The Italian composer Giacomo Puccini was 65 years old when he arrived in Brussels accompanied by his son Antonio.
He had come to a specialised private clinic in Ixelles for an operation to treat throat cancer. There were only two clinics in Europe that offered treatment using radium.
‘I had to choose between Berlin and Brussels,’ the composer wrote to a friend. ‘I already knew Brussels and I loved it: but imagine how much more I will love it if I recover my health here.’
The composer spent his last months in a grand town house that is still standing at Rue Royale 294. The Hôtel Puccini, as it is now known, was modelled on the palazzi of renaissance Italy.
The surgery seemed at first to be successful. ‘Very good news, all is going well,’ the composer wrote after the operation. But his heart could not stand the strain, and the composer of Madame Butterly died in the Belgian clinic on 29 November 1924.
‘This loss will be felt deeply in the whole of the Kingdom of Belgium,’ King Albert I wrote to Puccini’s wife.
The clinic where Puccini died has gone. But a plaque was put up on the apartment building that stands on the site, at Place Raymond Blyckaerts.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.