Brasschaat Castle and its domain Province of Antwerpen, Belgium

Undoubtedly, one of the landmarks of Brasschaat is the beautiful castle in the municipal park, situated amidst its incredibly fascinating greenery!

The history of the Kasteel van Brasschaat (Brasschaet) leads back to the late 15th century, where there was old fortress, and there are already signs of the later Helhoeve, the forerunner of Brasschaat Castle. The area of the domain covers parts of three settlements (three former farms): Vagevuurhoeve (Homestead), Hemelhoeve and Helhoeve. Heihoeve will give rise to Brasschaat Castle. Since 1499, Hendrik van Cantelbeke is the first owner of the former mansions, who will long dominates the history of Hel- and Hemelhoeve for many decades. After him, a priest Kerstiaen has inherited the farm from his father, named Hemelrijk. Also, his brother Hendrik has his own piece of property. Through unification the two farms owned by Van Cantelbekes, they can be regarded as the founders of the present municipal park, with which they have laid Its beginning about four centuries ago. In a document of 1611, a mortgage was recorded that has declared Hendrik van Cantelbek as the owner of the two farms - Helhoeve and Hemelhoeve. In 1615 the two farms were separated as property from one another until 1786, when both were purchased by Baron Van de Werve. In 1864 Louis Reusens became the new owner of Hemel-, Vagevuur- en Helhoeve. In the coming decades three generations of the Reusens family will be the lords of the magnificent estate, not far from Antwerp, in the beautiful and extensive landscaped mansion.

In 1869 Count Armand Reusens becomes the lord of Kasteel van Brasschaat. Armand Reusens was the mayor of Brasschaat from 1872 to 1901, for nearly 30 years. He inherited the estate from his father, named Auguste, who owns by heritage the mansion where the future Kasteel van Brasschaat will be built. In 1872, Count Armand Reusens was already a mayor of Brasschaat, and in the same year he began the demolition the old Helhoeve farm and building a new beautiful castle. He changes significantly the landscape through the leveling out the ditches, changing fields and sites, the afforestation the park, shaping green areas and building a large lake. Also, it was built a house for gardeners, a warehouse, farm buildings, two Ranger residences. Generally, the park in those years was conceived in a form that has been preserved to this day. Two monuments were erected in the park: obelisk and pillar, which were donated by Count Georges Reusens, the King Ambassador to the Holy See, Vatican and brother of Count Armand Reusens. The two monuments have undergone storm damage. Armand Reusens expands significantly the domain by buying neighboring terrains and making it prosperous and too strong. In a few years, the estate ranges from the Brasschaatse meadows northeast of Elshoutbaan to Peerdsbosdreef on the southern side. The castle was first expanded in 1896-97 with two lateral wings and for the second time in 1909. There were built a large terrace on the back and ladders leading to the lake, with two typical elements that now also define the general appearance of the castle: on one side is the tall and thin clock dome, and on the other there is a round tower dome-shaped roof whose original upper dome was destroyed and unfortunately not restored. A third dome on the far right side has also been destroyed over the years and has not been replaced. As a result of all these renovations, there is a beautiful building in a stylish combination of Flemish Renaissance and Neo-Gothic style, in its red-white facades of white stone and red bricks, and French grandeur in the roofs. In the municipal archives is preserved a very precise plan of the castle, signed in 1897.

