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:
Derbent is the southernmost city in Russia, occupying the narrow gateway between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains connecting the Eurasian steppes to the north and the Iranian Plateau to the south. Derbent claims to be the oldest city in Russia with historical documentation dating to the 8th century BCE. Due to its strategic location, over the course of history, the city changed ownership many times, particularly among the Persian, Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms.
Derbent has archaeological structures over 5,000 years old. As a result of this geographic peculiarity, the city developed between two walls, stretching from the mountains to the sea. These fortifications were continuously employed for a millennium and a half, longer than any other extant fortress in the world.
A traditionally and historically Iranian city, the first intensive settlement in the Derbent area dates from the 8th century BC. The site was intermittently controlled by the Persian monarchs, starting from the 6th century BC. Until the 4th century AD, it was part of Caucasian Albania which was a satrap of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. In the 5th century Derbent functioned as a border fortress and the seat of Sassanid Persians. Because of its strategic position on the northern branch of the Silk Route, the fortress was contested by the Khazars in the course of the Khazar-Arab Wars. In 654, Derbent was captured by the Arabs.
The Sassanid fortress does not exist any more, as the famous Derbent fortress as it stands today was built from the 12th century onward. Derbent became a strong military outpost and harbour of the Sassanid empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries, Derbent also became an important center for spreading the Christian faith in the Caucasus.
The site continued to be of great strategic importance until the 19th century. Today the fortifications consist of two parallel defence walls and Naryn-Kala Citadel. The walls are 3.6km long, stretching from the sea up to the mountains. They were built from stone and had 73 defence towers. 9 out of the 14 original gates remain.
In Naryn-Kala Citadel most of the old buildings, including a palace and a church, are now in ruins. It also holds baths and one of the oldest mosques in the former USSR.
In 2003, UNESCO included the old part of Derbent with traditional buildings in the World Heritage List.