Oud Leuven: #51 Stadhuis

Oud Leuven: #51 Stadhuis

  • Name in 1649:

    Stadhuys

  • Other names:

    Hôtel de Ville

  • Current name:

    Stadhuis

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ABOUT

Leuven’s historic City Hall – Stadhuis – is one of the most beautiful buildings in Brabant Late Gothic style in Belgium. Located on the Grote Markt (the Great Market), this architectural jewel was enclosed by the Naamsestraat, the Muntstraat and the Boekhandelstraat, with an inner courtyard called Vrijthof.

Origin

How the rivalry with Brussels led to this magnificent 15th-century building complex

Leuven was formerly the capital of the Duchy of Brabant. But in the second half of the 13th century, the successive Dukes preferred Brussels as their residence and gradually, the centre of power shifted there.

This shift was never reversed, resulting in Brussels being the capital of Belgium today.

Perhaps as part of the attempt to not allow Brussels to further overshadow itself, Leuven established its famous university in 1425 and within the context of this rivalry, moved its city hall to a different location opposite the Sint-Pieterskerk where it built this magnificent building. This move was also a direct answer to the equally magnificent Brussels City Hall built in 1401 complete with belfry towers.

The general appearance of the Leuven Stadhuis was inspired by the city hall of Bruges, one of the oldest in the Low Countries.

The oldest part of the Leuven Stadhuis – the backhouse – was built in the years from 1439 to 1445 by Sulpitius van Vorst and Jan II Keldermans. The famous fronthouse with its magnificent facade on the Grote Markt, was built between 1448 and 1469 under the leadership of Matthijs de Layens, Leuven’s renowned architect. The attached conservatory along the Naamsestraat was built in 1461. The other youngest wing along the Muntstraat was built only in 1938. Originally not part of the city hall, the “Dekenij van de lakenwevers” – the Weavers’ Hall – built in 1680 was later added to the complex.

Meublez les niches!

Matthijs de Layens gave the Leuven Stadhuis a beautiful facade that took every citizen’s breath away. However, there were two things he could not change: the tiny entrance and a empty facade.

It was only until 1709 when the grand entrance was finally built, with the stone staircases leading to it, which survive until this day.

Also the biggest change came in the period of 1849-1880 where the empty niches were finally filled with sculptures. The call came first and foremost from French writer Victor Hugo, who was then living in Brussels in 1852, who decried ‘Meublez les niches!‘ – Fill the Niches!. This call lasted until 1881 when it was decided that the statues need to reflect Leuven’s history. City Archivist Edward Van Even and Historian Charles Piot were brought in to provide the list of historical figures.

The result: A total of 236 statues now fill the niches.

They were dressed in the costumes of their own times. The lowest level statues feature Leuven’s academics, artists, thinkers and other historical figures. The first storey features community heroes and saints of Leuven’s parishes. The second storey features Leuven’s rulers, including the Counts of Leuven and the Dukes of Brabant, all the way to King Leopold II in the 19th century. The niches in the towers were only filled in 1895-1913 with biblical figures.

What's so special about this place?

An eclectic interior

The exterior of the Leuven Stadhuis is uniformly Late Brabant Gothic. Its interior however is a mad mixture of various different styles. There are three saloons: one in Louis XIV, one in Louis XV and the last in Louis XVI. In one of the saloons, the walls are filled with every single Leuven mayor since the French invasion, except the current mayor Mohamed Ridouani.

Perhaps one of the most easily-missed yet highly-valuable treasures of the Leuven Stadhuis are the oak beams in the groundfloor halls, carved by the famous Brabant wood sculptor Willem Ards (1415-1453).

Do not miss the Gothic Hall, that features four huge historic paintings and seven portraits painted by 19th-century Belgian painter André Hennebicq (1836-1904).

The Old Cellars

The oldest part of the Leuven Stadhuis is in fact its cellars. Directly accessible from the Grote Markt, the cellars belonged to the three houses which were torn down to make way for the ‘fronthouse’ back in 1439.

