The Chateau de Noisy is Being Demolished… and that might have been the only option left.

If you are an aficionado of castles, then you likely already know that the Chateau de Noisy in Belgium is being demolished. Let me break from decorum and provide that I am a fan of the Chateau de Noisy and have followed it for the better part of 17 years. In that time though, I’ve watched the Chateau decline as its popularity on the internet increased. The Chateau de Noisy has been featured in recent years on major sites like the weather channel, the Daily Mail, and Express and described as a holy grail of urban exploring. With that attention has come a surge of visitors, a rapid deterioration of the property due to vandalism and more recently an intentionally set fire. From a legal perspective, demolishing the castle may have been the only option left to the owners who have a responsibility to keep visitors safe, even if they are trespassing.

The Chateau de Noisy, or Miranda Castle as it was formerly known is unquestionably beautiful as a peaceful ruin sitting in the Belgian countryside. It was built by the prominent Liedekerke-Beaufort family (we’ll shorten that to Beaufort going forward for ease of reading) who built the castle after the French revolution on a prominent hill overlooking their ancestral lands along the border of the two countries. Architecturally the castle consisted of two wings with a central tower surrounded by formal gardens. Historically its only claim to fame is that it was a barracks for the Nazis and the grounds were allegedly the site of some fighting during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. It served as a “summer home” or what may more appropriately be called an orphanage for the children of workers for the Belgian National Railway for about four decades until it closed in 1991. It then fell into disuse when a fire burned out one wing of the Chateau in 1995.

A side view of the Chateau de Noisy during its time as a home for children of the employees of the Belgian National Railway. Cards like this would have been made for the children to send to their parents while they were away at work. While the living quarters for the staff were quite luxurious, many of the children have described horrid experiences living at the Chateau.

That’s where the story should have ended with the castle fading into obscurity but the Chateau de Noisy was relaunched to prominence in the late 1990’s as the urban exploring movement spread across Europe. Urban Exploring could at its best be described as a group of photographers who document abandoned buildings. As the videos and pictures on this site have shown, there are some Urban Explorers who have been very dedicated to the Chateau de Noisy and its preservation. Urban exploring has a dark underside though and some of the individuals who call themselves urban explorers could best be described as anarchists that break into and destroy privately owned homes. This is a somewhat foreign concept in America as most states have instituted appropriately named “castle” doctrines that allow property owners to legally kill a person if they break into a private home. Strangely, that has been a strong deterrent to the movement in America but it has been catching on in places like Detroit, Michigan and Gary, Indiana where there are a large number of abandoned industrial properties.

A view of the Chateau de Noisy from the back during better days. The Chateau remained habitable and in relatively good condition until the early 1990’s when a fire closed it.

When the Chateau de Noisy was “re-discovered” in the late 1990’s, the castle was still in somewhat decent shape and possibly could have been re-purposed. The early photography inside the castle can only be described as spectacular. That initial photography hit the then exploding internet (yes… most people in the world at that time had only gained access to the internet within the prior 5 years, it was new and novel), and with it came an immediate influx of visitors. While most who visited the castle, which is privately owned and on private property, came and left with nothing but pictures, there were also those who came with more sinister purposes. One photographer wrote about taking pictures outside while a group of guys inside smashed the place up with sledge hammers (They were allegedly smashing up the floors and stairs).

The Beaufort family responded by increasing security at the site (there are stories of a crazed security guard roaming the grounds on an ATV) and the local police increased patrols of the nearby road, telling anyone stopped to move along or ticketing unoccupied vehicles. That did little to stem the flow of visitors. As the easy access points were removed, people became more and more intrepid in their endeavors to reach the property. Some would park well away from the Chateau and cut across neighboring properties while others would park at the nearby Veves Castle (also owned by the Beaufort family) and make the hike up the hill. This remained the status quo until 2014 when someone set fire to the building again. The Beaufort Family responded in 2015 by requesting a permit to demolish the structure, which was granted, and demolition began in late 2016.

