Origins, History and Life of the Landcommanderij Alden Biesen

a monumental complex situated at the heart of the Maas-Rhine European Region



The Landcommanderij Alden Biesen was built by the German Order (Teutonic knights).
The Commandery was the headquarters of a bailiwick or province of the Teutonic Order in the land of Maas and Rhine.

This bailiwick consisted of about twelve commanderies (castles in the countryside or residences in the city) in this European Region, each of them administered by a commander. Those commanders were under the authority of the Grand Commander, who resided in Alden Biesen (Bilzen).

Nowadays this castle is a cultural centre of the Flemish Community.

Alden Biesen did not only set up historical and European activities but the Landcommanderij is also a congress center and a cultural and tourist attraction. In this way we want to contribute to the exchange of ideas and the development of broad minded people.

History

The Teutonic Order was established in 1190 in Acre (Palestine) as a civilian hospital brotherhood, an initiative of the traders from Bremen and Lübeck. The Teutonic order was transformed from a brotherhood into a monastic order of knights eight years after its establishment. In order to finance the crusades on the borders of Christianity, the Teutonic Order received all sorts of privileges and immutable properties such as estates, houses etc. as gifts across the whole of Europe.
In 1220 Arnold III, the Count of Loon and his sister, Mechtildis d'Are, the abbess of Munsterbilzen, donated the chapel of Biesen with all its possessions in Rijkhoven (Bilzen) to the Teutonic Order. This house of prayer was located on a site where rush plants ("junci" in Latin, "Biesen" in Dutch) grew. The knights of the Teutonic Order established their own settlement here and Alden Biesen became the headquarters of the bailiwick of Biesen.
From the 13th century the international Order of brotherhood evolved into a federation of regional noble corporations in the 14-15th century. The Order eventually became a “hospital of the German nobility”, i.e. an institution where the younger sons of the old nobility could find incomes suitable for their class. (prebends).
In 1543 the Grand Commander Winand von Breill built a majestic summer residence on the tax-free estate of Alden Biesen. The main function of this residence was to demonstrate the high status of this renaissance Grand Commander. Alden Biesen was rising like a phoenix from the ashes, but would remain a permanent construction site until the 18th century.
To be able to enter the Order (and thus enjoy the revenues of the Order) the knights had to prove their descent from four noble quartering’s or ancestors, from about 1600 eight and from 1671 no less then sixteen. As a result only a very limited group of families in the Maas- Rhineland region could claim these wealthy revenues.
Heinrich von Reuschenberg (1572-1603) was a dynamic Grand Commander, who shepherded his bailiwick through the Eighty Years' War between the Dutch and Spanish, and through the Reformation. Reuschenberg was called the “second founder” of the bailiwick of Biesen. In 1616 Grand Commander Amstenrade (1605-1634), gave instructions to build the so-called guesthouse of Alden Biesen. He took also the initiative of the new church of Alden Biesen.
Circa 1700 the French garden and the Orangery were constructed by the Grand Commander Hendrik van Wassenaar (1690-1709). Wassenaar started also with the modernization of the moated castle, of which his “office of the Grand Commander” in the east wing of the castle is a brilliant remainder. Damian Hugo von Schönborn (1709-1743), followed in the footsteps of Wassenaar and transformed the renaissance castle into a noble residence in 1715-1716. Great French windows made the castle virtually transparent. The apartment of the Grand Commander Ferdinand Damian von Sickingen (1743-1749) is situated in the east wing of the moated castle. It connects with the office of Wassenaar.
Paradoxically enough the buildings of the Teutonic Order became more and more impressive. These folie des grandeurs of the Order had to compensate for her declining significance.
Between 1769 and 1775 the Grand Commander Anton von der Heyden named Belderbusch (1766-1784) commissioned builders to demolish the transept of the fore-court which connected the two buildings at the front. In continuation of the fore-court, two buildings were erected in classical style: the riding school and the tithe barn. As a result the moated castle was opened up towards the landscape and the castle complex acquired the shape we still know today.
The English park was the final phase of the age-old castle architecture of the Teutonic Order in Alden Biesen. Grand Commander Franz von Reischach (1784-1807) commissioned to design this landscape park in 1786-1787.
In 1794 French revolutionaries appeared in the Maas Rhineland area. They put the knights and priests of the Teutonic Order to flight and took possession of Alden Biesen. In 1797 the estate was sold by auction in Maastricht. The former mayor of the city of Hasselt, Guillaume Claes, became the new owner. Alden Biesen thus lost her supranational role, while the private sale brought with it the seeds of decline. The complex of buildings deteriorated visibly and the interior was sold without any scruples. The site even seemed to be doomed as recently as World War Two.
On the 8th of March 1971 the moated castle was engulfed in flames because of a chimney fire. However, the Belgian state stood by an earlier decision and on the 5th of July decided to buy Alden Biesen. The other side of the picture was the necessity to carry out a major restoration. This large-scale renewal and the international destination made the estate evolve into what it is today: a European temple of culture for the Flemish Community, to which Alden Biesen was passed after the federalization of Belgium.

