KU Leuven’s library tower opens to the public


The University of Leuven’s central library tower is the first building of the institution to be entirely opened to the public

Permanent on-site exhibition focuses on library’s war past

After three years of extensive renovation works, the University of Leuven’s landmark library tower on Ladeuzeplein is opening its doors to everyone. Visitors who climb the tower’s 289 steps are rewarded with wide panorama views over the city from the outside balcony.

The public can now also explore the library’s turbulent war history in a permanent exhibition that stretches over five floors and ends at the top of the tower, 87 metres above the ground. The exhibition De bibliotheektoren: A History with a View is opening as part of the commemorations of the beginning of the First World War a century ago.

The tower’s opening ceremony was attended by luminaries like Leuven mayor Louis Tobback, KU Leuven rector Rik Torfs (pictured right), Flemish tourism minister Geert Bourgeois (pictured left) and the German ambassador to Belgium.

The exhibition starts with photos and video clips that illustrate how the university library burned down during the First World War, when German troops set fire to a large part of the city centre. Around 1,000 houses went up in flames, and 200 citizens were shot.

“Poor little Belgium”

At that time, the library was located in the University Halls on Naamsestraat, and 900,000 books were irretrievably lost to the fire. But with help, primarily from the Americans, for “poor little Belgium” – as it was referred to at the time – the library was rebuilt at its current location on Ladeuzeplein.

During the Second World War, the building was again severely damaged, but the Belgian government subsequently invested in restoring it to its former glory.

In De bibliotheektoren, international solidarity and reconstruction are important themes. On the last floor, visitors learn the story of the tower’s “peace carillon”. One of the biggest in Europe, the carillon was donated by American engineers in 1928 in commemoration of their dead colleagues.

The library tower is the first KU Leuven building to be made entirely accessible to visitors. Tourism Flanders paid about half of the €370,000 for the recent renovation, which also benefited from a subsidy from Tourism Flemish Brabant.

Tickets to the tower are €7 and can be purchased from Tourism Leuven and Museum M

Photo Rob Stevens / KU Leuven

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First World War

Claiming the lives of more than nine million people and destroying entire cities and villages in Europe, the Great War was one of the most dramatic armed conflicts in human history. It lasted from 1914 to 1918.
Flanders Field - For four years, a tiny corner of Flanders known as the Westhoek became one of the war’s major battlefields.
Untouched - Poperinge, near Ypres, was one of the few towns in Flanders that remained unoccupied for most of the war.
Cemetery - The Tyne Cot graveyard in Passchendaele is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world.
550 000

lives lost in West Flanders

368 000

annual visitors to the Westhoek

1 914

First Battle of Ypres