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 moated castle at Beersel is one of the few exceptionally well-preserved examples of medieval fortifications in Belgium. It remains pretty much as it must have appeared in the 15th century. Remarkably, it was never converted into a fortified mansion. A visitor is able to experience at first-hand how it must have felt to live in a heavily fortified castle in the Middle Ages.
The castle was built in around 1420 as a means of defence on the outer reaches of Brussels. The tall, dense walls and towers were intended to hold any besiegers at bay. The moat and the marshy ground along its eastern, southern and western edges made any attack a formidable proposition. For that reason, any attackers would have chosen its weaker northern defences where the castle adjoins higher lying ground. But the castle was only taken and destroyed on one occasion in 1489, by the inhabitants of Brussels who were in rebellion against Maximilian of Austria.
After being stormed and plundered by the rebels it was partially rebuilt. The pointed roofs and stepped gables are features which have survived this period. The reconstruction explains why two periods can be identified in the fabric of the edifice, particularly on the outside.
The red Brabant sandstone surrounds of the embrasures, now more or less all bricked up, are characteristic of the 15th century. The other embrasures, edged with white sandstone, date from the end of the 15th century. They were intended for setting up the artillery fire. The merlons too are in white sandstone. The year 1617 can be clearly seen in the foundation support on the first tower. This refers to restorations carried out at the time by the Arenberg family.
Nowadays, the castle is dominated by three massive towers. The means of defence follow the classic pattern: a wide, deep moat surrounding the castle, a drawbridge, merlons on the towers, embrasures in the walls and in the towers, at more or less regular intervals, and machiolations. Circular, projecting towers ensured that attacks from the side could be thwarted. If the enemy were to penetrate the outer wall, each tower could be defended from embrasures facing onto the inner courtyard.
The second and third towers are flanked by watchtowers from which shots could be fired directly below. Between the second and third tower are two openings in the walkway on the wall. It is not clear what these were used for. Were these holes used for the disposing of rubbish, or escape routes. The windows on the exterior are narrow and low. All light entering comes from the interior. The few larger windows on the exterior date from a later period. It is most probable that the third tower - the highest - was used as a watchtower.