Leuven, a university city par excellence

Leuven university town

If there is a city in Belgium whose history is linked to the university one, without a doubt that is Leuven (Leuven in Dutch). This Flemish city, which is only 20 minutes from Brussels, is the university city par excellence of Belgium.

Leuven university city.

The Catholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven)

It is the oldest existing Catholic university in the world, and the oldest and most important university in Belgium. Founded in 1425, as the citizenship, with the support of the Duke of Brabant and the clergy. They had asked Pope Martin V for a papal bull to open a university academic institution in the city. At the beginning of its journey, the university had five faculties: Arts, Canon Law, Civil Law, Medicine and Theology.

When the university was founded, its headquarters were in the now University Palace,building of the early fourteenth century. But nevertheless, one of the most noted features is that the university is an open campus. And we find throughout the city with buildings of reference of the University or with the different faculties. Many of the buildings in their beginnings did not have in that use, but the city was giving them historical and medieval buildings to be used by the University. Fact that demonstrates the perfect symbiosis and importance of the institution with the city.

Leuven City University and its characters.

And through its classrooms have passed relevant characters of the history of humanity, possibly the most relevant character is the humanist Desiderius Erasmus. The humanist spent several years at the University and his influence was enormous. In addition to his mediation for the publication in Leuven of Thomas Morus’ work, “Utopia”, Erasmus greatly influenced the founding of the Collegue Trillingue, which is considered the first center of critical research.

Step in time.

However, the University has also suffered major setbacks. The first of these was in 1797, the French revolutionaries, upon arriving in the city, closed the institution. For 20 years it had its doors closed, until William I reopened a Catholic university in Limousen, but only a year later the university would return home.

The second of the ups and downs was in 1968. Since the beginning of the century, tensions between Dutch and French speakers had been increasing, until they exploded in the middle of the century. The “third fire” of the university caused it to split into two twinned universities; on the one hand, the KU Leuven,  the old university based in Leuven, Flanders, and the new university the  UCL (Université Catholique de Lovaine),which moved to Leuven-the-new, a city created expressly for the Francophone split of the university. One of the anecdotes is that all the knowledge they had acquired in almost 700 years was going to be divided depending on the language in which it was written.

The university today.


Leuven University
Leuven University

At present the University has almost 30,000 students, which is a large part of the total population of Leuven, so the University is considered the great engine of the village. At this university, more than 120 nationalities study university students, although most of them are Flemish or Dutch.

Evidently, the city is architecturally marked by the University as well. Possibly the most remarkable building is the University Library,which is located in the Plaza del rectorado, in the very center of the city. This building was burned in the “first fire” of the University in World War I by the Germans and reduced completely to ashes. In 1928 the reconstruction of the building was finished, which was made possible thanks to donations from American universities. In the building stands the bell tower of 73, 5 meters, which has a cheek of 63 bells.

As we have mentioned, the campus is not closed, but open, so every step we take through the city we find buildings related to university life. Among them, the most prominent are the pedagogies  (houses of study for students). Many of these buildings are not medieval, but baroque of the eighteenth century.

Visit the university and many other interesting places in this beautiful city on our in our private tour of the city or if you prefer in the free tour of Leuven.