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History of Flemish Brabant


In 1432, the municipal Cloth Hall became the central building of Leuven University – and it still is. © Rob Stevens

Flemish Brabant is the youngest province in Belgium and Flanders, created on 1 January 1995 by the division of Brabant into Brussels, Walloon Brabant and Flemish Brabant. At the same time Flemish Brabant, inherited from the Duchy of Brabant, is actually a very old province, where international interaction was as vital to prosperity as it is today.

The origins of Brabant as a regional unit date back to the 11th century when Count Lambert built a castle in Leuven. His descendants embarked on a course of territorial expansion and called the region Brabant. Godfrey I added Antwerp and was given the title of Duke of Brabant in 1106. About 180 years later, John I of Brabant conquered the current territory of North Brabant (in today's Netherlands). The historical region of Brabant was a fact.

International foundation

The Town Hall of Leuven, the capital of the province, was built in Late Brabantine Gothic style between 1448 and 1469. © Milo Profi

The first strands of our international DNA can be traced back to the 14th century. This was the time when the foundation of an urban civilization was laid, established on international trade, politics and knowledge. Trade merchants from Brussels, Antwerp, Diest, Tienen and Zoutleeuw were increasingly active in England, France and neighboring Flanders. They traded lace for English wool, French wine, salt and various Italian trade commodities. Lace even reached as far as Constantinople and the Ancient Near East.

Meanwhile, political power shifted to rising Brussels which gradually positioned itself as one of Europe's premier political and economic centers.

To balance the shift of political power to Brussels, the old Brabantian capital of Leuven was offered a university by Pope Martin V in 1425. Today Leuven University is the oldest Catholic university in the world and the oldest university of the Low Countries. In the following years, it would attract the brightest academic minds to Brabant, including Erasmus, Vives, Vesalius and Mercator.

In short, Brabant had become an international hub avant la lettre thanks to its strengths in trade, politics and knowledge. A testimony to these heady days of the 14th and early 15th centuries was typical Brabantian Gothic architecture, illustrated by magnificent Leuven City Hall. In contrast, the rest of the Low Countries and the greater part of Europe remained poor and agrarian.

Burgundy and the Habsburgs

In 1430, the Duchy came into the hands of Philip the Good who was also the Count of Flanders. From then on, Brabant shared the history of Burgundy and later of the Habsburgs. Over the centuries, the Duchy became smaller and smaller until in 1795 what remained was split up into the provinces of Antwerp and Brabant.

Recent history

Bio-incubator Leuven is the touchstone of Flemish bio-technology. It is fully dedicated to biomedical life sciences.

After the Second World War, Brussels positioned itself as the de facto capital of the European Union, attracting scores of foreign lobbyists and multinational headquarters. Furthermore, Brussels Airport developed into Belgium's second economic engine and the main international gateway by air. Leuven became Belgium's most innovative hotspot for university spin-off creation, research and start-ups. This increasingly attracted international talent from the Netherlands to as far away as China and India. This inherent openness to the world made Brabant a very cosmopolitan and prosperous region.

As a result of the Belgian state reforms, the province of Brabant was divided into three separate territories on 1 January 1995: Brussels, Walloon Brabant and Flemish Brabant. Flemish Brabant chose Leuven as its capital and a new residence was built for the provincial government. This modern Provincial House was inaugurated in 2003 and -uniquely in Belgium- serves as a crossroads for collaborations between people from various sectors and international backgrounds on a daily basis.