For one weekend a year, the public is invited to visit and discover Brussels’ historic monuments and city landmarks through guided tours and walks. Titled Journées du Patrimoine / Heritage Days, this annual event usually takes place on the last weekend of September.
I had missed the Journées du Patrimoine in previous years as I wasn’t in town. So even though I was still rather ill this time round, I was in Brussels – and that was all that mattered. No way was I going to miss this once-in-a-year opportunity.
So I threw on a sweater and jeans, bundled myself in a cape and scarf, and stepped out onto the windy streets. Since I wasn’t in top form, I figured I’d take it easy and took a slow walk to Maison Pelgrims (69 rue de Parme) as it’s near home.
Maison Pelgrims is located on the edge of Parc Pierre Paulus, a small park above the Parvis de St. Gilles tram station. The first time I entered the park, I was surprised to find a little pond in a ‘valley’, hidden from view by tall trees as ducks and swans paddled amid these tranquil surrounds. How pretty!
The guided tour was conducted in French and here’s what I learned during my visit to Maison Pelgrims:
Maison Pelgrims was built in 1905 by Adolphe Pirenne who was commissioned by a certain Colson family. The villa was later purchased by a pharmacist, Eugène Pelgrims – after whom the building is now named after. Pelgrims appointed Fernand Petit to enlarge and renovate the building in 1927.
As a result, the design of the building and the park attached to it features a mix of architectural styles: Italian Renaissance, Flemish Neo-Renaissance, Art Deco, Romantic and Moorish.
The park was designed in the style of an English garden: Picturesque, gentle rolling lawns amidst tall trees, complete with a pond and fake ruins (in the style of Roman columns). Half of what it is today used to be the private garden belonging to Maison Pelgrims.
When the building was given to the Commune de St. Gilles / Town Hall of St. Gilles in 1963, it was in a sad state and the once-picturesque garden had been taken over by the wilderness. After six years of restoration, the garden was opened to the public and named after Pierre Paulus, in honour of the renowned artist who was a St. Gillois.
Today, Maison Pelgrims was classified as a historic building in 2001. Today, it is used as an arts exhibition venue as well as the office for the Service of Culture of the commune.
If you’re still reading this post – good for you, because I’m going to show you inside Maison Pelgrims. On y va!
The building has not been completely restored to its former splendour as it would have required a lot of money. Fortunately, it wasn’t in a terrible condition albeit stained wallpaper and cracked glass. There were many floral motifs throughout the space on the ground floor – from the fabric wallpaper to the marble fireplace, as well as the ceiling molding and chandeliers.
Even the heated cabinet, which was used for storing plates before a meal, in the pantry is covered with a floral design.
The windows facing the streets are decorated with a Moorish-style stained glass design – probably to prevent curious passers-by from peeking in. I love the wooden floors and high ceilings of the space, as well as the arched doorways.
Now, we’re approaching the prettiest part of Maison Pelgrims – le jardin d’hiver / the winter garden. Designed in the late 1920s, the Art deco influence is prominent in this light-filled space.
The winter garden has a beautiful ceiling topped with blue stained glass with Moorish accents – probably to create the effect of a clear blue sky, no matter how grey it looks outside. While the cupola was broken in a few spots, it still looked amazing.
Taking centre stage beneath it is a fountain covered mostly in blue mosaic tiles with gold-leaf squares to add that extra sparkle. Unfortunately the fountain is no longer working. I can only imagine what it would have looked like decades ago, as the water trickled from the fountain, reflecting the diffused sunlight onto the mosaic tiles and pots of green plants around the room…
By the way, the statue that you see in the photo above is not placed over the fountain. Rather, it is set in front of the mirror and it is a bust of Pan – “the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music, and companion of the nymphs” (according to Wikipedia).
How did I manage to take this photo with Pan and a mirror behind him? Make a guess 😉
Hope you enjoyed this mini-tour of Maison Pelgrims! Now it is time to sleep…