On more than one occasion, I was offered the opportunity to shoot in exclusive locations that normally remain inaccessible to mere mortals: a good friend of mine has a very special gift for opening doors to such exquisite sites. This time, he brought us to the Castle of Val-Duchesse (Kasteel van Hertoginnedal), at the outskirts of Brussels, a famous site in recent Belgian and European political history.
The 18th century castle
The history of Val-Duchesse started in 1262, when Adelaide (Aleydis)of Burgundy, Duchess of Brabant, widow of Henry III, Duke of Brabant founded a priory for women (hence the “Valley of the Duchess” name). It was the first such priory in the Low
Countries that followed the rule of Saint Dominic; Saint Thomas of Aquin is said to have been a guest there. The priory further flourished and gained considerable wealth thanks to the generous gifts of numerous royal persons and noble families. In 1650 a wall was erected to protect the diverse edifices of the priory.
The present-day castle in Louis XVI style was added as a residence for the prioress in 1780, under the rule of Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria. Today the castle is owned by the Belgian Royal Trust, and operated by the federal department of Foreign Affairs.
Val-Duchesse has played an important role as a venue for major negotiations in Belgian and European politics after World War II. The castle was the setting for one of the great moments in European history, when in the autumn of 1956 six heads of state (from France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux) met to draft the text of the Treaty of Rome, leading to the foundation of the European Economic Community in 1958.
Also, over the years, countless ‘historical’ decisions have been taken by Belgian leaders meeting in the Val-Duchesse castle. These include the language legislation of 1962-63 (establishing four language areas in Belgium) and the federal government coalition talks in 2007.
Upcoming blog posts will take us through some of the magnificent rooms of the Val-Duchesse castle.
Gear notes: D700, 24-70/2.8, 17-35/2.8 - Fuji X100
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