The Flemish government and the town of Zedelgem in West Flanders have agreed to finance a renovation of Loppem Castle, a major site for students of 20th century history.
The castle – as is often the case in mainland Europe – is more of a lavish mansion that a fortress. However its importance belongs more to diplomacy than to warfare.
The castle was built between 1859 and 1862 in Gothic revival style, signed by Jean-Baptiste Bethune (Maredsous Abbey) and E.W. Pugin, son of the architect of the Palace of Westminster and a prolific designer of churches including Shrewsbury Cathedral in England and Wrexham Cathedral in Wales.
Loppem Castle was built for Baron Charles van Caloen and his family, but achieved historical significance after the First World War, when it had been requisitioned by the German occupier. It was then taken over by King Albert I, great-grandfather of King Philippe, who lived there for one month in 1918. His presence – and that of Queen Elisabeth, made the castle the de facto headquarters of the army and of the seat of power.
During their brief stay, Albert managed to hammer out an agreement with the politicians on the right to strike, the legality of trade unions, the introduction of a universal right to vote and the conversion of the state university in Ghent to a Dutch-speaking institution.
The castle is notable for being the only example in the country whose interior and exterior match completely in architectural terms. The interior contains a wealth of art treasures, including a 15th century stained glass window. On the outside, there is a park in the Anglo-Chinese style with lakes and a maze, open to the public.
The castle, described as the “pearl of Zedelgem” by mayor Annick Vermeulen, is currently undergoing dredging work in the lake in front of the main castle. Other works will include repairs to the garden wall, the grottos and the ice cellar.
“The historical importance of this castle is enormous, but it is also a heritage gem,” said Flemish heritage minister Matthias Diependaele, “It is therefore logical that Flanders contributes to this. Heritage is somewhat the material expression of our identity. It tells our story. And we as a government have to take care of that.”
The two partners, the Flemish government and the municipality, will contribute a total of €300,000 to the renovation project.