Thematic Galleries

Multimedia materials

Alden Biesen - The English Garden

History of the English garden of the Landcommanderij Alden Biesen (BE). Film made by Havana.
Watch the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQ9ZwVgIVi4

Bailiwick Route: part 1

....
Watch the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8Js0SbSfM4

Bailiwick Route: part 2

....
Watch the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yysugn6gI7A

Bailiwick Route: part 3

....
Watch the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TynU-F6JG4Y

Teutonic Order knights & priests

....
Watch the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yUbc2DvCCY

Teutonic order French revolution

....
Watch the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUrLvu6ApIY

Alden Biesen fire

....
Watch the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3gsEkRCHuo

Land Commandery: the restoration after fire

....
Watch the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSRgCA9BnVI

...

....
Watch the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dj3hQObLo7s

...

....
Watch the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoWJ4ocg6U0

...

Description of architectural elements

The moated castle

From the outer courtyard, in the corner between the northern fore-castle and the gallery, you can see the castle surrounded by a moat. The stone bridge leads to the court of honor.

The court of honor

At the heart of the former knights’ residence is the court of honor of the moated castle (1543-1566). At the left of the east wing, with its unique gothic stepped gable, you can find the bell tower. Today large umbrellas keep the court of honor dry. They also create special possibilities for all sorts of events and provide an extraordinary atmosphere! 

The study of Hendrik van Wassenaar

Grand-Commander Hendrik van Wassenaar (1690-1709) started with the modernization of the moated castle, of which his “office of the Grand Commander” in the east wing of the castle is a brilliant remainder. Notice in this study the expensive parquet floor, the walls in parchment made from red deer and the four cardinal virtues in a fine ceiling decoration.
The rooms of the Grand Commander, in particular the study, the salon and the library, were expertly renovated in 2003.

The library and salon of Damian von Sickingen

The apartment of the Grand Commander Ferdinand Damian von Sickingen (1743-1749) is situated in the east wing of the moated castle and is furnished in Liège rococo. It dates from 1745. It connects with the office of Wassenaar. The apartment consists of a salon and a library with the official portrait of Sickingen, a portrait gallery of his family and an older ceiling decoration of the Liège artist Walthère Damery. In the salon Sickingen commissioned the Italian plasterers Giuseppe Moretti and Carlo Spinedi to install the beautiful stucco. The whole is a masterly example of the Liège rococo. The Grand Commanders always knew very well to whom they should appeal.

The fore-court

The forecourt lies in front of the castle. To the right you can see the northern fore-castle in front of the tithe barn, and to the left, the southern fore-castle in front of the riding school.

The garden of the Grand Commander

The garden of the Grand Commander is located by the wooden bridge to the moated castle. This forms part of the French garden of Alden Biesen, which was relayed in 1991 to the original plan of 1700. In the distance, left of the moated castle, you can see the other part, namely the “orangery garden”.

