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It was imposed on Vilvoorde in 1779 under the rule of the Austrian Netherlands.
The construction is as geometric as it is aesthetically displeasing: a large rectangular building divised into several sections.
As many as 12,000 tramps, drunks, and prostitutes, all those that the society of the time considered a nuisance, were crammed in on four floors.
The vaulted cells had narrow slits as the only source of light.
A perpetual gloom reigned along the corridors that led to the many workshops.
Subsequently, women, men and children would be separated. Relatively little comfort...
All were condamned to a long stay.
Re-education was by means of work; forced labour was the norm.
The inmates turned hemp, wool, and cotton into artisanal goods for sale.
In the 19th century, the building briefly served as a military hospital before reverting to its original use.
In 1914, the army used it first as a barracks then as a detention centre.
The occupying Germans did the same during the Second World War.
The town took it over in 1981, but it was not until 2006 that the cells were listed as a historic monument.
Restoration can begin.
Soon, tourists will shudder while reading the graffiti reflecting the daily grind of the convicts of Reform.