The internet exploded at the news and everyone asked the immediate question, “how could they demolish the Chateau de Noisy?” The easy answer to that question is, why not? The Chateau de Noisy is not unique. At any time there are upwards of 500 such buildings for sale across Europe ranging from complete ruins, like the Chateau de Noisy, to original castles that are move in ready. Specialty reality sites such as Patrice Besse (531 period properties for sale at the time of this writing)  and Prestige Property Group (233 Chateau/Castles for sale at the time of this writing) sell similar properties and with proof of funds will happily let you tour them. All of those buildings are for sale and in some cases for surprisingly reasonable prices. The big difference with the Chateau de Noisy is that it is not for sale and the family that owns it has no interest in selling land that has been in their possession for centuries. The property where the castle resides remains in active forestry use for the family and is continuing to produce income for them.

The next question is, “why didn’t the family restore the Castle?” The easy answer to that question is cost. Some sites have put the cost of restoring the castle to its former glory at upwards of 15 million Euros. The Beaufort family remains quite wealthy and arguably could have done this but why would you restore an old stone building when for the same money, or substantially less, you could have a brand-new structure that is energy efficient, has modern electrical and plumbing, and will cost substantially less to maintain? The other thing to remember is that many of these old buildings were designed to have a large staff (watch an episode of Downton Abbey and start counting the number of cooks, servants and grounds keepers)  who spent their entire work week focused exclusively on caring for these structures and the people inside. 15 Million Euros will build you a substantial mansion that would be far more comfortable to live in.

In addition, many have asked “why not open the building to the public and charge admission?” The family would have difficulty obtaining permission from the local government to do so given its condition. Historical buildings are exempted from many of the laws that are prevalent in Europe, but as we pointed out earlier, the Chateau de Noisy isn’t necessarily a historical building and its primary attraction would be the fact that it’s a ruin. In the valley below the Chateau de Noisy is the Castle of Veves which the Beaufort family does run as a very popular tourist attraction. The site has been fortified since the 7th century, was the site of several battles and was the residence of many famous people. When pitted against that type of pedigree, the less than 200-year-old Chateau de Noisy would have difficulty competing for visitors. As is the case now, an intrepid few would be willing to make the side trip to Noisy but the Beaufort family would then have to pay to staff the site and put out money to prepare it for visitors. Unless the visitor total was well above 10,000 a year, it would be difficult to justify those expenses.

The final argument against demolition is that this type of act is unprecedented. Unfortunately, it isn’t. The prior “holy grail” of urban exploring was the Castle of Mesen, also in Belgium, which was a combination chateau, school and cathedral that had fallen into ruin. It had the misfortune of being located in an easily accessible urban area and became a mecca for urban explorers who flocked there from all over the world. The local government took note of the influx of visitors and the threat of potential liability if someone who was trespassing on the property was injured, and similarly gave permission for the castle to be demolished. Today, the Castle of Mesen is almost completely demolished with only a small portion of the original structure remaining and plans to remove the rest.

When it comes down to it, the true story of the Chateau de Noisy is about a family who had their privacy invaded. If this had been a castle owned by the Belgian government, it would be a different story and arguably nobody would have a right to complain if people were visiting a castle that was owned by the Belgian tax payer. But instead, we are talking about a home built and owned by a family that has every right to decide what to do with a structure on their own property. Their original intent was to let the property fade away and be a beautiful ruin in the woods but, we, the people of the internet changed those plans. With literally hundreds of people trespassing onto the property and facing the risk of liability if any of those people were harmed, the Beaufort family decided, just like the residents of Mesen did, to remove the structure that was causing intrusions into their private life.

It’s upsetting to many that a building like the Chateau de Noisy could be so easily discarded. You can take some heart in that the period architecture, such as the roofs and carvings, are being saved and will likely be repurposed into new structures or used to restore other buildings that are historic and in need of restoration. It will be sad to see the Chateau gone but there are literally thousands of other buildings like the Chateau de Noisy that are in need of help. Not all of them are going to be saved but if you are so inclined, you could buy one of these properties yourself. A ruined castle can be had for as little as $200,000.00 U.S. Dollars in France which most middle-class Americans could afford ( Here is a partially ruined chateau in France with a nice piece of land awaiting restoration for $135,000 U.S. Dollars). Remember the old adage Caveat Emptor though, buyer beware. You can get an old building for free and pay too much for it.

 

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