house of the capital region
rigin and development
As its name specifically indicates, the site of the Place Royale has always had a certain prestige, and still does to date. However, its layout has changed a lot over the years. It has housed a princely residence since the 11th century. Since this bygone age, the “Coudenberg” (or “Cold Mountain”) has been the central place of power in Brussels. The new castle that was built there initially served as a residence for the Prince of Brabant, or at least for the chatelain. The castle was transformed into a real palace in the 15th century, with the Dukes of Burgundy reigning over the region, giving the site radiance and magnificence. This area representing authority gradually became the cradle of a set of aristocratic hotels, built by persons of influence close to the court. The BIP — this set of buildings partly set on the Rue Royale, but which extend backwards from it ending up embracing an outdoor courtyard – chose two historic plots as its address. The hotel called Grimbergen, which you are looking at — you see the sign adorning the façade, under the balcony —, built in the 18th century by the Abbey of the same name (see below for context), occupies the approximate site of the old duke’s chapel built in the 16th century. This in turn was the heir of an initial chapel built in the 14th century. The basements of these places of worship have been conserved to serve as foundations for the hotel built on the instructions of the monks and are visible from the hotel’s lateral façade, through a glazed area; they are open for visits through the BELvue museum. Under the hotel there is also a section of the Rue Isabelle, created for her own use by the Archduchess Isabelle, who was at the helm of our region at the start of the 17th century as a representative of Spanish authority. This road linked the palace directly to the cathedral of Sainte-Gudule. This portion of road is assigned to Grimbergen Abbey, which dresses it with foundation walls and a vault. The second ancestor of our current walls can be sought next to a few aristocratic hotels set out in the area around the palace. The one we are interested in is the Hoogstraten, set up in the 16th century (owner: Antoine the Lalaing, Count of Hoogstraten and senior official), following the grouping of two houses – or two plots –, one of which was occupied at the time by Antoine de Bourgogne, known as the “Grand Bâtard”, son of Philippe le Bon, Duke of Burgundy. In reality, this large building is just a residence used by Antoine de Lalaing on his stays in Brussels, who spent most of his time in his estates in Hoogstraten and also having a residence in Malines. This underlines how important this figure was.
In 1731, on the night of 3 February until 4 February, a fire destroyed the Coudenberg palace. The surrounding buildings, including the hotels we are interested in, were quite well preserved. The four decades that followed, a delicate period (conflicts, financial difficulties), sealed the fate of the site of the now “Burnt Courtyard”. Both the rejection of the idea of renovating this site – by the definitive adoption of the old Orange-Nassau family’s palace by the Austrian governor of our region, Charles de Lorraine, by force! — and the wish to polish up the City’s image led to the concept of a new square; it would have to make a clean break with the past and glorify a statue of Charles de Lorraine at its centre. In this context a set of buildings of very similar construction were built. To be specific, eight residences – and a church, which took the place of Coudenberg Abbey – sprang up from the ground, private hotels that were an extreme testimony to the Ancien Régime. To bear the high costs of rebuilding the site, the Austrian authorities called on certain associations (Abbeys, corporations) or on one fortunate patron or another. Thus, if one of our dwellings is traditionally called “Grimbergen Hotel” it is in reference to the Abbey of the same name that undertook its construction. Started in 1776, the building was finished in 1881. Well established on Brussels land, the Grimbergen Abbey community also had a property in what is now the Errera Hotel (Rue Royale, 14, opposite the Parc Royal); these refuges served both as a town residence during monks’ stays in the city and also as a safe haven inside the enclosure if in urgent need. The City of Brussels acquired ownership, in the context of the square’s restructuring , at the end of the 18th century, of part of the Hoogstraten Hotel; however, the biggest share was bought by the Count of Spangen, who – on the basis of the existing structure, i.e. the Hoogstraten Hotel, which was thus buried –, had a new L-shaped hotel built.
rchitecture and decor
Just like the Place Royale as a whole, the two hotels are embellished with the neo-classical style. The square is restructured by the French architects Barré and Guimard, according to 18th century neo-classical precepts: symmetry, regularity, unity; in short, straying far from medieval crookedness! The new Place Royale then became a public square. As in many cases, the modern city has been built on the old city; in this case this is easy to see, as the vestiges of the palace are visible under our building and accessible through the neighbouring BELvue museum. At the beginning of the 20th century a few modifications were made to the Hotel Grimbergen’s internal structure by a British bank, which took up residence there; the marble staircase and lobby, just like the «ticket hall» – on the right when you face the building, in reference to the room’s function, a name still used today –, date from this period.
ours and detours
The size of the building built by the Abbey offers a number of opportunities, which led to multiple uses during the 19th and 20th centuries. Thus, the Café de l’Amitié, partially occupying the building – the part situated on the corner of the Parc Royal –, is known for having taken the full brunt of the battles against the Dutch that led to Belgian independence in 1830.
«Jean-Baptiste Coppens, mutilated after being wounded in his left thigh on 24 September 1830, while fighting at the Café de l’Amitié, Place Royale, in Brussels». The bookshop of Charles Muquardt, a German known for having participated in international counterfeiting activities in his sector, also set up shop in the same buildings in the 19th century. Other establishments followed – including another tavern – before 1920, when a British bank, «Lloyds & National Provincial Foreign Bank Ltd», moved into the Grimbergen Hotel after carrying out some restructuring (see above). The Spangen Hotel was moved into by William I of Orange, King of the Netherlands – of which the future Belgium was part – in 1821. It would then be put to various uses, always by public authorities: Military Court, Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Railways, Court of Auditors, etc. Today the Grimbergen Hotel and the Spangen Hotel are both owned by Brussels Capital Region. The first houses the Brussels Info Place, or «BIP», devoted to presenting and promoting Brussels Capital Region. It is a tourist information centre in the widest sense, including an exhibition area presenting the Region. In the second, regional government meetings are held every Thursday in the Léopold hall where, according to tradition, the first king of the Belgians signed the nation’s constitution.... The Spangen hotel also has a more formal function, hosting press conferences, receptions, debates, conferences, etc. Linking the two buildings, the «Linking» building is a venue for teaching activities, housing various associations.
www.visit.brussels copyright: Archives de la Ville de Bruxelles