The Hofstad Swimming Pool is one of the most strangely alluring abandoned places I’ve ever been : this is because it was never really supposed to be there by design, but also because after a short but vibrant participation in the history of social recreation, it is currently returning back to oblivion – almost as if it was always supposed to be as ephemeral as the fun it provided, and the forces of fate that wrangled with it had the final say – or maybe not?
In 1901, the Belgian railways began construction on the Weerde – Muizen rail connection, which required the new track to be laid on an elevated bank. Digging works began, therefore, to provide the soil for the new railroad bank, and soon a number of deep holes appeared as a result of the excavation, which soon started filling with rain water.
The works stopped after the outbreak of WW1 in 1914, and the ponds were topped up with water, perhaps to be used as auxiliary reservoirs – and remained so until after the war. In the 20s , the ponds have already become an unofficial recreation area, although no facilities existed yet.
During the 30’s, the enduring popularity of the Hofstade Plage prompts the appearance of the first recreation facilities, such as tennis courts and restaurants, and King Albert I inaugurates the new complex in 1933. By the end of the decade, the facilities will expand to include more sports facilities, a boathouse, a wellness center, and several cafes and restaurants. The swimming pools and ancillary buildings, designed by Charles Van Nueten in a modernist style, were for a long time the largest open air swimming facilities in Europe.
The complex will remain popular for recreational use in the next decades until 1978, when the advent of new legislation meant that it didn’t meet the new hygiene standards, prompting its permanent closure.
Despite the decay and vandalism it has suffered until its closure, the Hofstade Pool has achieved protected status in 2001 and it is currently descending further into abandonment in a most gingerly manner. It is very easy to explore, and I have visited inside a clear summer afternoon as it can be easily reached from Brussels by car – or by train : 20 minutes to Mechelen first, and then another 20 minute bus ride to the domein. Be aware : there are very limited buses in the evening and no Uber, so be prepared for a bit of a walk and perhaps a couple of beers with the locals while waiting for your next ride. It’s what I did !
All photos © explorabilia