I took part in the Arenberg Festival that is taking place in the region of Leuven, Belgium. The Arenberg nobility came from a small village named after a hill in the German Eiffel region. In 1547, Jan of Ligne inherited the name and coat of arms of his wife, Margaretha of Mark-Arenberg.
How did the Arenbergs come to Belgium?
In the 16th century, Karel of Arenberg, son of Jan and Margaretha, married the sister of the childless Karel of Croÿ, Anna of Croÿ. The result was that all of the Croÿs’ properties came into the possession of the children of Karel and Anne. Both Karel and Anna had twelve children, and the Earl of Arenberg (“Prins-Graaf” in Dutch) also became part of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Thus began the 500 years of the Arenbergs in Leuven.
The History of the Castle of Arenberg
The Arenbergs inherited the castle located in Heverlee in Leuven through the marriage with Anna of Croÿ. Here, they lived from the 1500s all the way until the end of the First World War.
The castle itself began as a small fort in the 12th century of the Lord of Heverlee. When in the hands of the Croÿs, they built the most impressive castle – and in the 16th century the most modern in the whole of Europe – in terms of style.
Karel of Arenberg, had envisioned this to be an enclosed square enclosure, based on archaeological digs that discovered the strengthened foundations in the East wing of the compound.
Secondly, the two towers that flank the riverside front of the building were regarded as an architectural jewel in the 1500s.
Also, because the windows had been filled in in some of the facades, the original windows had an enormous amount of light on both facades. This was never seen before in 1517-19 when this building was first built.
What you should not miss in the Castle of Arenberg
Unfortunately, much of the architectural features are now lost. While the structure is basically intact, from the time of Karel of Croÿ, damages suffered from the Second World War, from the mad 1960s and 1970s when the Belgian state and politicians had little regard for history, and from the fact that the KULeuven – the University of Leuven – is still using this as a functional university building.
The stones of the staircase in the central building are all original. So is the ground floor, which was the original kitchen area. Apart from that, the family chapel of the Croÿs and the Arenbergs is still structurally kept. The most remarkable room however is housed in the East wing, when the plaster fell from the ceiling one day and uncovered original 16th century ceiling paintings. This is the single most intact original 16th century ceiling painting in Belgium.
One thing to note: The watermill by the Castle of Arenberg is older than the castle itself. Dating from the 13th century, it is the oldest existing watermill in Europe.
The Arenberg Festival celebrates 500 years of Arenberg in Leuven. It runs from 20 October 2018 to 20 January 2019. For more information, visit www.arenbergleuven.be