It was one of the most expensive houses ever sold in Belgium. Known as Het Steen, the country house dating from 1304 had 33 rooms in total, including seven bedrooms, five toilets, two kitchens and two living rooms.
Located near Elewijt, mid-way between Brussels and Antwerp, the property was put on the market by the upmarket estate agent Engel & Völkers for an undisclosed price, believed to be four million euro.
This impressive property was once owned by Pieter Paul Rubens. The Flemish baroque artist bought the property in 1635, five years after his marriage to 16-year-old Helena Fourment, and transformed it into a handsome Flemish Renaissance country house.
It was here that Rubens painted several famous landscapes, including The Rainbow Landscape in the Wallace Collection and Tournament in Front of Steen Castle in the Louvre. The warm brown and red tones of Rubens’ Flemish country scenes went on to inspire English landscape artists such as Constable and Gainsborough.
After Rubens died, the castle went through various owners. It was used for a time as a prison, and occupied by troops during the Second World War. It became a listed monument in 2009, and was put up for sale in 2016.
It might have ended up in the hands of a rich individual or maybe turned into a luxury hotel. But finally, in the summer of 2019, the Flemish government came up with the funds to buy Het Steen. It is now working with local people to decide how to use the building.
The local council in Zemst recently commissioned the street artist Bart Smeets (Smates) to paint a huge Rubens mural on the side wall of a bridge next to Eppegem station. Based on a series of 17th-century sketches, it guides you to the castle where Rubens spent his final years.
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.