What is something that Belgium has plenty of? Well, aside from beer, bureaucracy, and Belgians, it turns out this small country also boasts an incredible supply of castles. It even has a reputation for having the greatest number of castles per square kilometre compared to any other country in the world. Whether it’s an exaggeration or not, you get the idea.
There are approximately 3,000 castles scattered all over Belgium, from the northern Flanders region all the way to the southern region of Wallonia. Belgian castles include both the fortified structures which were used for defence and battle in the Middle Ages, and the imperial residences such as palaces and mansions owned by Belgian royalty and nobility.
Many castles in Belgium have been in existence centuries before the Belgian nation was established in 1830. Some of the oldest castles including the La Roche-en-Ardenne Castle in the Luxembourg Province and the Beaufort Castle in Namur date back to the ninth century when castles began proliferating in Europe. Political and geographical fragmentation in medieval Europe led to the emergence of private governments led by local lords. Castles served as the seat of local administration and symbols of power.
The 19th-century Torenhof Castle in Brasschaat was used as a location for the 2016 fantasy film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
In the French-speaking Walloon region, the highest concentration of castles can be found in Liège and Namur. In the Middle Ages, both provinces were frequent targets of invasion due to their strategic location along the River Meuse. Meanwhile, castles in the Dutch-speaking Flanders region are relatively younger and more modern compared to those in Wallonia. Many of them were built in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Brussels-Capital Region lays out over 20 castles including the Royal Palace of Brussels and the Royal Castle of Laeken. But the most glorious of them all is the Stoclet Palace which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009. The mansion was designed by Austrian architect Josef Hoffmann in 1911. The Stoclet family still owns and occupies the palace recognized as one of the most glamorous private residences of the 20th century.
Ancient yet ever fascinating, castles remain one of the most dramatic souvenirs from a chaotic yet romantic period in European history. They capture the imagination with stories of bloody battles, chivalry, and courtly romance. But most of all, they are timeless cautionary tales against the dangers of divisions and fragmentation among Europeans, a message that remains relevant up to this day.
If you ever get in the mood for some castle-hopping around Belgium, you can check out the list of recommended castles by Brussels-based Canadian travel bloggers, Andrew and Alison Matheson. There are more than 300 Belgian castles open to visitors and tourists, and the best place to start is right here in the capital.