Gaasbeek Castle renovated


After three years of renovation, the museum castle can once again breathe in the atmosphere of the late 19th century

Around 1240, on the western side of the Duchy of Brabant, seigniory the Land van Gaasbeek was founded as a defence against possible attacks from the counties of Flanders and Hainaut. Godfrey of Louvain is widely regarded to be the builder of the castle of the same name. Over the centuries, the site was passed on by inheritance and sale successively into the hands of Godfrey's descendants and other noble families with illustrious names: van Hoorne, van Abcoude, van Egmont, van Renesse van Warfusée, Scockaert and Arconati Visconti. In nearly 800 years, the castle has been repeatedly occupied, looted, burned down and rebuilt. The last noble occupant, the Parisienne Marie Peyrat, Marquise Arconati Visconti (1840-1923), donated the castle to the Belgian state in 1921, along with the approximately 49-hectare park. In 1924, Gaasbeek was opened to the public as a museum and since then, it has been one of the country's biggest crowd-pleasers. In 1980, the Flemish Community became the new owner.

Late medieval and neo-Renaissance dream castle

Marie Peyrat was descended from a radical liberal intellectual from Paris who started out as a journalist and ended up as a politician. The apple did not fall far from the tree and she, too, became a political activist. She was also a flamboyant socialite and 'gender-bender' with a strong penchant for nostalgia and a predisposition to melancholy. Her father may well have put her in touch with kindred spirits of his in Italy. After barely three years of marriage, she became the marquise widow of Italian aristocrat Giammartino Arconati Visconti in 1876 and inherited his numerous possessions, including the castle. It was somewhat dilapidated. Based on her life motto, "The present I loathe and the future frightens me," in 1889 she commissioned a Brussels architect to make her escapist fantasies come true so that she could indulge her illusion of living in the past. At auctions, she carefully sought out interior pieces and artefacts that perfectly matched the period rooms to recreate the desired episodes of days gone by.

Awakening in its full glory

Opinions around what a museum should look like in the 1960s and '70s clashed mercilessly over the Marquise's neo-styles until, more recently, they came back into favour. If she could see the results of the restoration and reconstruction campaign between 2020 and 2023, however, she would once again recognise the spirit of her beloved romantic refuge in the Pajottenland in its corridors, walls and rooms. The staging is a clear success. With some imagination, you can even see the marquise in her pageboy outfit, parading among her distinguished guests, surrounded by her unique permanent art collection.

And be sure to visit the museum garden with its fruit repository and bee hives, and the Gloriette, Saint Gertrude's Chapel, Triumphal Arch, Octagon and the neo-Gothic barn in the park.