The Aula Academia isn’t the only architectural pearl of Ghent University. The faculty of law for instance is housed in a beautifully restored 17th century baroque Jesuit college where once the first lectures were held.
The Jesuits start a college in the residence of the sentenced to death Calvanist leader Jan Van Hembyze. The school is such a success that the order of the Jesuits is able to buy the surrounding properties so as to build a new school.
At the end of the 18th century the Jesuits got banned. And so the college became a court of law. When King William I of the Netherlands decides to erect a university in Ghent, the city council have their eyes on the edifices in the Volderstraat for the new university. The promising architect Louis Roelandt has carte blanche and so the young Roelandt replaces the Jesuit church with an imposing Aula Academia. The former college gets an elegant courtyard.
At the same time the city council of Ghent decides to house a secondary school in the baroque Jesuit college, the Emile Braun secondary school, named after the then popular mayor of Ghent. With disastrous consequences: the building undergoes extensive rebuilding, damaging the historical and architectural heritage. Until 1998, when Ghent University buys the school and begins a thorough renovation.
That’s when restorers discover beautiful frescoes in amazingly good condition in the former cloister’s corridor containing the monks’ cells, and where today the professors and their assistants have their office. But the showpiece is situated in the library: a stunning authentic stucco ceiling from the 17th century. But because pieces were coming down, the ceiling got removed in the beginning of the 19th century. To spend the next eighty years in a warehouse in the Port of Ghent. Luckily, the ceiling was brought back to its former glory and that is exactly how it should be.
Thanks to Archief UGent and city guide Eugeen Roegiest – Photos: Bieke De Clercq except for image 1 and 5 by Hilde Christiaens