Oud Brussel: #2 Nieuwe Koudenbergpoort / Naamsepoort

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  • Name on the map:

    Couyeberch poort

  • Original name in Dutch:

    Coudenbergpoort, Koudenbergpoort

  • Other names:

    Nieuwe/Buitenste Coudenbergpoort

  • 19th century name in French:

    Porte de Namur

  • Current name:



The Nieuwe Koudenbergpoort (New Coudenberg Gate) belonged to the second and outer city wall of Brussels. Throughout the centuries, it became known as the Naamsepoort (“Porte de Namur” in French) – the Namur Gate. Today, the spot still is called by that name and it is also a metro station. The intra-muros side leads from the Naamsestraat (Rue de Namur) and the extra-muros side splits into two, the Elsensesteenweg (Chausée d’Ixelles) and the Marsveldstraat (Rue du Champ de Mars). The Naamsepoort is the gateway to Brussels’ upmarket district of Elsene (Ixelles).


The War of the Brabantian Succession (15 June 1356 – 4 June 1357)

When he died in 1355, Jan III Duke of Brabant and of Limburg left behind three daughters and no son. This created a succession problem for the Duchy. His second son-in-law, Louis II, Count of Flanders, alias Louis of Male, attacked the Duchy in an attempt to seize power, aided by Jan’s third son-in-law Reginald III, Duke of Guelders.

In fact, Duke Jan III had intended for his oldest daughter Joanna to succeed him, according to “ius Brabantinum” law.

In order to exert her power, Joanna and her husband performed the “Joyous Entry of 1356” in Leuven on 3 January 1356. This is known in Dutch as the “Blijde Inkomst” and the street in which they entered Leuven is still known today as the “Blijde Inkomststraat“.

The Joyous Entry of 1356 is of vital significance.

It was not just a spectacle, witnessed by citizens, nobles and officials from all Brabantian cities. It was the Magna Carta of Brabant, where she granted a charter of liberties granted to the burghers in return for their loyalty to her as their Duchess.

Nevertheless, a few months later, Flanders attacked Brabant. The Flemish occupied Brussels (18 August 1356), Mechelen (20 August 1356), Leuven and Vilvoorde (22 August 1356), Antwerpen and Grimbergen (23 August 1356), Tienen and Nijvel (24 August 1356).

It was only when Joanna’s husband, Wenceslaus I, Duke of Luxembourg, approached his half-brother, Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor for help that the war ended. The Flemish were driven out of Brabant and Joanna was finally recognised as the Duchess of Brabant by her neighbours.


400 years of Brussels’ Outer City Wall (1357-1783)

It was likely the result of this war that Brussels started building its second (outer) city walls.

Records show that the constructions started in 1357, a year after Leuven. By 1379, the names for the new city gates started appearing in documents with different variations.

First it was the city gates that were built, and the walls linking the gates were then erected. In total, there were seven city gates:

(Nieuwe) Koudenbergpoort (later Naamsepoort)
Obbrusselpoort (later Hallepoort)
Keulsepoort (later Schaarbeeksepoort)

But with the decision by Habsburg Emperor Jozef II to demolish all city defense throughout his realm, Brussels’ city wall was gradually torn down since 1783.

In the place of the city gates, twin pavilions were placed at fourteen entry points. The walls gave way to broad green boulevards designed by Jean-Baptiste Vifquain, from 1818 to 1840. But because of Brussels was already being Brussels, due to the taxation differences between Brussels inhabitants and those of the satellite towns, a patent wall had to be built 2.5m high with a 3m-wide ditch (basically a small city wall) to demarcate the city boundaries.

During this time, a ring road following the pentagonal shape of the old city was built over the moat. Today, the circle metro line follows the trajectory and so does the modern inner ring road.

What's so special about this place?

Difference between the old and new Koudenbergpoort

The reason why the Koudenbergpoort was “new”, was because the name was transferred from the old gate of the first city wall to this gate when the second city wall was erected in 1357. The inner, thus “old” Koudenbergpoort was situated right behind the palace precincts further up today’s Naamsestraat at the junction with the Brederodestraat.

To make a clear difference between the two Koudenbergpoorts, the old one was called the “Binnenste Koudenbergpoort” (the Inner Coudenberg Gate) and the new one was the “Buitenste Koudenbergpoort” (the Outer Coudenberg Gate).

