Posted on July 31, 2011 by vicki
Tags: belgium

There are at least half a dozen old church buildings with regular bells in Leuven. We can hear several from our place and are still trying to work out which bell belongs to which church.

More about the churches another day, but the most impressive bells in town belong to the carillon at the Universiteits Bibliotheek (University Library).


The original library building was completely destroyed in the first world war. The new building is pretty much one big monument to America. High schools and colleges across the U.S. collaborated to raise funds for the construction of a new building. Because of this the building has many American touches - for instance, the names of all the donating schools are carved into the bricks and there are a couple of eagle statues in the facade. On the front of the building is a quite daring statue depicting the Virgin (Leuven’s patron saint) in a combat helmet piercing the Nazi eagle with a sword. Kind of makes their feelings clear.

As a special memorial to the U.S. engineers who lost their lives in the war a carillon was built (with 48 bells at the time). The bass bell that rings on the hour is called the liberty bell.

The library was destroyed once again in the second world war (barbaric!) but has been rebuilt according to the previous plans.

The carillon now has 63 bells, five complete octaves, and a dedicated carillonneur who plays concerts every Tuesday and Thursday evening. Apparently you can request a song to be played by emailing him in advance but we haven’t tried that yet. You can also email him if you recognise a song and go in to the running for a monthly prize.

There are additional concerts on Saturday nights for the next few weeks with guest carillonneurs (the three carillon countries are Belgium, the Netherlands and the U.S.). We went to the first of these last night. It was pretty impressive - LCD screens were set up in the square so you could see the musician playing in the tower above. It was amazing to watch him hit the batons with his fists as he played pieces ranging from Schubert and Rachmaninoff to a little bit of Rod Stewart slipped into a Scottish medley. We enjoyed it, despite the freezing temperatures.

What you didn’t see in the earlier picture is that the square also contains this:

Beetle Needle

It’s a statue called Totem, by Belgian artist Jan Fabre, and stands 23m high. He was asked to design a piece of art that represented the university library. Confused? Well apparently the beetle represents the oldest creature, and the pin refers to a collection of some sort and together they are intended to infer a collection of ancient knowledge. It’s a pretty memorable statue anyway.

So that’s a little bit of Leuven for you. We haven’t taken many pictures (the weather has not been ideal) so I borrowed from Flickr instead.