The Royal Castle of Laeken, the private residence of the Belgian Royal Family, was built in 1782 to serve as a summer residence for Archduke Albert, Duke of Teschen and Governor of the Austrian Netherlands.
In 1795, France annexed the Austrian Netherlands and the castle of Laeken was abandoned. Napoleon visited it in 1803 and acquired it for use as a “pied-à-terre”. In 1815, the year of the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon made the following proclamation from the castle:
“To the Belgians and the inhabitants of the left bank of the Rhine. The ephemeral success of my enemies detached you for a moment from my empire. In my exile, upon a rock in the sea, I heard your complaint; the God of Battles has decided the fate of your beautiful provinces; Napoleon is among you; you are worthy to be Frenchmen. Rise in a body; join my invincible phalanxes to exterminate the remainder of these barbarians, who are your enemies and mine: they fly with rage and despair in their hearts. (Signed) Napoleon, The Imperial Palace of Lacken, 17 June 1815.” (source: Wikipedia)
The Congress of Vienna 1815, which rearranged Europe following the Napoleonic Wars, united Belgium (the Southern Netherlands) and Holland (the Northern Netherlands) into one State, under the Dutch King William I. The castle thus became a royal residence for the first time. However, this unification led to revolution followed by Belgium’s independence in 1830.In 1834 the castle became the residence of King Leopold I (King from 21 July 1831 until his death on 10 December 1865).The castle was partly destroyed by fire on the afternoon of 1 January 1890.
The rebuilding work necessitated by the fire represented a tremendous opportunity for King Leopold II (17 December 1865 – 17 December 1909) who was truly a “builder King” to expand the palace and annexes. The rebuilding work was done by the talented Architect Alphonse Balat, who also designed the world-famous greenhouses at Laeken with the help of Victor Horta. Every spring, the greenhouses are opened to the public for about three weeks. During that time, people travel from all over the world to see the rare plants and magnificent greenhouses.
The Royal Castle remains the private residence of the Belgian Royal Family today.