Did you know that the Sonian Forest was originally much larger?
On a sunny day, the Sonian Forest is a great place to be. The fairy-tale like forest lies to the southeast of Brussels and covers more than 4,000 hectares. Hikers regularly come across beeches which are more than 200 years old. That is why the Sonian Forest is also known as the beech cathedral.
In classical antiquity, the Sonian forest, together with the Hallerbos, the Heverleebos and other Belgian forests, was part of the Silva Carbonaria. The first person to write down this name was the Roman General Julius Caesar in his world-famous book De Bello Gallico. At that time, the forest extended from the shores of the Rhine and the Moselle to the North Sea. The name referred to the use of charcoal to melt ferrous sandstone.
In the early Middle Ages, the forest constituted the personal property of the Dukes of Brabant, who used the forest as a hunting ground. In the same period, a number of religious communities settled in the Sonian Forest. Today, the Ter Kameren Abbey, Groenendaal, the Château of Val-Duchesse and the Capuchin Monastery vividly remind us of that era.
From the 18th century, the deforestation of the Sonian Forest began. A large part of the population plundered the forest. Furthermore, the landowners would log trees on a large scale to settle their debts. Under the reign of the Austrian Habsburgs, landscape architect Joachim Zinner had many beeches planted in the Sonian Forest.
After the defeat of Napoleon, the Sonian Forest still covered 10,000 hectares. Next, the forest came into the hands of the Netherlands Trading Society, under King William I of The Netherlands. After the Belgian revolution in 1830, a large part of the grounds were cultivated, shrinking the forest to its current size.