The orangery garden

The fountain is at the center of the orangery garden. From here you have a magnificent view of the whole French garden with the gardeners’ tower, the orangery, the church, the gallery and the moated castle.

The English Park

The English park was the final phase of the age-old castle architecture of the Teutonic Order in Alden Biesen. Grand Commander Franz von Reischach (1784-1807) commissioned to design this landscape park in 1786-1787. It contained all the elements of an idyllic and romantic park: slopes, woodland, monumental trees, lawn, winding paths, water and islands and a number of architectural constructions such as the Roman temple of Minerva, Tartarian houses, a Chinese temple, a cave, a ruin and a hermitage.
From the English park you have a view of the moated castle and the back of the southern fore-castle. This park dates from 1785-1786. The lawn is like a stepping stone from the moated castle to the countryside. In the distance you can see, against the now mature woodland, the round temple of Minerva, made from marlstone, which is one of the follies of this landscaped park.

The Outer Courtyard

From the center of the outer courtyard you can see from left to right the gallery with its arcades, the church, the gateway to the Maastrichterallee, the earlier functional buildings such as the tenant’s residence and the large barn, the gateway to the fore-court, the back of the northern fore-castle and, in the corner, the moated castle. 

The church

The single nave church of Alden Biesen is an unusual house of prayer for the Teutonic Order. The Baroque main altar is in black and white, the colors of the order. In front of the altar is the Gothic tombstone of Edmund von Werth, a bishop of the Teutonic Order, who was buried at Alden Biesen in 1292. On the left side of the altar there is a Gothic Madonna with child. She is the saint of the Teutonic Order and has been worshipped here as a miraculous statue since 1270.
Grand Commander Amstenrade took the initiative of the new church of Alden Biesen. This Baroque church replaced the old medieval Chapel of Our Lady. For its decoration the Grand Commander Godfried Huyn van Geleen (1635-1657) recruited qualified craftsmen from Liege A gallery was joined to the church with Tuscan pillars finished in 1635. The intention behind this colonnade seems to have been a new hospitium, but it was never used for this function

The guesthouse

At the end of the 16th century the Maastrichterallee was built. At its west end, you can see the gate to Bilzen and Hoeselt, with the guesthouse, now a restaurant with terrace, on the right.
In 1616 Grand Commander Amstenrade (1605-1634), gave instructions to build the so-called guesthouse of Alden Biesen. A priest of the German Teutonic Order taught the neighbourhood’s youth in this building. The name “guesthouse” originates from the fact that this priest also kept the bills of the medieval hospitium, or residence, for the pilgrims. In 1715-1716 the Grand Commander Schönborn made the guesthouse a hostelry for artisans, trades people, visitors and foreign staff.

The gatehouse

On the east side of the Maastrichterallee you can see the gatehouse, with the apostle house, now a restaurant and an art gallery, on the left. The building to the right of the Maastricht gate is the trumpeter's house where the gatekeeper lived. The gatehouse is now at a junction of roads and cycle routes.
The impressive gate building, situated 30 meters higher than the moated castle, used to be the main entrance to the estate. The gate tower of 1652, built by the Grand Commander Huyn van Geleen, faces in the direction of Maastricht. The gatekeeper lived in the connecting trumpeter’s house of 1663. In 1719-1720 the apostle house opposite was established by the Grand Commander Schönborn as accommodation for twelve needy men from the neighbourhood. However, it was never used for this purpose

The steward's house

The former steward’s house of Alden Biesen stands on the hilly part of the road to the town of Bilzen . It was built in the second part of the 17th century in the traditional style of the Meuse region. From this high point – with a bit of an effort - you can see the castle complex. in the distance. From the other side of the road you can enjoy the Demer valley with the beautiful path to Biesen. It is in private hands now and will become an hotel.

References

About the Teutonic Order