Virgin Tower

Virgin Tower

Belgian Castles

Virgin Tower

The Virgin Tower, locally known as Maagdentoren, lies in a field in the village of Zichem, in the province of Flemish Brabant in the Flemish region in Belgium.

At the end of the 13th century a castle was built east of the town of Zichem, near the river Demer. In 1358 this castle was bought by Reinoud I van Schoonvorst. His son, Reinoud II van Schoonvorst had the Virgin Tower built around 1383 east of the older castle. The function of the tower is debated because of its proximity to the castle. The round keep was built as a fortification with several meters thick walls, a projecting stairturret, two turrets protecting the entrance, a moat and a drawbridge but could also have been built out of prestige.

During the next two centuries the town, castle and tower went through several hands through sales, exchanges and marriage. In 1499 it all came into the possession of Engelbert II of Nassau. In 1578, during the 80 Years’ War, the rebelling town and castle, still in the hands of the House of Orange-Nassau, were besieged by a large Spanish army. The siege was ordered by John of Austria and lead by Gillis van Berlaymont and Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma. After 4 days the town and castle were taken by the Spanish. The defenders were punished for their resistance and slaughtered; some were hung from the castle walls, others were killed and had their bodies dumped in the river.

By the beginning of the 17th century the castle was nothing but a ruin. It was demolished, its stones used to repair the town. Later a farm was built on its location which grew out to be a mansion, now known as Prinsenkasteel (Prince’s Castle). The Virgin Tower had largely survived the 80 Years’ War but had lost its upper floor, its defensible entrance and the drawbridge. It was not restored and fell to ruin.

The Virgin Tower was consolidated in 1863 and 1905. In 2006 part of the tower collapsed. It was subsequently restored and is now used as a touristic watch tower.

The tower is called Virgin Tower after a legend that says it was once owned by a Lord who imprisoned his daughter in it after she refused to marry the man he had arranged for her. After a time she then jumped from the tower or drowned in the river. The tower is also known as Maria Tower. There are several niches in the outside face of the tower which are said to have held statues of the Virgin Mary.

The Virgin Tower can freely be visited but only during the summer months, during daylight. I love the way they restored it; using the space that came available after the partial collapse to insert a staircase and consolidate the structure. A very nice tower.

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