Castle of Countess Jeanne de Merode, also called as 'New Castle', was built between 1909-1912 in a neogothic style by architect Pierre Langerock as the residence of Countess Jeanne de Mérode. Jeanne de Mérode was born in Paris in 1853 as a daughter of Charles-Antoine Ghislain de Mérode-Westerloo, Marquess of Westerlo and Princes Marie-Nicolette d'Arenberg. She remained unmarried and devoted her life to religion and charitable works. To provide employment for the population of Westerlo (especially for young girls and women) she founded a carpet factory in Westerlo. She also financed a church, a school and a monastery in Heultje, and a home for the elderly in Westerlo. She lived with her parents and siblings in the 'old castle' until the death of her brother, Count Henri de Mérode, in 1908. At that time she decided to move out. She planned to reside in the castle of Grimbergen which she had inherited from her father. As she was very popular with the local population, the people of Westerlo begged her to stay in the region.
From 1909 onwards the vast castle was constructed hardly a kilometre away from her paternal residence. The architecture of the facades was inspired by the early 16th century late Gothic wing of the nearby abbey of Tongerlo. A more aristocratic appearance was achieved by adding four small and one large tower, as well as a bell tower in the form of a crown. Although both interior and exterior were executed in a historical style, the building contained many 'modern' features that were very rare on the countryside at the beginning of the 20th-century. The cross-beams supporting the roof were in steel, and the building had electric lighting, an electric elevator, central heating, running water, WC's and bathrooms.
As Jeanne de Mérode was very devout the Castle also had its own private chapel. On the altar she kept her most important treasure, the famous Mérode Altarpiece by the 15th century painter Robert Campin. After her death it was acquired from her heirs by the Metropolitan Museum in New York for the Cloisters collection.
When German troops invaded Belgium in 1940 the castle was confiscated and used as a local headquarters by the Nazis. Countess Jeanne moved back to the 'old castle' of Westerlo where she died on 1 July 1944, few months before the liberation of Belgium. She left the castle to a monastic order of sisters. The building was used by the church as a home for retired priests until it was sold to the municipality of Westerlo in the 1970s. It has served as the Town Hall of Westerlo ever since.References:
The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.
The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.
In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.
In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.
After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.
In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.
In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.