Peek inside historical homes during Open Monument Day


Flanders’ free event sees more than 600 monuments, including historical homes, old cinemas and archaeological sites, open to visitors

Curiosities on show

With such a large programme the first challenge is narrowing down what to do next Sunday during Open Monument Day. It’s the 31st edition of the annual event, with 618 monuments to visit in more than 150 Flemish municipalities, all of them with free access.

Many offer special events, such as guided tours, concerts and exhibitions, all in atmospheric locations. The simplest approach is to go for what’s nearest, and connect with your local community. Buildings you pass every day, but never see inside, may be open.

Checking the list of private houses can be particularly fruitful, with Open Monument Day offering a unique chance to take a tour and look inside. These are some of the day’s hottest tickets, with visits to Antwerp’s 16th-century Suycker House and the modernist Peeters-Ceurvels house already booked out.

But if you spent the summer looking enviously at the villas along the coast, you could easily put together an itinerary to satisfy your curiosity. Or you could imagine living in the Wassenhove House in Sint-Martens-Latem (pictured above), a challenging mixture of concrete, wood and glass that is essentially one big room.

Another strategy is to go for the big beasts of the Heritage Prize. All three of this year’s candidates are open for visitors: the Vrije Schippers guild house in Ghent, with its imposing 16th-century facade; the Norbertus Gate of the Park Abbey in Heverlee (pictured above), now home to a centre for studying music; and the Hof Ter Beemt in Zingem, a 300-year-old farm that is now an innovative co-housing project.

Open Monument Day itself no longer has an over-arching theme, but nods towards the topic selected for European Heritage Days, which take place in August and September across the continent. This year the European theme is art and entertainment, which in Flanders means monuments with a musical or artistic heritage, and exhibitions and performances in locations with a looser connection.

Eye-catching examples include Mechelen’s Koraalhuis, which in the 17th century trained choristers for the cathedral, and a room above the Oostduinkerke fire station, which will be restored to its former role as a feestzaal for theatrical performances and concerts. For music, head to Ghent, where there will be opera in the Hotel d’Hane Steenhuyse; hip hop and urban dance at Sint-Pieters Abbey; electronic music at the Gravensteen; and gospel music in the garden of the old Sint-Baafs Abbey.

There are also a wide selection of cinematic locations. Silent films will be shown in the salon of the Belle Époque Centre in Blankenberge, just as they were in the early days of cinema. You can also visit the balcony of the former Roxy Palace in Rumst, which has been off limits since it closed in the 1980s. Then there is the National in Antwerp, which is awaiting renovation, and the recently reopened Cinema Plaza in Duffel.

If archaeology is your thing, head for Grobbendonk, where an extensive Roman settlement is currently being uncovered by archaeologists. This work usually takes place behind closed doors, so the chance to visit is not to be missed.

You can also tour the Kipdorp excavation in Antwerp, which is digging into a bastion of the city wall, or hear about the Doelse Kogge, a medieval ship that is now being preserved in the city’s dry docks. The nine docks, which were a commercial concern until last year, are also worth a visit in their own right.

Monuments also include landscapes, and one of the strangest is the Boemekoeter, in Tommelen nature park, Hasselt. The expanse of meadow peppered with deep ponds is the result of sustained American bombing of a near-by rail yard in 1944. The area is now a reserve for rare frogs and salamanders.

Photos, from top: Courtesy Museum Dhont-Dhaenens, ©The Image-Zone/UitinVlaanderen, Roxy Palace ©Eric Scheers/UitinVlaanderen