Serres Royales de Laeken
or - The Royal Glasshouses!
Time for another day trip - this one only Sonya went on again, with her favorite guide at the Women's Club - Andree! Surprisingly, this trip only had 3 total attendees - Andree says in the 15 or so years she has done this she has always had more than 20 until this year. So it was an up close and personal guided tour of the beautiful Royal Glasshouses and Gardens.
The glasshouses were built toward the end of the 19th century and were designed by the architect Alphonse Balat (who was the teacher of the famous Victor Horta!!). The glass and the metal are the main themes of the building style of the time, so making glasshouses is the perfect thing to do in the Art Nouveau style. The glasshouses cover an area of 14000 square meters - Andree told us our walk through them was about 1500 meters long - and contain reception halls as well as smaller rooms and halls. Leopold II was king when they were built (he is known as the "building king"!) and he tried to get plants from his beloved Congo to grow here, but he was unsuccessful with that. Shouldn't really say "he" tried - there are over 50 gardeners who work full time at the glasshouses! The largest area of the glasshouses (above) is 25 meters high by 57 meters in diameter.
These two different colors of flowers are growing from the same bush - the gardeners are always trying to make new varieties of the plants. There are also plants and tress here that are over 200 years old, some of which are the last known ones of their kind left alive in the world. Leopold brought in so many varieties of the different plants that he established a very special garden that knowledgeable plant people from around the world come to do studies in! For those of us in the general public, the glasshouses are opened for only 2-3 weeks each spring - during which time it is a very busy place! One of his favorite flowers was the camellias - at one point there were more than 2000 varieties of it here!
The fuchsia in the halls is amazing! On the walls are geraniums, but not the climbing ones - they are trained to grow up the sticks (we were told that several times and it is in all the literature so I thought it must be important!).
The Diana Hall
Some of the plants here - fuchsia, geraniums, orange trees, azaleas, heliotropes, ferns, palm trees, cinnamon trees, primrose, and much much more!
Leopold also had wanted to build a "world" area near the Royal Palace and he got started with some buildings from the Asian areas - like the Japanese Tower above. You can now only go in the first level of the tower - reason being that it overlooks the Royal gardens and they didn't want to be seen... We did go in it as part of our tour. It has lots of Japanese porcelain in it on display.
Leopold also built the Chinese Pavilion - it too contains lots and lots of porcelain, but it all comes from China! It was recently closed for 10 years for renovations (at the cost of 4 million euros!!).
Unfortunately, Leopold got no further with his dream to build his world city - this is all there is to it. The building ended because of Leopold's death in 1909 followed quickly by the beginning of World War I in 1914. It is very interesting to have a bit of the Asian world right next door to the Belgian royal palace! Leopold's desire was the bring the world to Brussels so Belgian visitors could see how other people lived around the world - he was a man of big dreams! All that we saw today (including the Congo) once belonged to King Leopold personally and not to Belgium. As he was dying, Leopold gave most of his personal belongings to the Belgian state, including the Congo, many parcs, some personal land and farms, some museums, these buildings, and the royal homes. He had it planned so that the land he owned would earn enough money to take care of the rest of the properties and I am told that to this time the Belgian state has not had to pay for any upkeep to any of the properties he donated (although I am not sure about those costly renovations!)