Leuven is the capital and largest city of the province of Flemish Brabant in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It is located about 25 kilometres (16 miles) east of Brussels. The municipality itself comprises the historic city and the former neighbouring municipalities of Heverlee, Kessel-Lo, a part of Korbeek-Lo, Wilsele and Wijgmaal. It is the eighth largest city in Belgium with more than 100,244 inhabitants.
KU Leuven, Belgium’s largest university, has its flagship campus in Leuven, which has been a university city since 1425. This makes it the oldest university city in the Low Countries. The city is home of the headquarters of Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest beer brewer and sixth-largest fast-moving consumer goods company.
In the 15th century, a new golden era began with the founding of the predecessor of what is now the largest and oldest university in the Low Countries, the University of Leuven, in 1425. Prestigious buildings like the Town Hall and the Saint Peter’s Church (itself designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999) were constructed. The art of painting flourished with painters such as Dirk Bouts, Albrecht Bouts and Jan Rombouts the Elder. The painter Quinten Metsys was born and trained in Leuven.
By the turn of the 16th century Leuven had become a major European center for art and knowledge with humanists like Erasmus and Hieronymus van Busleyden working there. In 1517 the latter founded the Collegium Trilingue in which the three ancient languages: Latin, Greek and Hebrew were taught. It promoted the critical study of classical literature and the Bible. Thomas More published his Utopia at Dirk Martens printing house in Leuven in 1516. Gemma Frisius laid the foundation for modern triangulation methods and cartography. He further made important contributions to mathematics, geography and astronomy. Gerardus Mercator and John Dee were among his students. Leuven became a leading centre for the fabrication of precision astronomical instruments, such as the planetaria and the terrestrial and celestial globes built by Gaspard van der Heyden and Gualterus Arsenius. Andreas Vesalius completed his medicine studies in Leuven, before moving to Padova and Basel. Religious persecutions of protestants, followed by greater religious en political turmoil starting in the late 1560’s, greatly affected intellectual life in Leuven. Many professors and alumni from Leuven moved abroad. The newly founded University of Leiden in Holland, amongst others, would profit greatly from this brain drain. Despite this the University continued to excel in disciplines like theology with Johannes Molanus and classical studies with Justus Lipsius.
Leuven has several times been besieged or occupied by foreign armies; these include the Battle of Leuven (891), Siege of Leuven (1635) and Battle of Leuven (1831). In the 20th century, both world wars inflicted major damage upon the city. Upon Germany’s entry into World War I, the town was heavily damaged by rampaging soldiers. In all, about 300 civilians lost their lives. The university library was destroyed on 25 August 1914, using petrol and incendiary pastilles. 230,000 volumes were lost in the destruction, including Gothic and Renaissance manuscripts, a collection of 750 medieval manuscripts, and more than 1,000 incunabula (books printed before 1501). The destruction of the library shocked the world, with the Daily Chronicle describing it as war not only against civilians but also against “posterity to the utmost generation.” The burning of the city was done as a reprisal, which at the time was legal under international law, as the Germans alleged that Belgian civilians had taken part in the fighting and killed German troops. The library was rebuilt after the war, and much of the collection was replaced. Great Britain (on the initiative of the John Rylands Library in Manchester) and the United States were major providers of material for the replenishment of the collection. The new library building was financed by the National Committee of the United States for the Restoration of the University of Louvain and built to the design of architect Whitney Warren; it was officially opened on 4 July 1928. Richard Harding Davis, a war correspondent for the New York Tribune, was in Leuven and wrote a column titled “The Germans Were Like Men After an Orgy” in which he described the organized civilian murders and vandalism committed by the occupying troops.
Given the presence of the KU Leuven, Europe’s most innovative university according to Reuters, much of the local economy is concentrated on spin-offs from academic research. In addition, the Leuven-based research centre, IMEC, is a research centre in the field of nano-electronics and digital technologies. As a result, dozens of companies in high technological fields such as biotech, robotics, additive manufacturing and IT, are located near these research institutes on the Arenberg Science Park and Haasrode Research-Park. Quite a few international companies such as Siemens, Huawei, Nitto Denko, JSR Corporation or Commscope have important, often research oriented branches, in Leuven. The academic hospital UZ Leuven, first in Europe regarding the number of clinical tests per capita and approval rates for clinical trials, UZ Leuven is another advanced research institute. It is one of Europe’s largest academic hospitals. As a result, large numbers of private service providers are active in the medical, financial and legal fields.