When you have to wait for over a decade to marry the person you love, you owe it to yourself to find the perfect venue to celebrate your long-awaited union. As we were anxiously waiting for the law to pass, we set our eyes on the most romantic spots in Luxembourg. Little did we suspect where our quest would lead us to…
Leaving behind Mersch, we were driving through undulating woods and stream-embroidered meadowlands. Once out of the woods, we were greeted by a hidden gem on our left:
The Grand Château d’Ansembourg
Located in central Luxembourg, the New Castle of Ansembourg belongs to the famous “Valley of the Seven Castles”. This valley is crossed by the river Eisch, and is named after the group of seven castles that line its route: Mersch, Schoenfels, Hollenfels, the Old and New Castles of Ansembourg, Septfontaines, and Koerich.
The Grand Château of Ansembourg was built in 1639 by Thomas Bidart. During the Thirty Year’s War, this pioneer of Luxembourg’s iron and steel industry exploited the region’s timber and iron to manufacture arms. He soon prospered and decided to build a “new” castle in the valley of Ansembourg, surrounded by stone walls and towers.
But the way the castle looks today is due to the De Marchant family who inherited the New Castle of Ansembourg by marriage. In 1719, they added two wings on each side of the original building. The southern gable was then enhanced with five sublime arches. The one in the middle serves as a gateway, whereas the two arches on each side are adorned with statues representing the four continents (back then, only 4 continents were known).
From enigmatic fountains to idyllic alleys
From the great arcade a staircase leads to an enigmatic fountain. It is a large basin formed as a clover. In the center of the fountain stands a water-spouting Triton riding a sea monster. A tribute to Bernini’s Triton Fountain in Rome? What clearly is not inspired by Bernini’s work are the four frogs perched at the corners of the fountain.
Frogs have always played a major role in Western culture as a dual symbol: the darker magical-demoniac side, as well as the positive symbol of transformation. The shape-shifting frog – from round egg to tadpole to long-limbed amphibian – often represents humans’ metamorphosis, from child to old man, from non-initiated, ignorant, to initiated, wise. The four frogs at the fountain may symbolize the soul’s journey, even its possible reincarnation.
The stone lions located further into the gardens are not less surprising: they discharge water into shells held by monkeys. We have been to many castles and museums in Europe, but rarely encounter apes in sculpture. The ape is often a distorted image of men. In paintings, monkeys function as emblems of the “bad artist” or of human stupidity and ignorance. So, the question is: what are they doing here?
The dripping or weeping fountain is yet another strange phenomenon. The structure of 3 levels may yet again infer different stages in life. At the southern end of the park hides the Fountain of Hell. It looks like a miniature grotto. Charon, the ferryman of Hades, may not be far away…
Between 1740 and 1750, the Count further improved the gardens by providing them with a baroque touch: walking down a long alley, we were mesmerized by sculptures representing antique deities standing on both sides of the romantic path. Among the 8 statues are Hercules, Venus, Hermes, and Artemis.
Not far from there begins the garden’s labyrinth. This perfect place for hide-and-seek is another symbol of the complex route towards knowledge acquisition and illumination.
Today’s mysterious landlords
Now stretching over 5.1 hectares, of which 3.5 ha are lush with garden, the New Castle of Ansembourg was rented to the “Miami University” for some time. However, the building was in ruins, and as local authorities took too much time to react, the Count of Ansembourg sold the castle to Sûkyô Mahikari in the mid-1980’s, presumably so his statues wouldn’t be liquidated along with his gigantic library of over 12,000 volumes.
According to Internet sources, the “Sûkyô Mahikari” is a Japanese sect whose founder and members believe in spiritual energy and the healing powers of True Light. It seems like the organization is supported by voluntary donations. We are unsure at this point whether members of this organization in Luxembourg have to pay a monthly membership fee. But if they do, it seems that a fraction of these monies are put to good use in maintaining the castle and its gardens. Parts of the castle are still being restored. But as far as we can tell, they carry out serious work.
We ended up celebrating our wedding at another venue in Luxembourg. But when our photographer asked us to choose a place for our engagement photo session, we couldn’t refuse spending a poetic afternoon in the idyllic gardens of the Grand Château d’Ansembourg.
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