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The controversial chateau that became the birthplace of a king

Some monarchs are born in massive castles that have stood for centuries while others are born in relatively new palaces. Although the birth of a royal baby is a celebrated event, some of these more modern palaces have darker connections. King Philippe of Belgium was born at Belvédère Castle at Laeken, one of these palaces. 

Originally built in the 1780s, King Leopold II bought the palace for his sister, Carlota of Mexico, to live out her widowhood. Leopold is largely remembered for his brutal atrocities in the Congo Free State. Carlota’s husband was a figurehead, chosen by Napoleon III of France to rule the Mexican Second Empire. He was executed in 1867 after she had escaped to Europe. Carlota decided to live at Tervuren instead and Belvédère stood empty. 

In the 1890s, Leopold and his wife moved to Belvédère Castle while their Palace underwent repairs following a fire. Once they were able to move back to the Palace, their youngest daughter, Princess Clementine, lived at the chateau for years until she married. It was then used as apartments for various members of the court. 

In 1958, Belvédère Castle came to global prominence during Expo 58 when it was used for several exhibitions. The Belgians displayed a Belgian Congolese village at the Expo, meant to highlight how they had “civilised” the native Congolese. The Congolese government decried the exhibition and it is now recognised as a modern “human zoo”. 

Belvédère Castle is currently known for being the home of King Albert II and Queen Paola. They decided to settle there in 1959, long before Albert became king, and have stayed ever since including throughout his twenty year reign. This is notable as Belgian monarchs typically move into the Palace of Laeken, as it is the official residence of the sovereign. King Philippe was born at Belvédère on April 15, 1960. His siblings, Princess Astrid and Prince Laurent, were born there, too, in 1962 and 1963 respectively. 

It became the childhood home of the future monarch and remains the residence of King Albert II and Queen Paola. The controversial castle gained a new chapter in its history in 2020 after Albert admitted he had had a child during a relationship with Baroness Sybille de Selys Longchamps decades earlier. Following the revelation, he and Paola met Princess Delphine there with photos of the moment published soon afterwards.

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