Hidden Belgium: Elzenwalle

Hidden Belgium: Elzenwalle

It might be the strangest castle in Belgium. Elzenwallekasteel was one of dozens of aristocratic residences around Ypres that were shelled to bits in the First World War. Most were never rebuilt. But Elezenwalle was a rare exception.

The Brussels Art Nouveau architect Ernest Blerot had married Yvonne de Gheus d’Elzenwalle in Ixelles in 1910. He inherited the castle through his wife and visited it with his family. But then war arrived in the region.

His daughter Simone, ten at the time of the German invasion, recalled the early days of the war. ‘Inside the castle, the Germans were on the first floor and the British were down in the cellars where we used to play hide and seek as children. In the evening, we could hear the explosions and bits of shell would land in the trees of our property.’

The castle lay in an area of intense fighting. By the end of the war, it was just a heap of broken stone. Blerot began work in 1921 on a strange new building that mixed Art Nouveau with the emerging Art Deco style.

He used fragments of the old building, along with wood from shattered trees on the estate. The strangest feature is a reinforced concrete dome locals compare to a German military helmet. The dome was originally designed to incorporate a wind generator that would supply power to the castle.

The castle is still privately owned, but it is visible from the Kemmelseweg, near Voormezele village.

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.

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