The west cellar is known in historical sources as ‘de Meyerse kelder onder tFederhuys‘. The two bays under the fronthouse are covered by a four-part rib vault on semi-column pillars. The remaining part of the cellar under the Grote Markt is supported by a barrel vault, perhaps introduced in the 15th century during the reconstruction of the new Grote Markt (then called the ‘Plaetse‘). The second cellar belonged to a house called ‘De Moor‘, with a barrel vault parallel to the Grote Markt. The easternmost cellar was that of the former ‘Rosenhoet‘ house, which is located partly under the fronthouse, partly under the Grote Markt.

 

The Meyboom

The ‘Meyboom‘ – the Tree of Joy – is the Low Countries version of the English ‘Maypole’, that has an ancient history in Germanic culture dating back to the Iron Age.

The rivalry between Brussels and Leuven as mentioned above, actually began with the erection of the Meyboom in 1213, even before the move of the Duchy Residence to Brussels.

The legend goes that at a wedding that was being held at the inn called “Het Cattenhuys” located in the Zwanenbroek (current-day Broekstraat) just outside the Brussels city walls in 1213, a fight broke out between people from Leuven and people from Brussels. Allegedly, the Leuven inhabitants were present because the groom was from Leuven. The brawl broke out because the Leuven inhabitants were upset about the beer tax that Brussels city administration imposed within the city.

Incidentally, the Crossbowmen of Brussels called the ‘Gezellen van Sint-Laurentius‘ (Companions of Saint Lawrence) were present and managed to break up the fight. As a reward, the Duke of Brabant Jan III accorded them the status of a guild. With this new status, they received the right to join the Covenant of Oaths as permanent members and were also entrusted with the right to plant the Meyboom in Brabant. It was decided that the planting would take place on the eve of the feast of St. Laurentius, the Archer Saint, on 9 August. It was not until 1308 that this event truly took shape, where the Meyboom was planted every year that day by five o’clock in the afternoon at the intersection of Rue des Sables/Zandstraat and Rue du Marais/Broekstraat, site of where the brawl with Leuven broke out.

But there was a catch: Duke Jan III said, whoever that plants the Meyboom at five o’clock will receive the right to do so the following year.

Leuven did not forget the humiliation suffered at the hands of Brussels since 1213. In 1974, a group of men from the Brotherhood of Men from 1929 stole the Meyboom from Brussels and erected it on the Grote Markt in front of the Leuven Stadhuis before 5pm on 9 August.

Since then, Leuven has officially taken over the right to erect the Meyboom, a task undertaken by the Brotherhood of the Men from the Years ending with 9. Brussels vehemently denies their Meyboom was stolen in 1974 and continues to plant its own.

Every year, the erection of the Meyboom is one of the most significant local cultural events to take place in front of the Leuven Stadhuis.

Current situation

The Leuven Stadhuis is one of the most beautiful buildings in Belgium. It will soon undergo a renovation with the final move of the city administration to the new building by the train station. The Leuven Stadhuis itself will be turned into a museum and activity centre for the city’s inhabitants.

 

 

Sources:

https://inventaris.onroerenderfgoed.be/erfgoedobjecten/42150
https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stadhuis_van_Leuven
https://www.meyboom.be/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meyboom
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maypole#Belgium
Louvain monumental ou Description historique et artistique de tous les édifices civils et religieux de la dite ville, by Edward van Even, 1860 (image)