Towards the end of his life, Count Armand Reusens opens the park for the public. He died in 1901 and heir of the property was his cousin Baron Auguste t'Serclaes de Wommersom. But the baron is not its owner for the long because he died a year later. After his death, the estate was inherited by his brother, Baron Albert-Octave 't Serclaes de Wommersom, who gradually solds a significant part of the property. In 1906, the joint stock company NV Anvers-Extension was set up with an initial capital of 1,250,000 fr. In 1907, Baron Albert-Octave 't Serclaes de Wommersom provides to the stock company the equivalence of 2,750,000 fr. of a part of Brasschaat Castle with a park, outbuildings, a hunting lodge in Elshout, and becomes holder of 3000 shares of the new company. And thus, the castle and the domain become the property of the joint-stock company. The banker and president of NV Anvers-Extension, Eduard Thys, decides to give the castle a double function by using it as a family home, for business contacts and financial discussions. His wife, Hélène Cateaux, has a sophisticated taste and wants to enrich the castle with new value furniture and artwork, as well as giving a new more splendid appearance of the park. In her undertaking, the famous Antwerp architect Jos Hertogs (1861-1930) played a significant role. Already after completing the Antwerpen Academy, he has the chance to receive orders for a Jewish synagogue, office building, town houses, and was already well known to the family of Eduard Thys because he built their house in Antwerp. Under the guidance of architect Jos Hertogs there have been major changes in the interior of the castle. The original dark paneling was completely renovated, replaced with the modern for that time fabrics and wallpapers, and a large part of the furniture was also modified. The original staircase was replaced by an elegant spiral ladder with an adorned railing. On the outside, there was built a large terrace with lavish balustrades and stairs leading down to a pond. Also, on both sides of the terrace were was built access stairs with an wonderful view to the park. Half a century later, in 1990, the back of the castle was completely destroyed and replaced with a new "complex" with a large ballroom almost at the lake's level giving an incredibly beautiful impression. At the beginning of the 20th century, the castle has experienced its most wonderful years! But the end of this splendor has come very sharply. Eduard Thys died in 1914. The First World War erupted. His wife, Hélène Cateaux, left very soon afterwards to England with her children. After the war, they returned to their home in Antwerp. In 1919, in the Brasschaat castle was take place the wedding of her daughter Géneviève Thys. Due to the worsened financial condition, Hélène Cateaux retired to her home in Antwerp, on Belgiëlei.

After 1923, there were better times for the castle. The wealthy widow of Antwerpen merchant Georges Born, Anne-Rose Gemmingen, buys the castle in 1923. The businessman Georges Born accumulates his wealth mainly from trading in Argentina. The following years are known as '' 't Goed van Born'' and are a new upsurge for the castle and life in it. But the park was closed for public use and the castle was surrounded by a long fence and gates. Due to the threat of a new world war, in 1939, Anne-Rose Gemmingen went to Argentina. In 1940, the German troops occupied the castle and the surrounding area, turning it into a reserve storehouse in the park and a field hospital. The castle and the park suffer many destruction and losses.

Several years after the end of WWII, in 1949, Brasschaat Municipality bought the castle and the park. After extensive repairs, and whit the approval of Mrs Born, the castle was turned into a sanatorium for the treatment of children suffering from tuberculosis. The Profylactorium, called "Préventorium Georges Born", acted in the castle until July, 1952. The castle then underwent new periods of renovation because of the two major fires in 1977 and 1981, where the roof and a floor of the building were devastated. The castle needed complete renovation and for that reason a commercial leasing was made in 1989, approved by the newly established SA "Kasteel van Brasschaat". Renovation plans were was prepared by architects Willy De Jongh and Marc Van den Abeele.

Today, the park and the castle are provided for public activities, festivals, private parties and weddings, also for many sports events, with a rather broad and modern sports infrastructure in the domain. So, in 1966 Louis De Winterstadion is opened. In 1969, an Olympic outdoor pool with a diving platform, sunbathing and sandstone was opened, and in 1976, an indoor swimming pool. Added to this is a football field, basketball, hockey and tennis court as well as a mini golf course and playgrounds for children. In 2006, outdoor and indoor pools were replaced with a new complex. The park and the castle are a favorite place for recreation of thousands of citizens on weekends and holidays among the beautiful greenery around. For the guests of the castle there is a parking lot for over 150 cars, with a capacity of up to 1000 guests and a wide program of events. In the last few years the Brasschaat Klassiek, an open summer stage of the classical music festival, will took place in the park in front of the southern side of the castle. This year's fourth edition will be on 14 and 15 July, 2017 in Gemeentelijk Park van Brasschaat. During the evenings of this Classical Summer Music Festival, the park and the Kasteel van Brasschaat are its unique and exciting decor in the light of the sunset and fabulous light reflections!

Source of information: public information from Brasschaat Municipality, (“Herwaarderingsplan Park van Brasschaat”, Gemeente Brasschaat, September 2011).
Photos: personal archive.

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Kasteel van Brasschaat, Province of Antwerpen, Belgium

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Related links

http://www.kasteelvanbrasschaat.be/

http://www.amazingbelgium.be/2016/11/the-castle-of-brasschaat.html

http://www.eventonline.be/en/detail/your-event-in-a-unique-castle-kasteel-van-brasschaat/