LOUVAIN (Flem. Leuven), a town of Belgium hi the province of Brabant, of which it was the capital in the 14th century before the rise of Brussels. Pop. (1004)42,194. Local tradition attributes the establishment of a permanent camp at this spot to Julius Caesar, but Louvain only became important in the 11th century as a place of residence for the dukes of Brabant. In 1356 Louvain was the scene of the famous Joyeuse Entrfe of Wenceslas which represented the principal charter of Brabant. At that time it had a population of at least 50,000 and was very prosperous as the centre of the woollen trade in central Belgium. The gild of weavers numbered 2400 members. The old walls of Louvain were 4^ m. in circumference, and have been replaced by boulevards, but within them there is a considerable extent of cultivated ground. Soon after the Joyeuse Entree a serious feud began between the citizens and the patrician class, and eventually the duke threw in his lot with the latter. After a struggle of over twenty years' duration the White Hoods, as the citizens called themselves, were crushed. In 1379 they massacred seventeen nobles in the town hah 1 , but this crinte brought down on them the vengeance of the duke, to whom in 1383 they made the most abject and complete surrender. With this civil strife the importance and prosperity of Louvain declined. Many weavers fled to Holland and England, the duke took up his residence in the strong castle of Vilvorde, and Brussels prospered at the expense of Louvain. What it lost in trade it partially recovered as a seat of learning, for in 1423, Duke John IV. of Brabant founded there a university and ever since Louvain University has enjoyed the first place in Belgium. It has always prided itself most on its theological teaching. In 1679 the university was established in the old Cloth Workers' Hall, a building dating from 1317, with long arcades and graceful pillars supporting the upper storeys. The library contains 70,000 volumes and some 500 manuscripts. Attached to the university are four residential colleges at which the number of students average two thousand. In the 16th century when the university was at the height of its fame it counted six thousand.
The most remarkable building in Louvain is the Hotel de Ville, one of the richest and most ornate examples of pointed Gothic in the country. If less ornate than that of Oudenarde it is more harmonious in its details. It was the work of Mathieu de Layens, master mason, who worked at it from 1448 to 1463. The building is one of three storeys each with ten pointed windows forming the fafade facing the square. Above is a graceful balustrade behind which is a lofty roof, and at the angles are towers perforated for the passage of the light. The other three sides are lavishly decorated with statuary. The interior is not noteworthy.
Opposite the H6tel de Ville is the fine church of St Pierre, in the form of a cross with a low tower to which the spire has never been added. The existing edifice was built on the site of an older church between 1425 and 1497. It contains seven chapels, in two of which are fine pictures by Dierich Bouts formerly attributed to Memling. Much of the iron and brass work is by Jean Matseys. There is also an ancient tomb, being the monument of Henry I., duke of Brabant, who died in 1235. There are four other interesting churches in Louvain, viz. Ste Gertrude, St Quentin, St Michael and St Jacques. In the last-named is a fine De Grayer representing St Hubert. Some ruins on a hill exist of the old castle of the counts of Louvain whose title was merged in the higher style of the dukes of Brabant.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)