Mechelen (French Malines, traditional English Mechlin) is a city and municipality in the province of Antwerp, Flanders, Belgium. The municipality comprises the city of Mechelen proper, some quarters at its outskirts, the hamlets of Nekkerspoel (adjacent) and Battel (a few kilometers away), as well as the villages of Walem, Heffen, Leest, Hombeek, and Muizen. The Dijle flows through the city, hence it is often referred to as the Dijlestad ("City on the river Dijle").
Mechelen lies on the major urban and industrial axis Brussels-Antwerp, about 25 km from each city. Inhabitants find employment at Mechelen's southern industrial and northern office estates, as well as at offices or industry near the capital and Zaventem Airport, or at industrial plants near Antwerp's seaport.
Mechelen is one of Flanders' prominent cities of historical art, with Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Ghent, and Leuven. It was notably a centre for artistic production during the Northern Renaissance, when painters, printmakers, illuminators and composers of polyphony were attracted by patrons such as Margaret of York, Margaret of Austria and Hieronymus van Busleyden.
Archaeological proof of habitation during the La Tène era in the triangle Brussels-Leuven-Antwerp, mainly concentrated around Mechelen which originated in wetlands, includes an 8.4 metre long canoe cut from an oak tree trunk and a settlement of about five wooden houses, at Nekkerspoel.
The area of Mechelen was settled on the banks of the river during the Gallo-Roman period as evidenced by several Roman ruins and roads. Upon Rome's declining influence, during 3rd–4th centuries the area became inhabited by Germanic tribes, a few centuries later Christianized assumedly by the Irish or Scottish missionary St. Rumbold, (Rombout in Dutch), who would have also built a monastery.
Around 1200 started the building of the cathedral that is dedicated to the saint.
Antwerp lost profitable stapelrechten (rights as first seller) for wool, oats and salt to Mechelen in 1303 when John II, Duke of Brabant, granted City rights to the town. This started a rivalry between these cities that would last well into the 20th century.
In the 15th century, the city came under the rule of the Dukes of Burgundy, marking the beginning of a prosperous period. In 1473 Charles the Bold moved several political bodies to the city, and Mechelen served as the seat of the Superior Court until the French Revolution. In 1490, a regular postal service between Mechelen and Innsbruck was established.
The highly lucrative cloth trade gained Mechelen wealth and power during the Late Middle Ages and it even became the capital of the Low Countries (very roughly the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) in the first half of the 16th century under Archduchess Margaret of Austria.
During the 16th century the city's political influence decreased dramatically, due to many governmental institutions being moved to Brussels. Mechelen compensated for this by increasing prominence in the religious arena: in 1559 it was proclaimed the Archdiocese of Mechelen, seat of religious authority over the territory that would eventually became Belgium. In 1961, "Brussels" was added to the title, resulting in the current Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels.
Mechelen also retained further relevance as the Great Council of Mechelen remained the supreme court of the territory until the French Revolutionary Wars. In 1572, during the Eighty Years' War, the city was burned and sacked by the Spanish. After this pillaging, the city was rebuilt. It was during this time that the tradition of furniture making, still seen today, began. In 1781, Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, ordered the destruction of the city's fortified walls – their former location however continues to be referred to in the Latin terms intra muros (within the walls) and extra muros (outside), and meanwhile the site became that of the inner ring road.
The city entered the industrial age in the 19th century. In 1835, the first railway on the European continent linked Brussels with Mechelen, which became the hub of the Belgian railway network. This led to a development of metalworking industries, among others the central railway workshops which are still located in the town today. During World War II, the extensive MechlinianCite error 3; Invalid call; invalid keys, e.g. too many or wrong key specified railway structure had caused the Nazi occupation forces to choose Mechelen for their infamous transit camp.
Several famous meetings on the Christian religion are connected to the name of the city. One in 1909 is thought to have inaugurated the Liturgical Movement. Between 1921 and 1925 a series of unofficial conferences, known as the Malines Conversations,Cite error 3; Invalid call; invalid keys, e.g. too many or wrong key specified presided over by Cardinal Mercier and attended by Anglican divines and laymen, including Lord Halifax, was the most significant of early attempts at the reconciliation between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches.