Visiting Beggen Castle, Luxembourg City: a Russian Embassy with plenty of history
By the distinguished Belgian architect Wynand Janssens
This building and its grounds are not open to the public (except on official business) but may be viewed from beyond its perimeter. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has a profusion of castles, some of which are ancient, ruined fortresses, others are residences noted for gracious living; others such as the one at Beggen, a suburb of Luxembourg City, function as hubs business for national and diplomatic business.
Beggen Castle (French: Château de Beggen; Létzebuergesch: Beggener Schlass) is today the seat of the Embassy of the Russian Federation (and previously the Soivet Embassy). In the district of Beggen, over 100 Russians are resident, a sizeable proportion of which are associated with the Embassy. The question might be asked, why does Russia maintain such a large Embassy in such a small country as Luxembourg? The presence of various European Union institutions in Luxembourg might seem to supply an answer, but actually the roots of the answer go back much further.
Prior to 1890, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg was the monarch of The Netherlands, and since the 18th century the Russians Czars had enjoyed close relations with The Netherlands, dating from the time when Czar Peter the Great had travelled incognito in 1697-98 to that country then known as the Dutch Republic.
Interestingly, in Soviet times, the Soviet presence in the Grand Duchy included the activities of the East-West United Bank, which served as an earner of currency for the Soviet Union.
Beggen Castle was designed by a Belgian architect, Wynand Janssens (1827-1913)(1), in 1894-95, for the prominent industrialist Emile Metz. It replaced a previous building which was destroyed by fire. Its style has given rise to comparisons with the Chateaux at Vaux-le-Vicomte and Fontainebleau. I have supplied a photo of Beggen Castle dating from 1913, the year of the architect's death.
Over the next, several decades the property changed hands many times. In 1940, the German Nazi war machine rolled into the Grand Duchy and Beggen Castle was occupied as a base for the Wehrmacht. In 1944-45, parts of the Grand Duchy were successively liberated by the Allies and, during the Battle of the Bulge, reoccupied by the Wehrmacht. But in 1944 the US army took up residence in Beggen Castle and remained there until several months after the end of World War 2 in Europe.
In 1956, the Soviet Union purchased Beggen Castle for use as its Embassy, and almost immediately the building became a hub of protests against the Soviet intervention following the Hungarian Uprising. In 1973, the Soviet government purchased further land in the vicinity of the building. In 2005-2009 the property was considerably refurbished.
March 14, 2017
(1) Other works by Architect Janssens include the Eglise Sainte-Catherine / Sint-Katelijnekerk, Brussels (with Jospeh Poelaert), the Palais du Midi / Zuidpaleis, Brussels, and many others.
Also worth seeing
In Luxembourg City itself, the Gelle Fra monument is at the Place de la Constitution; in sight of which is the Pont Adolphe across the Pétrusse Valley. Close to the monument are Luxembourg's Cathedral and the adjacent National Library , a former Jesuit college which dates from 1603; in the Cathedral's crypt lie the remains of Jean the Blind of Luxembourg, killed at the Battle of Crécy in 1346. The Grand Ducal Palace , which dates from the 16th century, is in Flemish Renaissance style: the monarch's residence and office since 1890.
How to get there
The nearest large international airport is Luxembourg (Aéroport de Luxembourg), at Findel, from where car rental is available. For North American travellers making the London, England area their touring base, airlines flying to Luxembourg include Luxair (from London Heathrow Airport and London City Airport) and CityJet (from London City Airport). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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