Situated halfway up a hillside and on the edge of marshy ponds, the story of Rixensart begins with a fortified keep, erected in the 12th century by the Lords of Limal, a chivalric family that owed allegiance to the Dukes of Brabant. The land subsequently became the property of several illustrious families. Around 1620, Jean Charles de Gavre, Count of Frésin, referred to Rixensart as “my hermitage” and often withdrew there to escape from the intrigues of the court. One of his granddaughters, Françoise-Conradine, brought the house as part of her dowry to her husband Philippe Spinola, Count of Bruay, son of the famous General Ambroise Spinola illustrated by Velázquez in his painting “the Surrender of Breda ».
The Spinolas were delighted to have a house and garden in Flanders within earshot of the sound of water. Year after year they transformed the Count of Frésin’s country hideaway into a majestic dwelling in brick and stone, with baroque portals and covered galleries; a grandiose but unostentatious castle with a fairly large surface area, albeit with small rooms, on the scale of a nobility eager for country pleasures. Unfortunately, the Frésin family line was extinguished. The widow of the last Spinola, née Salm, after inheriting the estate on the death of her son, bequeathed it to a niece, Merode, who inherited it in 1715. Today it is the Merode-Rixensart Foundation that presides over the destiny of this architectural jewel. Convinced that this cultural and historical heritage is a gift to the future from the past, they are confident that its future can be ensured by preserving the rich tapestry of its history and its environment.