Paradise City Story: Secrets of the Castle of Perk-Ribaucourt
Once only a fortified wooden tower, the Castle of Ribaucourt has seen the world change and unravel in front of its eyes for the last nine-hundred years. The Castle opened its doors to royal celebrities like King Louis XV and Emperess Zita, hosted some questionable traditions and went trough two world wars. Today the gardens of the Castle are home to the greenest summer festival of Belgium — Paradise City.
The First Heir
Once upon a time in the early 1600s, there was a young man named Frederick de Marselaer. He was living a noble life in Antwerp and studied law. As he graduated university he was aiming for a better life, looking up at the higher ranks of aristocracy. He wished for a fulfilling career in politics and a good marriage. At just 26 years of age, young Frederik joined the ranks of the most influential families of Brussels; the Roodebeck. He was so ambitious he lied on his age (with a fake i.d one presumes) to get access two years earlier to this gentlemen’s club of haute bourgeoisie. He lived with this lie his whole life.
Frederick got elected sixteen times Magistrate, seven times Bourgmestre of Brussels and five times Treasurer. Serving the city for more than four decades, it is only natural that he owned himself a Noble title in 1659. Not only clever and of high rank, he was also a hot catch! He married the most beautiful (and rich) young lady of the county, Margareta de Baronaige, in 1626 — who was none other than the latest heir of the Castle of Perk. This marriage gained Frederick the title of Count of Perk.
The young pair made the Castle of Perk their family home and lived a wealthy Downton Abbey-like life — hosting dinner parties, Christmas balls and anything else texts and gossips can remember.
But as romantic as a life at a Castle sounds, those were tough times nonetheless. When it weren’t for political negotiations between either French, Dutch or Austrian occupation, it’s the local battles of the areas of Perk and Vilvoorde which Frederik fought relentlessly alongside his father-in-law, Guillaume de Baronaigne.
The Castle of Perk stayed in the hands of the Marsaelaer-Baronaigne family for another century, before their last heir died in 1718. The Castle was then traded between families who were either important enough to inherit the domain, or rich enough to “buy” it.
Dinner Parties, King Louis XV and other friends
With little more than just two-hundred rooms, this family-home was just big enough to accommodate the occasional guests and friends of higher classes and royalties.
In 1696 during the Dutch occupation, the Prince of Nassau-Saarbrück, who was also an army general, took some vacation at the Castle of Perk while awaiting the deployment of his troops.
On May 9th 1746, another occupation, another King, Louis XV of France spends a few nights at the Castle when visiting the French troops who had taken over Brussels earlier that year. Gossips tell he was spending time away in the countryside with its mistresses during his diplomatic visits (even Kings deserve a break!). Not long ago in April 1952, dear Princess Josephine-Charlotte of Belgium, also Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, lived at the Castle of Ribaucourt for a little while, enjoying her youth away from her brothers Baudouin and Albert II.
During World War I, the castle of Perk was used as a military hospital for the Belgian and German army, one after another. At the end of World War II, the castle almost collapsed under bomb explosions, leaving shattered windows and a damaged land behind.
Later centuries welcomed the Habsburgs for several visits to the Belgian countryside.
Namely, Kaizerin Zita van Austria-Hungary and her eight children who found peace at the Castle Ter Ham in Steenokkerzeel several years between 1929 and 1940. The family of Ribaucourt became well acquainted with their new “Austrian” neighbours. Zita’s last visit to Perk was on the grave of her dear friend, the Countess of Ribaucourt in 1963. — Still today Zita’s children and their offsprings remain guests to the Castle of Perk.
While the lands were passed from family to family, traditions were too. Lords of Perk seemed to enjoy more than their usual privileges of high and low court-justice. They also obliged once a year, all inhabitants from the land to beat the swamps of the Castle for six nights straight — swamps which were home to an army of chattering frogs. Indeed, those flagellations, which we may suppose was followed by some gastronomic feasts, were intended to prevent the aquatic chorales from disturbing the sleep of the squires. When power rises to one’s head …
During the French occupation of the early 1800’s, the Castle is bought by French officer and Mayor of Perk, Mr. Van Melsbroek. This young chap and the latest inhabitants of the Castle (Fredercik and his wife) did not the least get along. They battled lands and the Castle’s succession for several years before coming to terms.
When the French officer left the province to pursue his political interests, he sold back his home to the Count of Ribaucourt — who gave his name to the castle for the next two-hundred years.
More than a few generations of young Ribaucourt offsprings run along the cold corridors of the castle, playing hide and seek between velvet curtains and secret passages and growing-up on 90 hectares of meadows, forests, land and ponds.
As bricks breath history, the last remaining Count of Ribaucourt left the castle in 2007. Unwed and without children, it’s a different life to be expected for a Count today.
The Castle — once only a wooden tower — still proudly sits on the lands of the Steenokkerzeel region today. It cuts a fine figure, surrounded by a real bird sanctuary, and has found new loving inhabitants in the Count Paul de Lannoy and his family. Lately the Castle was restored to its original name, which traces back 900 years of Belgian history: The Castle of Perk.
One can wonder today how so many generations of young dukes and countesses would react to the electronic music yearly gathering it has become today: fireworks, music, kings of the night, gastronomic food and thousands of guests — maybe it’s not so different of the tea-parties they used to throw in the gardens back then…
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