Castle Estate Alden Biesen, 800 years of history
In Rijkhoven on the territory of Bilzen in Limburg, there is an extensive castle complex which includes garden parks and unique orchards. Its origins date back to 1190, when the Third Crusade, the battle against Islam in the Holy Land, was in full swing.
In 1190, merchants from the northern German trading cities of Bremen and Lübeck established a field hospital in Acre, then Palestine and now Israel, to care for their sick and wounded compatriot-crusaders. That was a task for a religious fraternity. The hospital fraternity, called the Teutonic Order, became known throughout the Christian world, which had great sympathy for the Crusades. In 1198, it was transformed into an order of knights. The charitable objective was maintained, but the military approach to defending the Christian faith became the ideal of the new order.
Rise, prosperity and decline of Alden Biesen (13th-15th century)
The church and secular authorities at the time realised this was a successful system. Knights from our regions also took part in the Fifth Crusade in 1220, which made the Teutonic Order more widely known to us too. Throughout Europe, they were gifted all kinds of privileges, lands, houses, and in the Netherlands, parishes, chapels and hospitals. These included the pilgrimage chapel of Our Lady with its outbuildings in Rijkhoven, located at a place where rushes ('biezen' in Dutch) grew. Hence the name. Biesen grew to become the land commandery or headquarters of the province of the same name, with twelve subordinate commanderies in the Meuse-Rhine area. A house and a hospital were realised on the site. In 1361, the Teutonic Order exchanged the unsafe and damp Biesen for a new headquarters behind the safe city walls of Maastricht, Nieuwen Biesen. Biesen was henceforth called Alden (Old) Biesen and gradually deteriorated.
New prosperity and decline of Alden Biesen (16th-20th century)
From the 16th century onwards, the land commanders set themselves up as genuine administrators. The buildings that are still preserved today, primarily in the Maasland Renaissance style, mostly date from the 16th and 17th centuries: the moated castle as a majestic summer residence, the bell tower, the outer castles, the tenement house, the guest house, the baroque church, the gallery with Tuscan columns, the gatehouse with its tower, the guard house, the Apostles' house, the orangery building, the riding school and the tithe barn. The English Garden was created in 1786-1787 and includes a fine landscaped park with a slope, monumental trees and exotic shrubs, a lawn, winding paths, water features and a folly such as the Roman Minerva Temple, a Chinese temple, a grotto, a ruin and a hermitage.
After the French Revolution, the complex passed into private hands and deteriorated noticeably; in 1971 the moated castle burned down completely.
Alden Biesen stands again, in all its glory (21st century)
It now functions as an inspiring European centre for cultural gatherings, business events and conferences ... of the Flemish government. Ready for the future! The estate is freely accessible throughout the year.