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Flanders buys Rubens' castle to turn into tourist centre

21:44 06/07/2019

The castle where Flemish baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens spent the last years of his life has been bought by the regional government. Previously in private hands and usually closed to the public, Elewijt Castle will soon open as a tourist attraction and venue for events.

The castle was built in the 14th century in Elewijt between Brussels and Mechelen, to defend the former and menace the latter. Rubens bought it in 1635 and had it refurbished in a luxurious Renaissance style. He lived there with his second wife, Hélène Fourment, and their young children until his death in 1640.

It was while living at Elewijt, also known as “Het Steen”, that Rubens turned seriously to landscape painting, producing numerous views of the surrounding countryside. The castle itself can be seen in his 1636 painting “A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning”, which now hangs in the National Gallery in London. Another painting, now in the Louvre, imagines a medieval tournament outside the castle's walls.

The purchase is part of the government’s Flemish Masters project, which aims to promote Flanders as a tourist destination for art-lovers. While Pieter Bruegel the Elder is the focus this year, Rubens was put in the spotlight last year.

“We couldn't miss the unique opportunity to buy this property and open it to the public," said tourism minister Ben Weyts, announcing the deal this week. “It would have been a shame if this castle and the history attached to it were lost. And this is the ideal location for a tourist attraction around Rubens.”

He did not reveal how much the government paid for Het Steen. The estate agent’s original asking price was reported to be €4 million, but the property had remained unsold for several years.

In addition to the castle, the estate includes eight hectares of land and a group of buildings called the Neerhof, comprising a dove house, orangery, stables, a steward’s house and a guest house with chapel. Private partners will be sought to renovate and to operate the property.

Photo courtesy VisitFlanders

Written by Ian Mundell (Flanders Today)