When our heritage is not public

It’s listed as a World Heritage Site, an example of influential architecture in Europe. That should mean you could see Stoclet House in Brussels, right?

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


The Stoclet Palace (Stoclet House), Brussels, Belgium

The Stoclet House may have been added to the World Heritage List – but that doesn’t mean you can visit the Stoclet Palace, which is still a private home!

It’s unfortunate, I feel, when somewhere has been listed as a World Heritage Site but the public has no access to it. What is the point of including it on the World Heritage List?

Yes, it’s partly for protection and I appreciate that this purpose can be served without it being accessible. But surely it is also about presenting a compendium of human history that we all can learn from.

That’s why I am so disappointed with the Stoclet House (also known as the Stoclet Palace) in the Belgian capital, Brussels. Although, I’m worried that is not the right reaction.

Stoclet House, Brussels, Belgium

The Stoclet House was always private. It was the home of a rich banker and art collector called Adolphe Stoclet who commissioned it in 1905.

According to records, he didn’t care how much it cost and he gave the architects complete artistic freedom. It took six years to build the house and when it was finally finished in 1911 what had been created was a design that would inspire a new movement in architecture.

Stoclet House, Brussels, Belgium

I peer through the exterior fence and try to get a good look at the house. It’s certainly not your average residence.

Not only is it impressive in its size, but there are obvious features out of the ordinary. The covered passageway from the street to the front door; the semi-cylindrical shape covered in windows extending from a wall over two levels; a high tower rising above the roof with statues on each of its four sides.

Stoclet House, Brussels, Belgium

Poking my camera lens between the bars of the fence, I take a few photos of these features. It’s the closest I’m going to get. And it certainly doesn’t do the Stoclet House justice.

Stoclet House, Brussels, Belgium

The architecture of the Stoclet Palace

The outside of the building shows an ‘austere geometry’ that marks a turning point in Art Nouveau and plays a large part in a shift in architectural styles towards Art Deco and Modernism. But you really need to see the combination of the exterior and the interior to understand the genius of this place.

The aim (and they succeeded) of the people who worked on the Stoclet House was to create what was known as ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ which means (in the wonderful German way of just mashing words together to make a new one) a ‘total work of art’.

Stoclet House, Brussels, Belgium

To achieve this, a large number of artists worked on different parts of the Stoclet Palace, combining their talents and their styles to create a complete masterpiece. A work which is greater than the sum of its parts.

There was a common thread to the creative direction of the artists and architects, though. They were all working under a movement known as the ‘Vienna Secession’.

The fixtures, the furniture, the appliances, the flower beds in the garden – they were all carefully chosen or designed to fit together.

Or so I am told. Of course, from out here on the footpath, I can’t see any of it.

The doorbell is in reach but it’s only for guests of the residents. I can see a car in the driveway and wonder if they’re home.

It doesn’t matter, I’m sure they ignore any requests from sightseeing strangers. And it would be rude, not curious, to ask to come in.

Stoclet House, Brussels, Belgium

The Stoclet Palace on the World Heritage List

And so this is the dilemma of the World Heritage List when it comes to sites like the Stoclet Palace. It sounds like a fascinating house that is not just aesthetically pleasing, but also significant in the story of architecture’s development.

On paper, it probably should have been listed.

Stoclet House, Brussels, Belgium

But that’s not what I’m thinking as I turn away and start to walk back towards the centre of Brussels. I am thinking about how this beautiful design and bit of artistic history is only accessible to a privileged few.

One of the great things about public art galleries – the reason they exist – is that they make expensive masterpieces available to everybody, regardless of wealth or social status. Paintings are not locked away in the houses of millionaires and we all can share the benefits of seeing a collection.

Surely the World Heritage List should be an art gallery of places – a collection of the best man and nature have created that we can all share. It should not be locked away for only millionaires to see.

Stoclet House, Brussels, Belgium

I can’t think of many World Heritage Sites that aren’t public. Some have restrictions for practical or conservation reasons, but very few are private.

Just a train ride away, the Rietveld Schroder House in the Netherlands is a great example of how private can be public.

Perhaps one day I’ll also get an opportunity to go through the gate of Stoclet House and past that fence of bars.

Visiting the Stoclet Palace

Although you can’t go inside the Stoclet Palace, you can see some of it from the outside, which at least gives you an impression of why it is so significant.

If you would like to visit the Stoclet House, I have a little bit of information that may be useful.

Where is the Stoclet Palace?

The Stoclet Palace is about 5 kilometres east from the very centre of Brussels. The official address is 1150 Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, Belgium.

You can see it on a map here.

How do you get to the Stoclet Palace?

From the Central station of Brussels, it would take about an hour to walk to the Stoclet Palace.

The easiest way to get there by public transport is to take the Metro, Line 1, to Montgomery. There are also several trams that go to Montgomery, but they are all slower than the Metro.

Can you visit the Stoclet Palace?

I think I’ve probably covered this, but just to be clear, the Stoclet Palace is a private home and you can’t go inside and see the interiors of the Stoclet House.

