1776-1830 : building and first residents of the Belle-Vue (De Proft family I)
Philippe De Proft, wine merchant and channel horses contractor, was authorised by the Empress Maria-Theresa to build a high standard hotel at the north east corner of the Royal Square. The house was been built on the remains of the old Palace of Brussels, the imperial residence that was destroyed by a fire in 1731.
The private establishment was named “Hotel de Belle-Vue”, from the name of the street that ran along the Brussels park (present day Place des Palais).
The operator, who had started his career as manager of the inn “la Maison Rouge”, rue de l’Escalier (near the old Halle au Blés) counted on using the cellars from the former palace for storing his barrels and casks. The building was erected according to the blueprints of Barnabé Guimard (revised by Nieslas Barré) in the Louis XVI style of the entire Place Royale. Ph. De Proft was ultimately forced to sell off all his other assets in order to be able to pay for the extremely meticulous work on the Bellevue.
Among the first distinguished guests was a series of French nobles, including several members of the royal family, fleeing to Brussels after the 1789 revolution. Amongst them were Prince Louis-Joseph de Condé and his son, the Count of Artois (future king Charles X) and the Duke of Enghien, as well as Count Axel Fersen and the Princess of Lamballe(First Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Marie Antoinette).
In 1795, Louis De Proft bought the hotel from his father and succeeded him as head of the establishment. On 28th June 1816, he purchased the hotel built by Baron de Aguilar, former member of the Conseil d'État (Council of State), resulting in the Bellevue extending towards the south-east, along the present day Impasse de Borgendael(formerly Rue du Jeu de Paume). The two edifices were connected by a low adjoining building that rose to the height of its neighbours in 1827.
Numerous foreign dignitaries, heads of state, aristocrats, politicians and artists stayed at the Bellevue during their stay in Brussels, enjoying its many suites. In turn, Charles De Proft, captain in the Garde Civique (Civic Guardsmen)bought the hotel from his father in 1825.
New guests stopped in at the hotel and they included many crowned heads. It is said that Napoleon Bonaparte dined there (because he stayed at the Grande Bretagne hotel) and the Duke of Wellington purportedly met there with his general staff a few days before the battle of Waterloo. Jerome Bonaparte, former King of Westphalia and Julie Bonaparte, former Queen of Spain, stayed there after events in 1815. Numerous British travellers also enjoyed the hospitality of the De Proft family.
1830-1862: after the Revolution (De Proft family II)
The Bellevue found itself right in the middle of fighting during the Revolution for Belgian Independence (23rd-26th September 1830). The façade facing the Parc de Bruxelles ended up riddled with bullet holes and shrapnel. The Bellevue became a national monument (memorial) at the end of the fighting.
Several months later, it was the object of restoration work that lasted nearly one year. Its main entrance was located at number 9 Place Royale, but the hotel also had a ‘baggage’ entrance and a ‘stable’ entrance next to the Place des Palais. The hotel’s reputation attracted very high-status clientele, which then became more diversified as European tourism developed. A tavern opened on the hotel ground floor, looking onto the Impasse Borgendael.
Many illustrious travellers chose to stay at the Bellevue, including Honoré de Balzac (1841), the family of the Prince of Metternich (1849), Louis Adolphe Thiers (1852) and Franz Liszt and his daughters (1854).
1862-1905: Grand period of tourism (E. Dremel era)
Henriette De Proft, Charles’ widow (he died in 1842) and her children Louis and Leon rented (1862)and then sold (1866) the hotel to Edouard Dremel, who was soon to acquire Hotel de Flandre (1878), just on the other side of the Impasse de Borgendael. The two buildings, which attracted an ever-increasing number of voyagers on holiday in Brussels, were connected by an underground passage.
E. Dremel and his sons carried out major work in the hotel. They increased the number of rooms by dividing the levels in half (mezzanines). Three dining rooms were set up in the interior courtyard, hidden by the surrounding wall of the premises, on the Parc de Bruxelles side. They were covered over by balconies. A glass gallery and ‘conservatory’ completed this area.
