP 2000-2009