Leuven Tourist Attractions
Leuven (French Louvain) lies on both banks of the Dijle east of Brussels. Together with the suburbs, which were incorporated in 1977, the town is a conglomeration of over 85,000 inhabitants and is the commercial, cultural and administrative center of East Brabant and southern Kempenland. The many different industries are based mainly in the north of the town along the canal which links the Dijle with the Rupel. Despite heavy bombardment in both world wars the university buildings, which are dispersed throughout the town, provide a good impression of architecture from the 15th C. onwards.Some examples include the Gothic syle Town Hall, Saint-Anthony's Chapel, the Linen Hall that now serves as a University Hall, the University Library and St Peter's Church.Leuven is well known for its summer rock festival Marktrock and orchestras, such as the famous Arenberg Orchestra.
University TownThe Catholic university, which was founded in 1425 and rapidly became one of the most highly regarded universities in Europe, is world famous. Once the great humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam and Justus Lipsius taught here. The geographer Gerhard Mercator studied here and one of its chancellors was elected Pope Adrian VI in 1459. The university library was unparalleled yet was set on fire by the German occupying forces in 1914 and again in 1940 with the irretrievable loss of over a million volumes. Many regard the division of the university in 1968, following linguistic quarrels between the Flemish and Walloons, as the "Third Destruction": the Francophile teachers and students broke away and established the "Université Catholique de Louvain" in the new university town of Louvain-la-Neuve. The books were divided between them on the basis of odd and even shelf-marks - a really insane initiative.Today 24,000 students are matriculated at the university to soak up knowledge as amusingly demonstrated by the statue on the fountain "Fons Sapientiae", known as "Fonske", in the Grote Markt.
City HallThe shrine-like building of Leuven's City Hall is striking. Ornately decorated in the late Gothic Style, the City Hall features 236 prominent figures from the town's history on its external fascades.
St Peter's Church
St Peter's ChurchA UNESCO World Heritage Site, St.Peter's Church in Leuven is located in the very centre of the Grote Markt. The Church boasts a beautiful interior featuring Baroque and Gothic elements.
Oude MarktTo the right of the town hall is Naamsestraat where many university buildings are to be found either in this street or nearby, in particular the college buildings funded by various patrons in the 15th-18th C. to accommodate students and institutes.
On Naamsestraat are the main buildings of the Catholic University, formerly the Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall) built in 1317-1345, which became the seat of the university following the decline of the cloth industry. An upper story was added in the 18th C. and it housed the university library until it was set on fire by the German occupying forces in 1914 destroying the most valuable books. Today it serves as the administrative center of the university. Items from the university's art collection are exhibited in the Jubilee Hall.
Not far to the west of Naamsestraat is the Oude Markt, the bustling center of Leuven, especially on summer evenings. Although its historic brick gabled houses were almost completely burnt down in 1914, they have been beautifully rebuilt and now accommodate many pubs and restaurants. A bronze sculpture commemorates the "Kottmadams" of Leuven, the landladies of the student rooms. On the narrow south side of the square is the Collegium Vauxianum (Heilig Drievuldigheidscollege; Holy Trinity College) with a Baroque facade of 1657.
Where Naamsestraat widens, diagonally opposite the Heilig Geest College (founded 1442, 18th C. building), stands Sint-Michielskerk, built 1650-1666 by Willem Hesius. It has a splendid Baroque facade, one of the finest of its kind in Belgium. The lane in front of the church off to the left leads to Hogescholplein with the Pauscollege (Papal College), founded by Pope Adrian IV in 1523 and rebuilt in the 18th C.
Beyond Sint-Michielskerk more colleges line both sides of Naamsestraat, many of which were built in the 18th C.: Koningcolleg (King's College, No. 59) founded by Philipp II of Spain in 1579; the College van Promonstreit (Premonstratensian College, No. 61), founded in 1571; Arras College (No. 63) founded in 1508 by the future Bishop of Arras; the Huis Van 't Sestich (No. 69, Gothic) with the adjacent College van de Hoge Heuvel; the College van Dale (No. 80), founded in 1579 and the oldest, since wonderfully restored, Renaissance building in Leuven; finally the American College (No. 100), founded in 1659 for Cistercians and occupied by American students since 1857.