HOW IT LOOKS LIKE TODAY

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Oud Leuven: #39 Standonckcollege On today's Hogeschoolplein, opposite the still-existing Pauscollege was the site of the former Standonckcollege and its closely associated Pedagogie Het Varken. Oud Leuven: #17 Priorij van de Heilige Ursula en de 11.000 Maagden Where the Bruulpark now stands in Leuven, there used to be a huge convent in the Middle Ages called the "Priorij van de Heilige Ursula en de 11.000 Maagden" (the Priory of Saint Ursula and 11,000 virgins). The whole area is today enclosed by Halvestraat, Pereboomstraat, Het Torentje and Brouwersstraat. Harold Tor - Oud Leuven: Hollands College Oud Leuven: #40 Hollands College Located on the square called Pater Damiaanplein, Hollands College is one of the best preserved colleges of the former University of Leuven. Much of the interior was never dismantled or destroyed during the French occupation, with many of its rooms dating back to the 18th century. Harold Tor - Oud Leuven: Augustijnenklooster Oud Leuven: #10 Augustijnenklooster The former Augustijnenklooster (Augustinian Monastery) occupied a huge space. It is enclosed by the current-day Vissersstraat, Vismarkt, Karel van Lotharingenstraat and Vaartstraat. Harold Tor - Sint-Pieterskerk Leuven Oud Leuven: #1 Sint-Pieterskerk The Sint-Pieterskerk (St Peter's Church) is a 17th-century church located right in the heart of Leuven, on the Grote Markt. Oud Leuven: #13 Kartuizerklooster The Carthusian Monastery (Kartuizerklooster) of Leuven is a hidden gem that not many people know of. Concealed by rows of houses on all sides, the ruins of the monastery go back to the 15th century. Oud Leuven: #14 Klooster van de Annunciaten The site of the Klooster van de Annunciaten is completely gone. The current location is at Numbers 1 to 5 of the Monseigneur Van Waeyenberghlaan. The convent existed from 1530 to 1784. Oud Leuven: #42 Van Dalecollege Located on the highest point of the inner city of Leuven, the Van Dalecollege along the Naamsestraat is one of the best preserved old college from the former University of Leuven and the most charming yet quiet spot in the city. Oud Leuven: #12 Het Groot Begijnhof The "Groot Begijnhof" is a "town-within-the-town" in the south of Leuven, on two arms of the River Dijle. Founded in the 13th century, this enclosed living quarters served religious women who lived in piety and chastity. The Groot Begijnhof is one of the best preserved, the largest and the most beautiful in the Low... Oud Leuven: #38 Heilige-Geestcollege The Heilige-Geestcollege has been the seat of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Leuven sine the 15th century, until the very demise of the university during the French occupation. Oud Leuven: #11 Sint-Michielskerk The "Iesuiten cloost. en collegie" (Jesuit Monastery) mentioned in the map, is no more. The exact location of this monastery is the current-day Sint-Michielskerk (St Michael's Church) located in the Naamsestraat. This former Jesuit church is now one of the Seven Wonders of Leuven still existing, and one of the most monumental Baroque churches... Oud Leuven: #32 College van S'Hertogenbos The College van S'Hertogenbos, from 1604-1797, was located not so much on the Tiensestraat as indicated on the map, but more on the modern-day Herbert Hooverplein (half of which was called the Grain Market (Graanmarkt) which was an extension of the Nieuwstraat to reach the old citygate of Sint-Michielspoort. Oud Leuven: #51 Stadhuis Leuven's historic City Hall - Stadhuis - is one of the most beautiful buildings in Brabant Late Gothic style in Belgium. Located on the Grote Markt (the Great Market), this architectural jewel was enclosed by the Naamsestraat, the Muntstraat and the Boekhandelstraat, with an inner courtyard called Vrijthof. Oud Leuven: #50 Priorij van Sint-Maartensdal The former Priory of St Martin's Valley (Priorij van Sint-Maartensdal) of Leuven existed from 1433-1784. Today, the site is the location of the city's iconic public housing blocks known by the same name 'Sint-Maartensdal', between the Sint-Maartenstraat and the J.P. Minckelersstraat. Oud Leuven: #45 Sint-Antoniuskapel The Sint-Antoniuskapel is located on the current-day Pater Damiaanplein, at the foot of the Ramberg hill at the meeting point of the two streets - Ramberg and Sint-Antoniusberg. The chapel is also the mausoleum and pilgrimage site of the world-famous Belgian priest, Pater Damiaan. Oud Leuven: Klooster van de Grauwzusters of Penitenten recolletinen The area of the Klooster van de