In the “Guide de Bruxelles” [Guide to Brussels](fully bound in leather and gilded with gold leaf)that the hotel published for its guests, there is an impressive list of distinguished visitors. Nearly every court is represented: King Edward VII of England, Wilhelm I of Germany, Tsar Alexander II of Russia, Empress Eugenie (wife of Napoleon III), the emperor of Brazil, king of Denmark, the Italian kings Umberto I and Victor-Emmanuel III, the king of Sweden, king of Spain…
Other celebrities from the world of politics, finance or culture also stayed at the hotel: General Ulysses Grant (President of the United States), Benjamin Disraeli, (British Prime Minister), Cecil Rhodes (South African Prime Minister), the banker James de Rothschild,
the industrialist Alfred Krupp, actress Sarah Bernhardt, painter Jean Meissonier, etc. It must be said that at that time, the Bellevue could boast of stocking the finest wines of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal in its wine cellars. The many promotional images (engravings or “porcelain cards”) sang the praises of the hotel well beyond the borders of Belgium.
1905-1910: refurbishing by Leopold II (as residence for Princess Clementine)
The Fondation de la Couronne (of the Independent State of the Congo) purchased the Hotel de Belle-Vue from Edouard Dremel(junior) and his brother Albert in 1902. However they continued running it as a hotel until 1905 (and the Hotel de Flandre until World War I). King Leopold II wanted to transform the site into a royal residence for his youngest daughter Princess Clementine. He appointed the architect Octave Flanneau (who took over from Henri Maquet), sculptor Colleye and the interior designer Leon Cardon to supervise the work.
In 1905, the Bellevue stopped receiving hotel guests. All the buildings formerly attached to the original Guimard hotel were demolished in order to enable the construction of the planned Borgendael gallery and house of the same name that were to link the Bellevue to the new wing of the Palais Royal (Royal Palace).
The hotel was transformed from top to bottom so it could fulfil its new role. The bedrooms were replaced by drawing rooms, the galleries by large corridors and the small stairways by a grand marble staircase with fountain. All the floors were refurbished, the gate of the Place Royale was walled up, running water was installed in the bathroom and electrical lighting was put in everywhere. The cellars also underwent major renovation at that time, as did the roof.
In the meanwhile, the Independent State of the Congo was handed over to Belgium (1908).
The Belgian State bore the costs of continuing the work of joining the Bellevue to the Palais Royal. The building became the property of the Donation Royale.
Princess Clementine lived in the Bellevue from 1909 to 1910, just before her marriage to Prince Victor Napoleon. Her living quarters were on the first floor.
1910-1934: the Palais Bellevue (residence of the Dukes of Brabant)
The Duke and Duchess of Brabant, future King Leopold III and Queen Astrid, lived in the Bellevue for four years (1926-1930); the Bellevue was renovated for the occasion by the architect Octave Flanneau.
The prince’s private residential quarters were on the second floor (bedroom, bathroom, small drawing room, kitchen, guestrooms). The first floor contained the receptions rooms, library and dining room. The decoration of these rooms is the one we can still admire today. Prince Leopold had a small office on the ground floor, the other rooms on this floor were occupied by his advisers and secretariat. These offices were used by the Prince until his accession to the throne in 1934.
Princess Josephine-Charlotte (future Grand Duchess of Luxembourg) was born in the bedroom originally occupied by Princess Clementine. Her own room and the nursery were located on the second floor.
1934-1977: In search of a use (Red Cross and Congo)
In 1935, the Bellevue received many donations from citizens. These donations were intended as aid for the victims of the economic crisis (“Appel de la Reine”). Once these packages were distributed, it remained unoccupied for years. In 1953, King Baudoin placed the Bellevue at the disposal of the Red Cross during the
floods that ravaged Belgium. Following that, the Bellevue was then used in 1960 to house refugees from the Congo. In particular it served as temporary accommodation for civil servants from the former colony.
