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Last chance to visit Gaasbeek Castle before renovation

20:51 16/08/2020
From Flanders Today

This month is your last chance to visit Gaasbeek Castle before it closes for three years of renovation work. This is the final phase of an 11-year project to prepare the Gaasbeek estate for the future.

Gaasbeek Castle dates back to the 13th century but owes its present form to an extensive make-over in the late 19th century. Following the tastes of its then owner, this gave it a weathered mediaeval look outside, but lush neo-renaissance and rococo styles inside.

Gifted to the Belgian state in 1921, the castle stands in 49 hectares of parkland, complete with lawns, woodlands, lakes and an extensive walled garden that now functions as a museum to horticulture. Gaasbeek’s position in the green belt around Brussels makes it one of the region’s most rewarding attractions.

The restoration began with historic buildings in the park. Work on a 17th-century baroque pavilion, which has an impressive stucco ceiling, was completed earlier this year, but the lockdown meant plans to reopen it had to be postponed.

More recently, work was finished on the baroque St Gertrude Chapel, and on a 19th century neo-classical victory arch that stands in the grounds. In the future, the pavilion and the chapel will both be used for cultural events, and the chapel will be made available for weddings.

The next stage involves construction of a new reception building close to the existing car parks. This will also be home for a gift shop, a library, offices, the castle’s archive, a depository and a storage area for exhibition materials. Designed by the Pierre Hebbelinck architecture agency, work on this self-effacing new building is expected to complete by the end of 2021.

The final chapter will be the renovation of the castle itself, in the years up to 2023. This work will address architectural and structural problems identified over the years and make the castle more accessible, for instance for wheelchair users.

With administration and other services moving out to the new reception building, there will be much more space within the castle for visitors. But these interiors must also be restored and new uses found for the various rooms.

Installing lifts will mean disturbing the fabric of the castle, but the hope is that cutting through walls and ceilings will also be a chance to give visitors a new perspective on the methods and materials that went into its construction.

For this last season of visits, the castle is emphasising its role as an architectural and historical cabinet of curiosities. Twelve showpieces from its collection, each with a particular story to tell, have been put in the spotlight.

You can also see the latest addition to the collection, a scene from Goethe’s “Faust” painted by the Antwerp artist Eugène Siberdt. And for kids, there is a treasure hunt in the grounds.

After 30 August, when the castle closes to the public, both the park and the museum garden will remain open to visitors.

Written by Ian Mundell (Flanders Today)