Grauwzusters (Convent of the Grey Sisters) is currently enclosed by the Mechelsestraat, Klaverpark and Penitentienenstraat. Harold Tor - Oud Leuven: Atrechtcollege Oud Leuven: #37 Atrechtcollege Located on the highest point of the Naamsestraat, the Atrechtcollege is located beside the Premonstreitcollege and diagonally opposite the Van Dalecollege. Oud Leuven: #16 Het Klein Begijnhof Het Klein Begijnhof (The Small Beguinage) is one of the two beguinages in Leuven. Located north of the Sint-Geertrui-abdij (Saint Gertude Abbey), it is a small, secret picturesque spot in the city, consisting of one main and two side streets. Harold Tor - Oud-Leuven-7-Predikherenkerk Oud Leuven: #7 Predikherenkerk The Predikherenkerk, short for “Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-ten-Predikherenkerk”, is located not far from the Brusselsestraat. Hidden at the end of a beautiful medieval alleyway now called the Predikherenstraat, you will find this oldest Gothic church in Leuven and one of the earliest Gothic churches in Belgium. Oud Leuven: #29 College van Mechelen According to the map, the Collegium Mechliniense was located on the current-day Mechelsestraat. Oud Leuven: #19 Sint-Pietersziekenhuis Perhaps the oldest hospital in Belgium, the Sint-Pietersziekenhuis is (soon to be "was" at the time of writing) located on both East and West banks of the Dijle river on the Brusselsestraat. On the East bank, are the remains of the hospital chapel and its side buildings. On the West bank ate two contemporary... Oud Leuven: #26 Keizersberg Located at the northern tip of Leuven, within the second and outer city wall and east of the city gate Mechelsepoort, the Keizersberg is a medieval fortified hill that currently houses a Benedictine monastery, a public park and an emblematic giant statue of Queen Virgin Mary with baby Jesus that overlooks the city. Keizersberg... Oud Leuven: #23 Kapel van Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-ginder-buiten The Kapel van Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-ginder-buiten (Chapel of Our Lady Without the Walls) was the house chapel of the Greater Guild of Crossbowmen of Leuven from 1364 until 1798. Located just before the Tiensepoort Gate of the second city wall, the chapel was completely destroyed by the French invaders during the French Revolution. Harold Tor - Oud Leuven - Sint-Kwintenskerk Oud Leuven: #5 Sint-Kwintenskerk The Sint-Kwintenskerk (Saint Quentin's Church) in Leuven was built in the Brabant High-Gothic style in 1450. Located on the Naamsestraat it was close to the Naamsepoort city gate of the second city wall of the city. Oud Leuven: #25 Abdij Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ten Wijngaert The cartographer misnamed the spot #25 as the "Swart Susterhuys" (Zwartzustersklooster) - Convent of the Augustinian "Black" Sisters. It was in fact the site of the Abbey of the Our Lady of the Vineyard (Abdij Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ten Wijngaert) that belonged to the Cistercian Sisters. Also, the spot was misplaced between modern-day Ridderstraat and de... Oud Leuven: #20 Sint-Laurentiusgasthuis The cartographer made two mistakes on this location: one, the guesthouse was called "Sint-Laurentiusgasthuis", not "Sint-Corneliusgasthuis". Secondly, the location was not directly in the compounds of the Sint-Jacobskerk but one block down the Brusselsestraat where the roundabout is nowadays. Oud Leuven: #44 Sint-Joriskapel In the corner between the Kapucijnenvoer and Bankstraat, there used to be a Chapel devoted to St George. Today, it is a quant 18th-century house that is privately owned. Oud Leuven: #2 Sint-Michielskerk Oud Leuven: #2 Sancta Maria Leuven The Sint-Michielskerk (Saint Michael’s Church) does not exist anymore. Yet this was one of the iconic sights and sites of Leuven, one of its Seven Wonders. Its former location is on the Tiensestraat by the external façade of the Sancta Maria Leuven school, before the entrance to the city park. Harold Tor - Oud Leuven: Pauscollege Oud Leuven: #36 Pauscollege The Pauscollege is located on today's Hogeschoolplein, opposite the park. It is one of the world's oldest university colleges. Harold Tor - Oud Leuven: Miniemeninstituut Oud Leuven: #9 Miniemenklooster There was clearly a mistake in the naming of this spot. #9 Vrauwenbroeders Boogarden (the Carmelites Beghards) was not located on this spot, but further west on the current-day Vital Decosterstraat. In 1649, this spot was the Sint-Genovevagasthuis.
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