From Naamsestraat head west through the Karmelietenberg and left into Schapenstraat to the picturesque Groot Begijnhof. This romantic complex, traversed by a tributary of the Dijle, was founded in the 13th C. and today comprises over 1,000 houses and a church; earlier it encompassed a hospital and a farmhouse. In the 18th C., when 300 béguines were still living in the béguinage, the houses were renovated with stepped gables, mullions and transoms, but the French Revolution brought a temporary halt. Only a few béguines returned afterwards. In 1962 the site was bought by the university and underwent extensive restoration to create student residences and lecture halls. Only the second cottage on the right past the entrance is still furnished as it was when the last béguine died in 1988. The early Gothic béguinage church Sint-Jan-de-Doper, built in the 13/14th C., serves the university community as a place of worship.
At the end of Naamsestraat is Sint-Kwintenkerk, its towers begun around 1200 and only completed in the 16th C. The choir - possibly by de Layens - and transept were added in the 15th C. The interior houses some notable paintings of the Rubens School.
For the visitor interested in Flemish films there is the Vlaams Filmmuseum in Boekhandelstraat, a short street to left of the town hall from the market.
Leaving the Grote Markt in the direction of the railroad station and turning right into Vanderkelenstraat the Vanderkelen Museum, which has the Municipal Museum Collections, is on the right. It is in three departments: painting with good pictures from the Leuven School (Quentin Massys: "Mourning over Christ"; Pieter Coecke van Aalst "Holy Family"; Michiel Coxie) and other paintings from different periods up to the present; sculpture including a 12th C. Madonna "Sedes Sapientiae", an outstanding alabaster relief (16th C.) and a section of a Passion relief from Antwerp (around 1525); finally craft work including glass painting from the 16-20th C., ceramics, faïences from Delft, porcelain from China and Japan, engravings, coins, gold work and textiles.
Some way along the Vanderkelenstraat is the Mgr. Ladeuzeplein. The University Library stands here, designed by the American architect Whitney Warren and built with American donations 1921-1928 in Dutch Renaissance style. Above the belfry soars the 85m/278ft-high tower with a carillon worth listening to.The library's most valuable collections were destroyed in 1914 in the fire and again in 1940, yet it still contains over a million books.
There is a very original memorial to a balloonist on the Hooverplein near the University Library.
Museum of Flemish Student Life
The archive and Museum of Flemish Student Life can be found in the library and illustrate the efforts of students in Leuven.
To the north of Grote Markt, between Mechelstraat and the Dijle, set back is the 14th and 15th C. Gothic Sint-Gertrudiskerk. The tower and a chapel were destroyed in the 1944 air raids and the superb choir stalls, of a transitional style between Gothic and Renaissance, were buried under the rubble. They have been restored and are now in the new church built in 1953.
Sint-Gertrudiskerk belongs to the Benedictine Abbey of Sint-Gertrudis, which also suffered heavy damage in the Second World War. The former chapel houses the Scouts Museum, which illustrates the history of the Scouting Movement.
North of Sint-Gertrudiskerk stands the Smaller Béguinage, founded in the 13th C. The present day houses in traditional brick and sandstone were built in the 17th and 18th C.
The Keizersberg at the end of Mechelsestraat is crowned by the Keizersberg Abbey, built in neo-Romantic style in the last century on the site of the former castle of the Dukes of Brabant.
Museum van Humbeeck-Piron
The Museum van Humbeeck-Piron on the ring road west of the Keizersberg is dedicated to the work of the Leuven artists Pierre van Humbeeck (1891-1964) and Maria Piron (1888-1969).
Lueven - Burgundian Festival
The festival lasts for three days in May. The celebrations starts on Friday evening and continues on Saturday and Sunday with a festival of street theater featuring artists from Belgium and abroad. The artists will perform in a surprising way in parades and on open-air theaters. The highlight would be the original parade with over 1,000 participants, 200 horses, wagons, giants and dragons.
A museum and gallery found on the ground floor of Erasmus College. It contains anonymous works from all over the world and others by Picasso, Magritte, Delcaux and Delahaut.
Address: Place Blaise Pascal 1, B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
An interesting collection of herbs is found in this garden. The herbal gardens of Leuven was created in 1738 to serve the medical students.
This museum includes a fine art collection and historical lounges from 19th C. mansions.
