The beautiful Gaasbeek Castle, with its 100 acres of landscaped gardens, is situated outside Brussels in the municipality of Lennik. There has been a castle positioned on this site since 1240 however much of what can be seen today was completed under the ownership of Marquis d’Arconati Visconti between 1887-1898.
Godfried of Leuven (1209-1253) ordered the building of a defensive castle during the feudal middle ages to defend the Duchy of Brabant against the nearby counties of Flanders and Hainaut. In 1388 the then owner Zweder of Abcoude wished to extend his lands but was met with opposition by Everaard t’Serclaes, Alderman of the City of Brussels. On the 26th of March 1388 Zweder’s son murdered t’Serclaes and in retribution Gaasbeek was besieged and devastated by the people of Brussels.
The castle was reconstructed over the next 150 years before being bought by Lamoraal of Egmond along with seventeen villages within its domain. Lamoraal was a hugely influential character and along with William of Orange and Philip of Horne, they formed the ‘Triumvirate’ against cardinal Granvelle who was carrying out the iinquisition and persecution of protestants. Eventually Lamoraal was captured, tried for treason and beheaded in the Grand Place of Brussels in 1568.
In 1586 Gaasbeek was returned to Lamoraal’s son, Philip of Egmond. Over the next few years Gaasbeek suffered attacks by both Spanish and Dutch troops during the wars between the Northern Provinces and the Spanish (who ruled over the Southern Low Countries). In 1615 Rene de Renesse, Count of Warfusee bought the castle and was responsible for landscaping the walled gardens and building a baroque garden pavilion and St Gerude Chapel. In 1632 de Renesse was accused of conspiracy against Spain and the castle was confiscated and put up for sale, remaining without a purchaser for a long time due to the damage caused to the castle by fire.
In 1695 Gaasbeek was yet again bombarded by French troops during the Nine Years War, subsequently it was purchased by Louis Alexandre Scockaert who restored the castle as a residential property rather than a defensive structure. Sockaert’s granddaughter married into the rich Italian Arconati Visconti family. Gaasbeek remained in the hands of the Arconati Visconti family line over the next two hundred years. In 1821 the Marquis Guiseppe Arconati Visconti was condemned to death for his involvement in the revolution for the unification if Italy, and the house became a meeting place for Italian exiles. The property was passed down to Gianmartino Arconati Visconti, Gianmartino had an interest in archaeology and liberal-socialist ideas and mixed with republicans in Paris. He fell in love with Marie Louise Peyrat who was also a socialist, atheist and a republican, who was not a member of the nobility. After Gianmartino’s death in 1876 the Marie inherited the house and title of Marquise Marie Arconati Visconti, she had the house completely restored and bequeathed the castle to the Belgian state upon her death in 1922.
It must be said that Gaasbeek is a truly wonderful castle to visit. The landscaped gardens are a joy and are like eye candy for anyone with a love of symmetry and design. At the time of my visit the castle was home to an interesting art exhibition surrounding the history of the castle, usually I wouldn’t be one for installations in these beautiful old buildings but this exhibition was done with taste and added powerful imagery to illuminate the story of Gaasbeek.
GPS: 50.79666, 4.19722