Leuven Gate rediscovered

  • A thirteenth century fortified wall was uncovered at a Treurenberg demolition site.
  • Axa, the owner, has decided to restore it.
  • It will be visible to the public.

For years now, commuters walking down Treurenberg road on their way to the central train station probably had no idea that they were passing one of the first fortified walls surrounding the city of Brussels in the XIIIth century. A section of this very wall has now been exposed thanks to a demolition project on the corner of Treurenberg and Place de Louvain. Axa, the owner of the property, intends to restore the entire section and make it visible to the public for pedestrian and citywide enjoyment.

Two years ago now, Axa began renovating the office building on the corner of Treurenberg and rue de Ligne. The insurance company then put out a request for proposals for extensive renovations. Later, having become aware of the difficulty of the project, Axa put out another call for proposals for demolition and reconstruction of the building. Once the second option was selected, Axa was already aware that a piece of the wall was in the foundation area of the building.

The architects and project managers quickly prepared an agreement to display this witness to the city’s medieval past. “The old building had been constructed with a 15 cm gap between its lower wall and the city wall”, explains Axa project manager, Eric Bloyaert. “we had to be very cautious during the demolition to avoid damaging the wall section.”

This section is an exceptional and unique wall. It unites several elements. In reality, it’s one of the entrance gates built into the first fortified wall surrounding Brussels. The Leuven gate, the walkway on top of the wall and a part of Pleban tower, are all visible. This semicircular tower is currently only visible from the yards of the homes on rue du Bois Sauvage behind the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. In the curate’s garden the tower has been excavated from the more recent walls that had transformed it into a storeroom.

“Upon learning of the existence of this vestige, we ordered a historical study,” explains Bloyaert. “We learned the origin of the street’s name. Treurenberg means ‘Mount of Tears’.  The area earned its name because it was the location of the Brussels prison. We also know that the arches we now see were in fact underground and filled with dirt. This was how they used to save on building materials. The masonry that now fills them in must be about one hundred years old.”

Just as with any vestige, the wall is historically classified but nothing was stopping Axa from building next to it. In the meantime, the owner decided to highlight it by building a 10-meter wide passage that will be enclosed by a railing so pedestrians will be able to see it. The passage will become available for heritage festivals or similar activities. Historians will also have access to it. The back wall of the new building will have a glass window so the new tenants will be able to admire this piece of their heritage during meetings. In addition, the wall horizontal to the medieval wall will be removed to better excavate the Pleban tower and to show its circular portion.

Prior to starting on any restoration, ownership of the wall must be determined. The text is vague and titles are missing. The city of Brussels could also take charge of the issue. Next, a study will need to be conducted along with the Monuments and Sites department. After that, a town planning permit request will be submitted. The restoration itself will begin in the next two years. However, the building will be finished in 2015.

VANESSA LHUILLIER

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