Behind closed doors

These four houses in the Belgian capital of Brussels have been included on the World Heritage List – but does that mean you can see them?

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

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

Updated:

Major Town Houses of Victor Horta, Brussels, Belgium

The thing about the architecture of houses is that, for the most part, a casual observer only ever sees the outside.

The whole point of a house, a private residence, is that the interior stays private.

It’s a haven for the occupants, not an exhibition for the public. To protect what goes on behind closed doors, the doors must remain closed.

This means that for people who are interested in architecture, it can be harder than preferred to see the work done inside houses.

It’s unfortunate because there is more than just aesthetics hidden away.

Major Town Houses of Victor Horta, Brussels, Belgium

All around the world, from large cities to rural properties, houses tell us so much about the cultures and societies in which they are built.

This is especially true when you consider the works of the architect Victor Horta in Brussels. His creations in the Belgian capital are the focus of this story.

Major Town Houses of Victor Horta, Brussels, Belgium

Think about your city – or one that you have visited recently. It’s highly unlikely that all the houses were built at exactly the same time (unless you live somewhere like Le Havre in France).

It means that you have an archaeology of architecture, in a sense. Just like you could cut down into the ground and see remnants of every era that has come before, the houses in a city show you the development of different stages in history.

Major Town Houses of Victor Horta, Brussels, Belgium

In Brussels, there are four houses that have been listed together as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. They were all designed by an architect called Victor Horta and they represent an important time in the architecture of the city – the end of the 19th century.

Art Nouveau in Brussels

If you are interested in seeing the best of the Art Nouveau in Brussels, I would actually recommend doing this Art Nouveau tour, which is really good.

But if you would prefer to explore independently, you can see the locations of the four World Heritage-listed Victor Horta houses on this map I’ve put together:

The houses were part of the beginning of the Art Nouveau movement.

They have an open plan, a diffusion of light, curved lines in the decorations that blend with the overall structure, and great attention to detail.

Whether it’s a staircase, or a doorknob, or a light fitting, or a wall, everything is designed in a certain way so it fits with everything else and is a work of art on its own.

Major Town Houses of Victor Horta, Brussels, Belgium

Or at least, this is what I have read in my research.

You see, the houses of Victor Horta in Brussels suffer from the problem I described at the start. They are private properties and, with one exception, you can’t go inside and see them as a general member of the public.

Major Town Houses of Victor Horta, Brussels, Belgium

The one exception is the Victor Horta Museum.

Victor Horta Museum

The Victor Horta Museum does give you the opportunity to go inside one of the original buildings and get a sense of the design and layout.

Rather than just read about the influence on Art Nouveau architecture, you can see it for yourself.

Rather than just look at each element in books or online, you can feel how they merge together.

Major Town Houses of Victor Horta, Brussels, Belgium

Even here, though, there are some constraints. The museum has limited opening hours and you can’t take photos inside. So unfortunately I’ve got none to share with you today.

Where is the Victor Horta Museum?

The Victor Horta Museum is at Rue Américaine 25, 1060, Brussels.

You can see it on a map here.

How do you get to the Victor Horta Museum?

If you’re going to the museum by public transport, you can use tram numbers 81, 92 or 97 to Place Janson. Or you can use bus number 54.

When is the Victor Horta Museum open?

The Victor Horta Museum is open from Tuesday to Friday from 14:00 – 17:30, and on Saturday to Sunday from 11:00 – 17:30.

The museum is closed on Mondays and on the following holidays: January 1st, Easter Sunday, May 1st, Ascension Day, July 21st, August 15th, November 1st, November 11th, December 25th.

How much does it cost to visit the Victor Horta Museum?

Admission to the Victor Horta Museum is €10.
For seniors, the admission is €6. For students 18 years or over, it is €5. For primary and secondary school students, it is €3.

More information

For more information, you can visit the museum’s official website.

So, aside from the museum, you are limited to seeing each of the our buildings just from the outside if you explore independently.

Victor Horta houses

The architecture of Victor Horta does stand out from the neighbouring properties and you can start to get an idea of the ingenuity from these facades. But, of course, you’re missing out on really appreciating the genius of Victor Horta.

Going on a tour that focuses on the city’s architecture or heritage will certainly help – this one that focuses on Art Nouveau is great.

But have a look at these other options for exploring Brussels as well:

 

Still, they probably won’t take you inside all the places that are private, unfortunately.

Major Town Houses of Victor Horta, Brussels, Belgium

It was disappointing to find out how hard (impossible) it is to get access to these buildings. Especially when you consider that another of the World Heritage Sites in Brussels – the Stoclet House – is also privately owned and off limits to the public.

I have written about my feelings on visiting the Stoclet House and I think it’s worth a read in the context of these houses.

Major Town Houses of Victor Horta, Brussels, Belgium

Brussels actually has three World Heritage Sites and it’s very rare to find that many in the one city, let alone two that focus on a specific style of architecture (you could argue the third one, The Grand Place, also has an architecture focus).

It just goes to show how important the development of building design is in the city and how it links so closely with the culture.

If we are to truly appreciate this, we need to be able to see it for ourselves. Brussels has done a good job of protecting the heritage. It now needs to ask whether it can do a better job of showcasing it.

THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN BRUSSELS

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

BACKPACKER

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

BUDGET

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

BOUTIQUE

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

LUXURY

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

UNESCO logo

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!

4 thoughts on “Behind closed doors”

  1. Two UNESCO sites that are closed off to public? I think Belgium is messing with us, acting like they have buildings with heritage status, but really there’s nothing inside 😉

    Reply
  2. I just loved reading about the architecture in Brussels in your post, thank you for sharing. I spent a 3 days there a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed walking the streets and seeing the architecture. Your photos are just beautiful too.

    Reply

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