On 3 February 1731, a fire broke out in the magnificent Coudenberg Palace on the hill above Brussels. It was a bitterly cold night, and the city’s water supply had frozen. Locals apparently tried to put out the fire with beer. But the flames quickly spread throughout the enormous building, destroying ancient manuscripts, government archives and paintings by Bruegel.
By the next morning, nothing remained except for the blackened walls. The ruins were left standing until 1774 when the architect Barnabé Guimard drew up a plan for a new square. The walls were demolished but the cellars were left to provide the foundations for the new square. For several centuries, the ruins remained hidden below the cobblestones. But the city finally found a way to turn the site into an underground museum. Reached from the BELvue Museum, it is an unusual historical location to explore with the remains of kitchens, staircases and a buried street.
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.