Hotel Tassel – arch. Victor Horta
(b. Ghent, Belgium 1861; d. Brussels, Belgium 1947)
Victor Horta was born in Ghent, Belgium in 1861. After studying drawing, textiles and architecture at the Ghent Academie des Beaux Arts, he worked in Paris. He returned to Belgium and worked for the classical architect Alphons Balat, before he started his own practice.
Victor Horta created buildings which rejected historical styles and marked the beginning of modern architecture. He conceived modern architecture as an abstract principle derived from relations to the environment, rather than on the imitation of forms. Although the organic forms of Art Nouveau architecture as established by Horta do not meet our standard ideas of modern architecture, Horta generated ideas which became predecessors to the ideas of many modernist.
Horta was a leading Belgium Art Nouveau architect until Art Nouveau lost public favor. At this time he easily assumed the role of a neoclassical designer. Although many of Horta’s buildings have been needlessly destroyed, his former assistant Jean Delhaye has worked to preserve what remains of his work. Delhaye has also secured the Horta residence as a permanent museum.
Horta died in Brussels in 1947.
Dennis Sharp. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Architects and Architecture. New York: Quatro Publishing, 1991
Maison Frison – arch. Victor Horta
Maison personelle – arch. Victor Horta
Maison personelle – arch. Victor Horta
“One of the most beautiful town squares in Europe, if not in the world”, is a phrase often heard when visitors in Brussels try to describe the beauty of the central market square. French-speakers refer to it as the ‘Grand-Place’, whereas in Dutch it is called ‘de grote Markt’. The tourists of the 20th century are not alone in their admiration . Archduchess Isabella, daughter of Filip II of Spain wrote about the square during her visit to Brussels on September the 5th 1599: ” Never have I seen something so beautiful and exquisite as the town square of the city where the town hall rises up into the sky. The decoration of the houses is most remarkable “.
Writers like Victor Hugo and Baudelaire were also struck by the charm of the market square with its beautiful set of Guild houses dominated by the Town hall and the King’s house.
The origins of the Grand-Place, however, are humble. The site still formed a sand-bank between two brooks which ran downhill to the river Senne. Once the sand-bank was reclaimed it turned into the “Niedermerckt”, or ‘lower market’. Already in the 12th century Brussels had become a commercial crossroads between Bruges (in Flanders) , Cologne , and France. English wool, French wines and German beer were sold in the harbour and on the market.
During the early Middle Ages small wooden houses were scattered around the market, but as from the 14th century the rich and powerful patrician families built stone mansions. Gradually the market turned into the main commercial and administrative centre of the city. In 1402 the construction of the town hall started (which would eventually be completed around 1455). The square had by then already become the political centre where meetings were held, where executions took place and where dukes, kings and emperors where officially received. In the following centuries most wooden houses where replaced with beautifully decorated stone ones, mostly owned by the Brussels guilds.
On August the 13th 1695, however, the prestigious square was bombed to ruins by Field Marchal DE VILLEROY. By order of Louis XIV of France he had Brussels destroyed in reprisal of a lost Battle in Namur (south Belgium).Between 1695 and 1700 the guilds rebuilt all the houses. Also the heavily damaged townhall was entirely reconstructed.In the 18th and 19th centuries most of the houses became private property. After attempts of several owners to modernize the facades of their houses, which would have resulted in a mutilation of the unity of style, the mayor of Brussels, Karel Buls, decided that the houses of the Grand-Place had to be preserved as much as possible in their original style. Since that year the owners of the houses are bound by a servitude.
A Belfry tower is perhaps the most typical building in medieval Flemish cities. It represents the power of the cities and functioned as treasury and watch tower.
In the early Middle-Ages most cities were granted a set of privileges from the count or the duke. These rulers were often forced to give the expanding cities certain rights and privileges, such as the right to organize a yearly market, or the staple right for certain products or animals. In return, the counts received money or soldiers for their never ending battles and wars to expand their territories. The privileges were written on documents and were read to each new count or duke who took over power after the death or demise of the previous one. Therefore, the documents had to be preserved very well. This was done in the treasury rooms of the belfry towers. At the same time, the towers were used as the command headquarters of the city’s militia, and as watch towers to overlook the city. In case of fire or attacks from a foreign army the population was warned with bells.
The Belfry tower of Ghent is perhaps one of the most impressive ones in Flanders. It dominates, together with the St-Nicholas tower and the cathedral tower the medieval center of the city. The architects were Jan van Aelst and Filips van Beergine. The tower was completed in 1338, when the bells were rung for the English king Edward II. At the top corners of the towers a stone soldier on watch was placed. The only remaining original stone soldier was placed in the treasury room in 1870 to preserve the sculpture from further withering. Copies now adorn the four corners of the tower. The ‘secret’, or treasury room, was protected by two large doors, each with three locks. The keys of these locks were in the hands of the different guilds of Ghent. Therefore, the ‘secret’ could only be opened in the presence of the main representatives of these powerful leaders of the economic life of the city.
In Ghent, there were always four soldiers on guard on top of the tower. Every hour, they had to blow their horns as a sign that the city was still being guarded.
The Carillon (or set of Bells) is part of the Flemish tradition of bell music. The most famous of all Flemish bells, the ‘Roeland’ bell, used to hang in the Belfry. Later, other and smaller bells were hung in the tower. In 1914, one of the bells was electrically tested, with a burst as a result. This bell, the ‘Triomfant’, can now be seen on the square next to the tower. The tower is also crowned with a guilded dragon, which was cast in Ghent in 1377.