1355-60: Leuven bulks up its defence walls
By the middle of the 14th century, Leuven began to lose its political and economic status as the capital of Brabant. Both Brussels and Antwerp began to grow richer and more powerful. Poverty began to spread throughout the city, with less and less income from its weaving trade (see Lakenhalle) and wine production (see Wijnberg). After the Brabant Succession War in 1355, Leuven dug deep into its pockets to build the 7km-long outer (second) city walls, which were completed in 1360. With its eight new modern city gates, Leuven could essentially shut itself off from invaders (starting from the north in clockwise, with modern names in brackets):
Aarschotse poort (Vaartpoort)
Dorpstrate Buiten-Poort (Diestsepoort)
Hoelstrate Buiten-Poort (Tiensepoort)
Heverse Poort (Naamsepoort)
Buiten-Borch poort (Mechelsepoort)
The walls also came with 48 watch towers. The later-built and very imposing Verloren Kosttoren (Tower of Lost Cost) would be incorporated into this outer wall system as its 49th and tallest watch tower.
The new outer city walls now protect and include parishes like Sint-Kwintens and Sint-Jacobs which were previously outside the first city walls against attacks launched by the Count of Flanders, Lodewijk van Male. The new walls would also have increased the city area to nearly seven times. The outer city walls were completely surrounded by a moat measuring 3-4m deep and 10-15m wide, depending on the terrain. Where the moat was not dry, it was filled with water. This occurred twice: in the south where the Dijle and the Voer flowed into the city, and in the north where the Dijle and the Vunt flowed out of the city.
The destruction of Leuven’s city walls
In 1781, Habsburg Emperor Jozef II decreed the dismantling of all city defenses, except Antwerp. Cities were only allowed to keep the embankments and canals to avoid the fines. Somehow, Leuven managed to only demolish the defense structures built in 1672 and 1674. The rest of the city fortifications were preserved. But with the French occupation that followed, the outer city walls were completely dismantled, while the city gates were partially or fully demolished. All this was replaced by parks and promenades (any of the roads along the ring ending with the word ‘-vest’ indicates this development).
Between 1950 and 1980, many of the parks and promenades gave way to roads, and with the expansion of the ring around Leuven in 1970, whatever remained of the outer city walls fully disappeared.
The Road to the Park
The first Parkpoort was constructed in 1358. It was named so, because it led directly to the Abdij van Park located just outside the gate. The abbey was founded by the Duke of Leuven Godfried I met den Baard (the Bearded, 1095-1139) in 1129 as a gift to the Norbertine monks, built on his immense park.
Unlike the other outer city gates of Leuven, Parkpoort is the only one that retained its original 14th century name up until today.
This first gate was soon replaced by a more substantial building in 1374. According to the accounts of Jan Boonen, it was repaired in 1404 and 1407, although 19th century historian Edward van Even said he could not verify the claims in the city records. Van Even could however find evidence that the Parkpoort was repaired in 1520, under the supervision of Jan Loomans, the city’s master mason.
The upper parts of the Parkpoort was destroyed by a fire on 5 February 1634. The city requested the abbey for a few oaks for free to repair the roof.
How did the Parkpoort look like?
Van Even remarked that the Parkpoort was by no means unassuming in appearance. It very much looked like a small medieval fortress, especially as it was built on really high grounds. You can still experience this elevation when you approach the Parkpoort from the carpark exit of the Sportoase complex on the Geldenaaksebaan.
Built in bricks but covered in stone, the monumental Parkpoort was enclosed on the extra-muros side by a hemicircular enclosure. From this hemicycle, you can exit the city gate via a wooden drawbridge that spanned across the moat. Beyond the moat, was a triangular ravelin. Van Even wrote in his ‘Louvain dans le passé et dans le présent‘, that when the foundations of the Parkpoort was dug up in 1863, it was discovered that they were made entirely out of blocks of stone.
The Destruction of the Parkpoort
In 1787, the city magistrate decreed the demolition of the Parkpoort’s exterior ramparts. The demolition of the city gate itself began in 1810 and completed in 1827, when it was briefly replaced by an insignificant wooden structure. This disappeared in 1863.
Like the other outer city gates of Leuven, the Parkpoort today is just another traffic junction on the ring road of Leuven.
“Louvain dans le passé et dans le présent’, Edward van Even, 1895 (Image)
Many thanks to: Marc Mellaerts, Stadspoorten van Leuven (Pinterest)