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Hasselt is a Belgian city and municipality, and capital of the Flemish province of Limburg. Both the Demer river and the Albert Canal run through the municipality. Hasselt is located in between the Campine region, north of the Demer, and the Hesbaye region, south of it (Dutch Kempen and Haspengouw). It is also in the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion.
Hasselt was founded in approximately the 7th century on the Helbeek, a small tributary of the Demer river. The name Hasselt came from Hasaluth, which means hazel wood. During the Middle Ages, it became one of the bigger towns of the county of Loon, which had borders approximately the same as the current province of Limburg. Hasselt was first named in a document in 1165 and shortly thereafter received the much sought-after city charter. In 1232 this status was officially confirmed by Arnold IV, Count of Loon. Even though the city of Borgloon was the original official capital of Loon, Hasselt was to become the biggest city thanks to its favourable setting and to the proximity of the count’s castle and the Herkenrode Abbey in Kuringen. In 1366 the county of Loon became part of the Bishopric of Liège and remained so until the annexation by France in 1794.
During the First French Empire, after the French Revolution, Maastricht became the capital of the area that was then called the French Department of the Lower Meuse. This included both modern Belgian Limburg, and also neighbouring Dutch Limburg. After the defeat of Napoleon, in 1815, this whole area became part of a new United Kingdom of the Netherlands, and it was at this time that the name Limburg was adopted. King William wanted to keep the name of the old Duchy of Limburg alive although it had been centred in Limbourg on the Vesdre, and had never encompassed Hasselt. Even when Belgium gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1830, and the province of Limburg was definitively split between the Netherlands and Belgium in 1839, this name was retained and the name Loon disappeared. After the split, Hasselt became the provisional capital of the Belgian province of Limburg. When Maastricht stayed Dutch in 1839, it became the permanent seat of its provincial government within the Netherlands also called Limburg. In 1967, Belgian Limburg was detached from the Diocese of Liège and Hasselt became the seat of the Diocese of Hasselt.
The centre is mostly car-free and contains a number of historical buildings. Among the oldest buildings in the town centre are the St. Quentin's Cathedral (11th to 18th centuries) and the "Herkenrode Abbey refuge house" (1542). The "Grote Markt" (large central market square) and the nearby streets are lined with pubs, restaurants and taverns.
The Demerstraat and the Koning Albertstraat are the most important shopping streets. In the Kapelstraat and the Hoogstraat are expensive shops with the most famous brands. Another major religious building, besides the cathedral, is the Virga Jesse Basilica. The churches must cede domination of the skyline of the city to the modern twin towers of the "TT-wijk", however. In 2003, the renovation of this complex, now including a shopping mall and a hotel, gave the centre a new boost. In 2004, Hasselt was the first Flemish city to receive the title "most sociable city of Flanders", and has since claimed the title of "Capital City of Taste".