However, the house is on the street so you can see a lot of the exterior without needing to cross the fence onto private property.

Of course, there’s lots more in Brussels than just the Stoclet House, and you may be interested in doing this excellent architecture tour.

Here are a few other suggestions of how you can see the best of the city and learn a bit more about the architecture and design movements that led to the creation of the Stoclet Palace.

For the time being, until the Stoclet House is one day open to the public, we will have to do with the architecture of Victor Horta here in Brussels… at least some of it is open!


Brussels is not known as a cheap city but there are actually some lovely affordable places if you look beyond the obvious business districts.


For a backpacker option, I would recommend the Sleep Well Youth Hostel.


If you’re looking for a budget hotel, First Euroflat Hotel has nice comfortable rooms.


A great hotel with leisure and country club on site is Aspria Royal La Rasante Hotel & Spa.


And for an absolutely spectacular luxury experience, you can’t go past the Rocco Forte Hotel!


This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

6 thoughts on “When our heritage is not public”

  1. I completely agree. But when most of this important architectural houses become public is when the family members specifically donate it to other organs, and they make foundations and stuff.

    As it is with Casa Malaparte (another beautiful example of a modernist villa in Capri), I think the family still lives there. It’s the Stoclet’s property still, and sure they dont want tourists taking pics while they eat lunch at their Klimt-decorated lunch-room!!

    But I feel u, they could open it once every now and then, like once a moth or whatever. I don’t know, anyways they arent obligated to do so in anny manners.

    They’re just obligated to always conserve it as it was, since know it is an Unesco world heritage site

  2. Maybe the family never asked to be on the list?
    Maybe the house is too fragile?
    Would you open your house to anyone that walks past?

    • Agreed. It’s beautiful as it is, functioning as a house. It was designed to be a luxury house, not a museum. No problem whatsoever.

  3. I can’t understand why you are so against a private stuff to remain private. It was classified in order to be protected. Personally, I feel that this ideia of wanting everything to be public just because people want to see it (as you honestly stated) is not a good thing. The importance is that heritage is preserved and cared for and the transformation of sites and places into museums is not the only way to preserve them. So I must remind you that that family did construct something amazing, but the most important was that the daughter-in-law of Baron Stoclet didn’t demolish the house (you know, even being World Heritage now, there was a time this all was considered old fashioned and could have been easily altered, updated to a 1950’s house or a 1970’s modern interior, and it wasn’t because they cared for it. It still is private and I believe that private property is a right on itself. We don’t want to revisit WW2 and those that were forced to sell “volontierly” their possessions. Probably soon it will be sold and eventually bought to become an house museum or so. The heirs won’t live alltogether in the house and the running costs are expensive.
    Even if you think they could open it for visits NOW, imagine what it is to hire people to do the security – remember, it is an home not a museum with display cases – , the cleaning, the running costs and the damaged that would result from a crowd getting in, materials do deteriorate. Ohhh, i imagine i can hear your reply, they can do a profit with it, sell tickets to pay it all.. but not everyone is willing to have a tour business in their home. Most of privately owned houses that were transformed into visitable houses only became so because the running costs are so high it is the only way to keep it’s property. It they could, historical houses owners probably wouldn’t like to have people sneaking into their dining room or giving a look into the toilets. The house is amazing, it is! You can’t visit it – you can’t – but praise the owners for having preserved it. You can read books and exhibition catalogues with descriptions illustrations and photographs of it. That’s not the same thing, I know, but it connects us with two important things in life: one is imagination, the other the fact that many things in life are different from what they might have been.
    All the best and congratulations for the photos.

    • Mario, You miss the point t. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They only inscribe places if there is an outstanding value which they describe it “as “Outstanding Universal Value means cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity”. If a place has no public accessibility, there is no way we can understand and appreciate its outstanding value for the humanity of that place by looking at a couple of photos. There are many fragile or private UNESCO World Heritage sites yet they still open their doors to the public with some or no restrictions. For example Gorham’s Cave Complex in Gibraltar or Skaill House in Orkney which itself isn’t UNESCO but it is in the buffer zone. It is a private house and you can still visit certain parts of the property.

      Of course, Private stuff should be private and should not be a UNESCO Site. That Private stuff thing is totally against the nature of UNESCO.

      “Even if you think they could open it for visits NOW, imagine what it is to hire people to do the security – remember, it is a home not a museum with display cases –, the cleaning, the running costs, and the damaged that would result from a crowd getting in, materials do deteriorate.” Well, places don’t become a UNESCO Site overnight, each country spends money to be able to maintain certain conditions so it is a long and tiring process. This is why some poor counties don’t have many heritage sites yet many developed countries have quite a few sites. I seriously doubt money is an issue for the owner of this site. Many people are happy to pay an entrance fee and the owners can also limit the number of visitors to the site or close certain parts like Gorham’s Cave Complex in Gibraltar. But they chose to keep it to themselves. No, we don’t want to look at books and illustrations. This is why we chose to travel and I am totally against UNESCO Site like this


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