Contrary to its later name of Naamsepoort which points to the direction of the city of Namur, the Koudenbergpoort referred to the hill behind it. Coudenberg (spelled ‘Koudenberg‘ in contemporary Dutch) was the name of the hill on which the Hof van Brussel (Brussels Court) was located. The Hof van Brussel later became the Ducal Palace of the successive Dukes of Brabant, then later the Imperial Palace of the Habsburg rulers. Today this is not only where the royal palace is located, it also includes the Koningsplein (Place Royale) and the Kunstberg (Mont des Arts).


How cold was the Koudenbergpoort?

If you have guessed that the name “Coudenberg” meant “cold mountain“, you are right. In fact, the palace was built on a “cold mountain”. While it is a climb, especially if you take the steps nowadays from the Brussels Central train station towards the Koningsplein (Place Royale), I wouldn’t exactly call it the Himalayas. But some historians think that the name probably referred to the north-facing hill with cold northerly winds which would not have been conducive for agriculture.


Where is the “d”?

You may also wonder why Koudenbergpoort was spelled “Couyeberch poort” on the 16th century map. That is because there is a tendency since a few hundred years for Dutch (then called the “Nederduits“) to soften the “d” into “y” or “w” especially when the following vowel is a schwa “ə”. This is why today ‘brother’ is “broer” and in informal speech, people say “ouwe” instead of “oude” and “rooi” instead of “rood”. In Danish for example, the “d” has virtually disappeared.

So it was not a spelling mistake on the map.

Gradually, the name of the city gate became known as the “Naamsepoort” (The Namur Gate), indicating the city to which the road still leads.


How did the Nieuwe Koudenbergpoort look like?

The Nieuwe Koudenbergpoort was a single tower with a single arched gateway.

Looking at surviving illustrations, there seemed to be a niche with a statue above the gateway on the extra-muros façade.

After the Nieuwe Koudenbergpoort/Naamsepoort was demolished in 1785, the inner ring road of Brussels replaced the medieval outer city wall and the moat. Here at the Naamsepoort, two neoclassical concession pavilions were erected by the architect Auguste Payen in 1836. Again in 1863, the pavilions were moved to the entrance to Bois de la Cambre three years later. With the removal of the gate, this allowed for the suburb of Ixelles to develop.

This new trendy spot was known as the “Ixelles-sous-Bruxelles“, also the “Faubourg de Namur” after the former city gate.

In 1866, a monumental fountain by architect Henri Beyaert and the sculptors Pierre Dunion and Edouard Fiers, was erected in memory of the mayor Charles de Brouckère. But this fountain was later dismantled in 1955 to allow for the redevelopment of the boulevards in preparation for the 1958 World Expo.


The Origin of “Elsene”: where alders grew along the waters

The area just outside of the Naamsepoort is Elsene. Today, it is a fashionable district of Brussels where all the luxury brands have their Belgian flagship stores. Most people know this quarter by its French name “Ixelles.

In fact, its old Dutch name Elsene was originally “Elsele” in the 13th century. The Old Frankish toponym “sel(e)” refers to “a main building, a housing building with a central space“. The first word “Els” refers to the abundance of alders (“Elzen” in Dutch) that used to grow along the Maalbeek stream and the ponds. The ponds are still there, and they are today the “Vijvers van Elsene” (“Étangs d’Ixelles” in French). The French name “Ixelles” was clearly derived from the original medieval Dutch name.

The name of Brussels belongs too to this Old Frankish toponym: “Broeksele” where “broek” means “brook“, referring to the abundance of streams and rivers flowing through the area.

Current situation

Today, the former Nieuwe Koudenbergpoort/Naamsepoort is a busy intersection of cars, metro and buses. It is not only the gateway to the upmarket neighbourhood of Ixelles, but also to the colourful Congolese district of Matongé.




Vannieuwenhuyze, B. (2011) “Brussel, de Ontwikkeling van een middeleeuwse stedelijke ruimte.” Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
https://collections.heritage.brussels/fr/objects/51981 (image)
Unknown. “La Porte de Namur à la fin du XVIIIe siècle” (image)
Unknown. “Le quartier ‘Porte de Namur’ aux environs de 1900” (image)


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