Whatever you are looking for in a city, can be found in Leuven. A university city with a small-town feel, but completely in pace with a rapidly changing society. Leuven is situated right in the centre of Belgium. Its easy accessibility is an advantage. But there are many more good reasons to visit the “Jewel of the River Dyle”. You will soon find out: this city will never let you go.
Leuven’s Town Hall is one of the best-known Gothic town halls worldwide and Leuven’s pride and joy. It took three architects and thirty years to build it. Leuven’s ‘Hall of Fame’ features 236 statues, which were only added to the façade after 1850. There are 220 men and 16 women in total. On the bottom floor are famous Leuven scientists, artists and historical figures, dressed in Burgundian garb. The first floor is reserved for the patron saints of the various parishes of Leuven. Above them the façade is adorned by the counts and dukes of Brabant while the towers primarily feature biblical figures.
THE GREAT BEGUINAGE
This bit of Unesco world heritage from the 13th century is a bewitching piece of pure relaxation right in the heart of the city. It has a succession of streets, squares, gardens and parks, with dozens of houses and convents in traditional sandstone. During the high days in the 17th century around 360 beguines lived there, pious women who didn’t have their own conventual order and needed accommodation. These days students, foreign guest professors and employees from the oldest catholic university in Europe have replaced these ladies. The old infirmary and the beguinage’s communal accommodation – the Chièvres Convent – are now home to a Leuven congress centre. And the picturesque streets are now a favourite area for walkers wanting to bathe in the atmosphere of times gone by. The Beguinage is open to the public free of charge.
SAINT PETER’S CHURCH
Saint Peter’s Church is the oldest church in Leuven. It was presumably founded in 986. The first church burnt down in 1176. A new Romanesque church was built with a crypt, an extension, at the back of the choir. The Westwork was flanked by two towers as can be seen in the old town seal.
SAINT MICHAEL’S CHURCH
Saint Michael’s Church is considered to be the main Jesuit church in Belgium. The impressive façade in pure baroque style is characterized as “the altar outside the church” and is as such one of the seven wonders of Leuven.
THE LIBRARY OF THE OLD UNIVERSITY
Since the founding of the University in 1425 until 1636, there was no official library of the university. Very likely the students had access to manuscripts and printed books preserved in the homes of their professors or colleges.
In 1636, however, a library that might be called Central Library was founded in 1636 in the Cloth Hall.
This library and its various additions was sent in 1797 to the Central School of Brussels, official successor of the former university, while its books and most precious manuscripts were deposited in Paris among the national treasures of the National Library.
It is also very likely that during the troubles of the wars of the French Revolution many books and valuable documents surreptitiously followed an “unofficial journey”, sometimes with the lofty aim of saving them from disaster, sometimes with the sordid aim of making money from them. It is thus that many libraries across Europe have books and manuscripts that certainly come from the Old University of Louvain, such as the founding charter of 1425 which was located in 1909 at the seminary of s’Hertogenbosch, or the courses of the law professor Henricus de Piro which were located in the late 20th century in the National Széchényi Library in Budapest.
Atrechtcollege (Arras College)
This college was founded in 1508 by Nicolaus Ruterius, provost of Saint Peter’s Chapter and later bishop of Atrecht, who housed this college for poor scholars in his own home which he had adapted for the purpose. From 1921 to 1977 the building housed a college for the first generation of female students. The courtyard boasts a beautiful Sophora Japonica planted in the 18th century, also known as “the tree of sorrow”: because in those days the girls had to be in their room by 7 p.m. and this led to heartrending parting scenes by the tree! Today the house is shared by the Study Advisory Centre and the Verbieststichting (Verbiest Foundation), which specialises in relations with China.
College De Valk (De Valk College)
This is the former college of the Artes Faculty, which was founded around 1434 and moved to this site in 1543. The neoclassical buildings date from the late 18th century. The Faculty of Law is based here. In 1966 a new complex was added next to the old college.
Heilige Geestcollege (College of the Holy Spirit)
In 1942 the aristocrat Lodewijk de Rycke gave the University a house for students of the Faculty of Theology, the oldest college institution of the university. The college was completely renovated in the 18th century. It is still being used as a studentresidence.
Hogenheuvelcollege (High Hill College)
The house was built in the 15th century by Golin van ‘t Sestich, husband of Katharina van Vlaenderen (Catherine of Flanders). The Roman numerals LX, high in the splendid Gothic brick façade, clearly refers to the family name. The Star of David in the gable and a Hebrew inscription on another façade lead us to assume that the inhabitants who had emigrated from Germany were of Jewish origin. The college was founded in 1683 when the Utrecht student priests of the Hogenheuvelcollege in Cologne were transferred to this house in Leuven. The new college, which was fortuitously located in the highest point of the city, quite appropriately kept its old name. Today it houses the Faculty of Economics and Applied Economic Sciences.
BREWERY STELLA ARTOIS
Visit the pride of Belgium: the Stella Artois Brewery! Discover the new guided tour, experience the brewery in action and enjoy a wonderful Stella Artois in ‘Den Thuis’ after your visit. In short: experience beer in its purest form.
