The Flemish government has completed the procedure to acquire the Kasteel van Heers, a 500-year-old chateau near Sint-Truiden in Limburg province.
The sale went through for the sum of one euro, but the building is likely to cost millions more, it is in such a state of disrepair.
The estate was the property of the Desmaisières family, after being given to Eugene Desmaisières, mayor of Heers and son of a Belgian government minister, in 1859. And it stayed in the family until in 1971 it came into the hands of his great-grandsons Michel and Ricardo, who were constantly in dispute, and who finished up living separately but together, each occupying one wing of the chateau.
The two were from a family considered minor nobility in the area, and grew up in some luxury. In an interview with TV reporter Paul Jambers in the 1990s, Michel described the family home.
“Our own teacher lived in the chateau, there was a young mechanic who serviced my grandmother’s car, a cook and two helpers. There was also a joiner and a carpenter who was always working here.”
But whatever it was that came between the two brothers, it had the effect of making the upkeep of the chateau impossible. While each withdrew into his own half of the house, the common areas like the grand ballroom or the grounds were neglected, since no agreement could be reached on who should pay how much for what work.
According to local legend, the ballroom, once so splendid, was known locally as ‘the hall of the blue buckets’. Instead of fixing the leaks in the roof, the brothers preferred to place buckets under the drips.
In 2001 Michel, who spent a great deal of time in Spain over the years, left Belgium permanently to live in Tenerife, where he died in 2014. By then Ricardo had moved with his son to the Ardennes.
Originally, the brothers were asking three million euros for the property. In the end, because of the heritage importance of the chateau and the state of disrepair into which it was still being allowed to descend, a court allowed it to be acquired by the Flemish government for one euro.
Heritage minister Matthias Diependaele (N-VA) has €10 million to spend on restoring the chateau – but only the fabric of the building. The government is looking for a commercial interest ready to invest in the conversion into a heritage tourism attraction.
“In principle, it is not the job of the government to buy up castles,” Diependaele said. “But this is heritage with a capital H. It would be a shame if we let this chateau decay for five more years.”