While America boasts of the city that never sleeps, here in Belgium we have the village that never wakes up. At least not on Sunday.

It’s Petit-Rœulx, or rather, in full, Petit-Rœulx-lez-Nivelles. A grandiose name when you realise just how petit it really is.

The name catches my attention each time I’m driving to Charleroi airport.


I wonder what sort of place it is. Do people who live there have to spell how it’s written when quoting their address? Do you sound both the l and the x? Or none of them? Or just the l? Was the x added just so that the l wouldn’t be the last letter, and therefore not silent? And does the word Roeulx have any meaning at all? Did it exist when the name was chosen? Or was it just invented? And if so, who decided to add that enigmatic x at the end, and why not, for example, simply an e? And if there’s a Petit-Roeulx, is there a larger Roeulx?

So many questions that I had to go visit and see what it’s all about.


The French language Wikipedia does in fact explain the evolution of the name, which seems to be a mish-mash of old Germanic, Latin, French and Walloon, vaguely meaning ‘a stone clearing close to Nivelles’. Surprisingly enough, the word ‘Petit’ in the name does not refer to size and is actually a corruption of the Latin word for stone, ‘petri’.

But I don’t blame Belgians in olden times for transforming ‘petri’ to ‘petit’. The village is indeed tiny. A good proportion of the surface area consists of a square with a church, a school, an establishment that sells rural products, a car repair garage and some houses, with three residential streets radiating out into the surrounding countryside.

It’s also an ancient site, with remains dating all the way back to the Iron Age. The church, dedicated to St Martin and constructed in medieval times, was closed, as was the rest of the village. But the churchyard was open. I went in and paid my respects to a woman who has departed this life just this year at 77.

The silence was impressive.

I had planned to have a drink and a lunchtime snack at the local pub or inn. No such facility here of course. I had to go to Antonio’s Restaurant back home where I played four different roles in succession: barman, chef, waiter and customer. The spaghetti Siciliana was delicious and was even free of charge, but I had to wash the dishes…