Address: Savoyestraat 6, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium
Chateau de Merode
Abdij van t' Park
Southeast of Leuven lies the Premonstratensian Abdij t' Park, founded by Gottfried the Bearded in 1129; today most of the buildings date from the 16th and 18th C. The visitor is taken through two gateways and a long entrance, past the watermill and the estate to the courtyard of the prelate's house. The tour continues to the former abbots' palace, the chapter house with its mixture of Gothic and Renaissance styles, the library and the refectory, which both have fine stucco reliefs. The monastery church is of 12/13th C. origin, being redesigned in the 17/18th C.
The town of Kessel-Lo is situated 4km/2miles east of Leuven.It is noted for Vlierbeek abbey, a Benedictine Abbey built in 1125. Kessel-Lo is also home to the Provinciaal Domein Kessel-Lo, a large provincial park with ponds, playgrounds, soccer fields, and areas for other recreational activities.
Abdij van Vlierbeek
The Abdi van Vlierbeek was founded here in 1127 and inhabited by the Benedictines. The troops of William of Orange destroyed the site in 1572 and it was several decades later before it was rebuilt. The main and adjoining buildings were built 1642-1730, the abbey church followed later in 1776-1794.
Kasteel van Arenberg, Heverlee, Belgium
Just 2km/1mile southwest of Leuven at Heverlee the Kasteel van Arenberg (16th C.) on the Dijle has fine grounds and is well worth a visit. The château with its two striking corner towers with gabled roofs was built in traditional late Gothic style with Renaissance features and today is property of the Catholic University, which maintains several institutes here and in the grounds.
The IJse, a tributary of the Dijle, flows through peaceful green countryside to the southwest of Leuven, where vegetables, especially chicory, are grown and grapes are pressed.
The university town of Louvain-la-Neuve is a product of the conflict between the Walloons and the Flemish. When this confrontation reached another zenith in 1968 the Flemish expelled their Walloon colleagues from the Catholic University of Leuven founded in 1425. The Walloons looked for a fresh place and found it 30km/19miles southeast of Brussels in the French part of Belgium and Louvain-la-Neuve, "New Leuven", was founded; it was the first newly set up town in Belgium since the foundation of Charleroi in 1666. Building went on from 1971, and between 1972 and 1979 all the French-speaking faculties moved out of Leuven with the exception of the medical faculty which was accommodated in the Brussels suburb of Woluwe-Saint-Lambert. Today in this town, which was conceived for 35,000 people, about 4,500 permanent residents and 18,000 students live. It can be seen that the aim of a homogeneous structure of residence has not been achieved and as a consequence at weekends and in the university holidays it can be very quiet in the town.The Giants' Festival takes place here.
In Louvain-la-Neuve it was intended to try out new forms of residence and living. More than 80 architects wanted to turn away from the idea of a large town and to recreate the intimate character of small areas as they were in a medieval town; therefore around the urban center brick was the preferred material for the buildings in the narrow little streets. Here pedestrians have priority; the station access roads and parking lots are sited underground and from them a system of passages, branching out in all directions, leads into the open air.The center of the town is the main square with the concrete university hall, the Church of Saint-François d'Assise and the Museum of the Archaeological and Art History Institute in which sculpture from the 12th to the 18th C. is displayed. Around the center are grouped the residential buildings of the parts of the town called Bruyères, Hocaille, Lauzelle and Biéreau; to the east towards the motorway lie the science park and the large buildings of the cyclotron. Relaxation from studies can be enjoyed in the provincial estate the "Bois des Rêves".
Rixensart - Château de Mérode
In the township of Rixensart, 8km/5miles northwest, the pretty red brick Château de Mérode was built between 1631 and 1632. It is square with four corner towers and many windows and is open to the public. It is impressive because of its tasteful furnishings which include Gobelin tapestries, Louis XV pieces, pictures (including some by Nattier and Tischbein) as well as a collection of weapons which the French mathematician Monge brought back from Napoleon's Egyptian campaign.
Lac de Genval
A little outside Rixensart lies the Lac de Genval which is a favorite rendezvous at weekends for the people of nearby Brussels; it has excellent facilities for angling and a considerable number of good restaurants.
A little further to the west of Rixensart lies La Hulpe where the Belgian paper industry had its beginnings. Today it is an elegant residential quarter of Brussels with eight little châteaux. A walk in the Domaine Solvay, named after the industrial family, who in the 19th C. owned the château in the middle of the park, is well worth while. Today the château is a cultural center.
Wavre, 6km/4miles to the north of Louvain-la-Neuve, has three attractions: the museum of living water plants in the suburb of Limal, the Walibi Adventure Park and the Aqualibi aqua park.
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