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Domaine de Laeken

Domaine de Laeken (51)

Laeken is a very quiet residential district in the north of Brussels. For the people of the city, however, Laeken is synonymous with the royal residence. 

Of old, in the eleventh century, this place was an important centre of pilgrimage, as it was said that here, miracles occurred in a hermitage devoted to the Madonna. However, in the eighteenth century the site was turned into the royal residence, which it remains today.

In this great open space you can take a walk through the beautiful, winding Parc de Laeken, where you will encounter the Villa Belvedere. This pavilion, which is owned by the royal family, was constructed at the end of eighteenth century and is currently the residence of the heir to the Belgian throne.

Next to the Villa you will find the Neo-Gothic style Leopold Monument, which was put up in honour of Leopold I, the first King of the Belgians. Opposite the statue rises the magnificent Château Royal. This palace is the residence of the royal family and was constructed upon request by the archduchess Maria Christina, also at the end of eighteenth century. Later, in 1890, it was restored by the architect Balat because it had suffered destruction in a fire. 

Without a shadow of a doubt, however, the most striking buildings in the whole complex are the Serres Royales or “Royal Greenhouses”. It was Leopold II who, in his eagerness to construct, ordered Alphonse Balat to build a complex in which to house a great botanical collection. The building is particularly impressive for what is known as its “Winter Garden”, which is finished with a wrought iron crown. Although this architectural unit is owned by the royal family, it is open to the public some months of the year. You will also discover that the different greenhouses are connected to each other by vaulted glass tunnels, which very much help visitors to move around. 

Here you will see a great botanical collection that starts in the palm house and continues with an impressive succession of banana trees, ferns and orchids, among many other species. 

Lastly, do not leave the Laeken zone without taking a look at the surprising Chinese Pavilion buildings, where you will find an exhibition of oriental porcelain, and the Japanese Tower, which is made completely in wood. You will probably wonder why these constructions were built. It is a fact that they were also the idea of Leopold II, who wanted to establish a kind of architectural journey around the world on this site. Although his ambitious project was not finished, these two buildings, at least, were completed.  

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