1977-1997: Royal Museums of Art and History and Museum of the Belgian Dynasty
In 1976, the building was rearranged from top to bottom by the Régie des Batiments (National Building Authority) to adapt it for its new use: the King offered it to the Royal Museums of Art and History for presenting part of their collections. It was necessary to revise the layout of rooms, to add new passageways for moving around inside the building (a new staircase column was built into the south wing) and to add toilet facilities at various locations. Offices and storage rooms were installed on the third floor. The electrical installation was brought up to date on this occasion as was the heating system, connected to the boilers in the Palais Royal.
The Royal Museums of Art and History exhibited several collections of 18th century furniture and porcelain at the Bellevue, as well as at the “Musée du Coeur” (Boyadjan collection).
The Musée de la Dynastie (Museum of the Belgian Dynasty) was set up on the second floor of the Bellevue in 1992.
The Donation Royale moved to the house at number 5, Place des Palais, adjacent to the Bellevue (1993-1994).
1997-2001: King Baudoin Memorial and Euroculture
The Royal Museums of Art and History left the Bellevue in 1997-98. The site was renovated by the Art & Build architectural firm with a view to integrating the “King Baudoin Memorial” as a continuation of the visit of the Museum of the Belgian Dynasty. The restoration of the Atrium and its magnificent glasswork was also done at this time, as was the installation of the lift in the south wing and the installation of a new series of toilet facilities.
In 2000, at the request of the King Baudoin Foundation, the architectural firm Art & Build designed and built an adjoining staircase between the cellar level of the Bellevue and the archaeological remnants of the former Palais De Bruxelles on Coudenberg hill, recently uncovered under the Rue Royale (excavations of the Royal Society of Brussels Archaeology, together with the ULB (Free University of Brussels).
The firm Euroculture, responsible for designing the museum layout of the rooms had several decors and a considerable amount of multimedia equipment installed in the Bellevue.
2001-2005: Bellevue Fund of the King Baudouin Foundation and Portail Démocratie
The Bellevue Fund of the King Baudouin Foundation has taken on the management of the site and its fundraising for 25 years, taking over from Euroculture Gestion S.A. The Museum of the Belgian Dynasty and the King Baudoin Memorial have become the “Bellevue Museums”.
In March 2003, the Donation Royale, owner of the site, gave the use of the Borgendael house that it occupied to the Bellevue Fund, so that the King Baudouin Foundation could organise temporary exhibits and prestigious cultural activities.
TRIO architecture and technology consulting firm CTA helped the King Baudouin Foundation with the building renovation. Various interior refurbishment work has also been carried out under their guidance since 2002.
The King Baudouin Foundation has transformed the entire site into a museum of the history of Belgium (in time for the celebrations on the occasion of the 175th anniversary). The firm Tijdsbeeld-Pièce Montée (Ghent), specialist in museography and exhibition building was commissioned to design a new visit path and to set it up inside the museum.
The Bellevue also host the Democracy Portal, a cultural centre aimed at school groups that focuses on Belgian and European democratic institutions.
Since 2005 : the BELvue museum
On July 19th 2005, the BELvue museum officially opened its doors, inaugurated by Her Majesties the King Albert II and the Queen Paola, as well as by Queen Fabiola.
Great events throughout the history of Belgium and out of the lives of its sovereigns are illustrated in a two stages itinerary. More than 1500 historical documents, movie trailers, old pictures and ancient objects bring the visitor back in time, to relive prominent events of the country’s history, from its foundation in 1830 till today.
The Bellevue Fund becomes the “BELvue Fund”
In 2009 the BELvue Fund expands its activities and becomes a centre committed to democracy and history, mainly dedicated to three important axis : the permanent itinerary about the history of Belgium, the temporary exhibitions and the educational activities.
In 2016 opens the BELvue a new permanent exhibition. Employing a theme-based approach and with a modern, interactive exhibition layout, the museum offers visitors the keys to understanding Belgium and Belgian society.