TREASURY OF SAINT PETER’S CHURCH
The Treasury of Saint Peter’s is located in Saint Peter’s Church, which is considered to be one of the finest examples of 15th century Brabantine High Gothic architecture. The construction of the church began in 1410 and took more than a century. In 1980, the impressive ambulatory turned into a museum housing numerous statues, paintings and a collection of gold and silver pieces such as reliquaries, monstrances and chalices.
In approximately 1435, Rogier van der Weyden painted his world-famous Deposition (now in the Prado in Madrid; the side panels have been lost) for the Chapel of Our Lady of Ginderbuyten in Leuven. From the moment of its creation, the work was considered to be an absolute masterpiece, considering that a copy was made shortly afterwards. This copy is the first in a whole series commissioned from an unknown painter by Willem Edelheere.
The left side panel depicts Willem Edelheere (+1439), his two sons and Saint James the Greater, while the right side panel depicts Edelheere’s wife Aleydis Cappuyns and their two daughters, accompanied by Saint Aleydis (Alice). The coats of arms of the two families are to be seen at the top of the side panels.
The following is written on the right back panel of the Edelheere Triptych: dese tafel heeft veree(r)t he(re)n Wille(m) Edelhee(re) // en(de) Alyt syn werdinne int iaer ons heeren mcccc en xliij (this panel has honoured sir Willem Edelheere // and Alyt, his wife, in the year of our Lord 1443). The inscription dates the work to 1443. Willem had already died by that time. Aleydis only died a few years later, in 1449 or 1450. The triptych was placed on the family altar in Saint Peter’s Church as a kind of monument of commemoration.
The iconography of the painting is clearly linked to its function. The centre panel depicts the deposition. The left back panel features a badly damaged Throne of Mercy in grisaille. God the Father, crowned with a tiara, holds up his dead son. He is accompanied by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. The right side panel, which is better preserved, depicts Saint John supporting the swooning Mary.
The triptych is a funerary monument, through which the bodies of Christ and the Madonna on the back panels become objects of devotion and reflection. The swooning Madonna and the Holy Spirit on the back panels and Saint James on the front side panel refer to the altar of the Edelheere Chapel, which was dedicated to these three. The selection and combination of iconographic themes make the Edelheere Triptych an uncommon homogenous whole. The back and front panels are inextricably linked to one another.
‘The Last Supper’ is Dirk Bouts’ masterpiece. Christ and his disciples sit at a table in a contemporary interior. Christ’s hand is raised in the blessing of the bread, which is the focal point of the panel. The painter thus emphasises the sacrament of the Eucharist. He did this upon the request of his patron, the Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament, which commissioned the work on 15 March 1464 to decorate its chapel in Saint Peter’s Church in Leuven. A detailed description of the commission is to be found in the contract, which also stipulates the subjects of the centre panel and the side panels. Furthermore, this document informs us that two theologians of the recently founded University of Leuven assisted Bouts in the depiction of the symbolism of the Eucharistic.
The side panels depict four scenes from the Old Testament that are prophetic prefigurations of the Last Supper: Melchizedech offering bread and wine to Abraham, the story of the Jewish Paschal lamb, the manna falling from heaven and the story of Elijah being fed by an angel in the desert.
It is a system of ‘promise and fulfilment’, which was undoubtedly inspired by Bouts’ advisors. Presumably, they are the figures portrayed on the side panel that depicts Abraham en Melchizedech. The centre panel features four additional people. They are probably the members of the confraternity who signed the contract on behalf of their brethren.
Dirk Bouts was born in Haarlem c. 1410. He settled in Leuven shortly before 1448. In that year, he married the wealthy gentry woman Katharina Van der Brugghen. In 1472, Bouts was appointed town painter. He remarried in 1474. Dirk Bouts died in Leuven on 6 May 1475 and was buried in the Franciscan church.
Bouts’ work is characterised by the intense tranquillity and silence his figures emanate. They do not appear to have any contact with one another, as though they are each experiencing the event in a state of personal isolation.
A beguine community rose up by the St. Gertrude’s Abbey. This Small Beguinage is mentioned for the first time in 1272. The district consists of a street and two blind alleys where women who served in the nearby abbey lived. The small beguinage had few financial resources and the buildings rapidly fell into decay. The church, built in 1636, was demolished in 1862 and in 1954 the infirmary had to give way to the expanding Stella Artois brewery. In 2000, what remained of the Small Beguinage was thoroughly restored and sold to private individuals. Today some thirty houses in traditional Flemish style remain of the beguinage.
BELGIUM OLDEST BOTANICAL GARDEN
In 1738 the University created this botanical garden for students of Medicine. Now the garden is used for scientific research as well as being a green oasis in the centre of the city for locals and visitors alike.
You will find an amazing collection of trees and shrubs in the 2.2 hectare garden. In addition to the collection of herbs, water and tub plants the 450 msq.m. greenhouse complex showcases the diversity of tropical and subtropical plants.