In 1758 the Seneffe estate was bought by Julien Depestre, a Walloon merchant who earned a fortune by selling goods to the Imperial Austrian troops stationed in the Austrian Netherlands. The new castle was erected between 1763 and 1768 in a novel neoclassical style. After the French revolution and the subsequent occupation of the Austrian Netherlands by the French Republic, the extraordinary art collection (1797) and the château were confiscated (1799).
After several owners the castle was abandoned for 7 years in the 1960s, until the Belgian State decided to purchase it in 1970. During these years the castle was severely looted by people who removed and sold valuable interior decoration such as marble fireplaces and carved wainscotings. Extensive interior and exterior renovations were only started after 1978 and were not finished until 1995.
The château of Seneffe with its magnificent park and annexes offers a very fine example of a mid-18th-century noble residence. In general it follows the example of French noble and royal residences. It can be compared with the Petit Trianon built at the same time (1762–1768) by Ange-Jacques Gabriel for Louis XV. Elements like the colonnades flanking the central frontal courtyard are novel elements introduced by architect Dewez who trained in Italy under Luigi Vanvitelli. Dewez also found inspiration in neoclassical English country houses of his time. The quality of the architecture and its international inspiration make it a unique building.
A wide tree-lined alley starting in the village of Seneffe gives access to the castle and its grounds. At the end of the alley a wide lawn provides an unhampered view on the broad courtyard (Cour d'honneur) in front of the castle. The courtyard is closed by a monumental wrought iron fence which has a gilded gate in the middle. The actual château or corps de logis is flanked by two long colonnaded galleries (70 m) with a pavilion on each end which forms a very monumental entry to the château. The monolithic columns of the galleries are in the Ionic order. A terrace with a balustered railing is on top of the galleries. The blind wall of each gallery is adorned with semi-domed and rectangular niches which contain decorative vases and sculptures. The pavilions at the end of each gallery are very elegant buildings decorated with pilasters in the composite order, niches, and pediment-topped doors. They both have a domed second storey of which the right one houses a clock and a bell. The left pavilion is furnished as the château's chapel and the domed second storey serves here as a lantern providing zenital light to the interior. Each gallery is interrupted by two arcaded passages, flanked by pairs of composite pilasters, and giving access to the so-called 'communs' (originally containing kitchens, mews, a farm) on the left side, to a 'potager' and 'verger' (kitchen garden and orchard) on the right side, and to the park behind the castle.
The facade of the corps de logis consists of five bays separated by monumental composite pilasters connecting the two main storeys. The middle bay stands out slightly and is topped by a pediment which contains the coats of arms of Joseph Depestre and his wife flanked by gilded lions. A stair leads to the front door and into the entrance hall on the piano nobile. The two lateral bays are also flanked by composite pilasters. A molded cornice surrounds the entire building and is topped by a balustered railing only interrupted by the pediment in the middle and by a blind railing decorated with a 'guirlande' above the lateral bays. This railing partly hides the slate roof. Like the galleries the facades of the corps de logis are entirely executed in local 'Pierre bleu du Hainaut' (Blue stone of Hainaut) or 'Petit-Granit' a very hard greyish-blue limestone. This durable and expensive material also stresses the prestige of the building.
The sumptuous interiors contain elaborated 'parquets', fine decorated stucco ceilings of which some are gilded, sculpted and molded 'boiseries' and fine marble floorings and fireplaces mostly executed in Belgian marble. The style of the interior could be characterized as an early continental neoclassicism with French inspiration. In some rooms the influence of the late rococo style is still apparent, whereas in others a more 'classical' approach is discernible.
The park was laid out following the construction of the Château in the 1760s in a formal late baroque French style. The central axis of the alley, the courtyard and the middle bay of the corps de logis is continued in the park. A parterre with a path in the middle was situated directly behind the castle and ended on the banks of a formal pond. Close to the wall surrounding the park an Orangery was built facing the south. This building can still be seen. Northwards, the axis is aligned with the church spire in the village of Seneffe.
In the 1780s part of the park was rearranged as a landscape garden following the English fashion. Numerous small buildings called 'Follies' were built on the grounds such as an island with a temple and a wooden 'cabane'. The most important addition from that time is the neoclassical theatre built by the famous French architect Charles de Wailly. The simple whitewashed building has a stage with a fixed scenery consisting of a gallery in the Tuscan order built as a false perspective. It was the intention of the patron and the architect to revive the classical theatre. The busts in the facades were created by the famous French sculptor Augustin Pajou.References:
The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius is a world famous spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church and a popular site of pilgrimage and tourism. It is the most important working Russian monastery and a residence of the Patriarch. This religious and military complex represents an epitome of the growth of Russian architecture and contains some of that architecture’s finest expressions. It exerted a profound influence on architecture in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe.
The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, was founded in 1337 by the monk Sergius of Radonezh. Sergius achieved great prestige as the spiritual adviser of Dmitri Donskoi, Great Prince of Moscow, who received his blessing to the battle of Kulikov of 1380. The monastery started as a little wooden church on Makovets Hill, and then developed and grew stronger through the ages.
Over the centuries a unique ensemble of more than 50 buildings and constructions of different dates were established. The whole complex was erected according to the architectural concept of the main church, the Trinity Cathedral (1422), where the relics of St. Sergius may be seen.
In 1476 Pskovian masters built a brick belfry east of the cathedral dedicated to the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. The church combines unique features of early Muscovite and Pskovian architecture. A remarkable feature of this church is a bell tower under its dome without internal interconnection between the belfry and the cathedral itself.
The Cathedral of the Assumption, echoing the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Moscow Kremlin, was erected between 1559 and 1585. The frescoes of the Assumption Cathedral were painted in 1684. At the north-western corner of the Cathedral, on the site of the western porch, in 1780 a vault containing burials of Tsar Boris Godunov and his family was built.
In the 16th century the monastery was surrounded by 6 meters high and 3,5 meters thick defensive walls, which proved their worth during the 16-month siege by Polish-Lithuanian invaders during the Time of Trouble. They were later strengthened and expanded.
After the Upheaval of the 17th century a large-scale building programme was launched. At this time new buildings were erected in the north-western part of the monastery, including infirmaries topped with a tented church dedicated to Saints Zosima and Sawatiy of Solovki (1635-1637). Few such churches are still preserved, so this tented church with a unique tiled roof is an important contribution to the Lavra.
In the late 17th century a number of new buildings in Naryshkin (Moscow) Baroque style were added to the monastery.
Following a devastating fire in 1746, when most of the wooden buildings and structures were destroyed, a major reconstruction campaign was launched, during which the appearance of many of the buildings was changed to a more monumental style. At this time one of the tallest Russian belfries (88 meters high) was built.
In the late 18th century, when many church lands were secularized, the chaotic planning of the settlements and suburbs around the monastery was replaced by a regular layout of the streets and quarters. The town of Sergiev Posad was surrounded by traditional ramparts and walls. In the vicinity of the monastery a number of buildings belonging to it were erected: a stable yard, hotels, a hospice, a poorhouse, as well as guest and merchant houses. Major highways leading to the monastery were straightened and marked by establishing entry squares, the overall urban development being oriented towards the centrepiece - the Ensemble of the Trinity Sergius Lavra.
In 1993, the Trinity Lavra was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.