Right from the very start, the racecourse was a popular, fashionable destination for Bruxellois to meet acquaintances, relax and enjoy sports activities. After lying abandoned for more than twenty years, the Uccle-Boitsfort Racecourse heritage site has been restored to its former glory thanks to DROHME, the Brussels-Capital Region and the European Regional Development Fund.
The site has gone through three main eras.
The golden age: equestrianism and society events
An oval shape, an original concept !
During the 18th century, the British fashion for horse racing gained ground in Belgium. In August 1875, at the behest of Leopold II, the State ceded a portion of the Sonian Forest to the City of Brussels to create a racecourse and pigeon shooting ground.
In 1878, the SRE (Royal Society for the Improvement of Horse Racing) set up a track based on plans by Édouard Keilig, the landscape architect behind the Bois de la Cambre. The ring was an unusual elongated oval shape, making it trickier than the average course! Around the edges sat the Grandstand and Small Stand.
The finish line for the races was located between the two stands, with spectators sitting ringside for the home straight. The “lawn” was located in the centre of the track where, for a reduced price, you could watch the action up close!
The weighing room
Le Pesage was built in 1900 by the architect François Kips. It is where jockeys were weighed wearing their uniforms and holding their saddles. The lightest of them were weighted down to give everyone an even chance in the race.
What would horse racing be without betting? The public came for the spectacle, as well as to place a wager. There were two types of bet:
- mutual betting, which took place at counters on the ground floor of the Grandstand;
- bookmaking, which took place at counters under gazebos located behind the Grandstand—the area that is today known as the Betting Village.
Horse racing enjoyed its golden age between 1880 and 1940.
From 1942 to 1951, architect Paul Breydel added several Modernist buildings and extensions, including the famous weighing room annex. Besides races, the site hosted a diverse range of activities such as fashion shows and society parties.
The decline: the racecourse falls silent
From the 1980s onwards, the races were attracting fewer and fewer spectators. In 1995 the horses made their final lap of the track. The end of horse racing on the site led to the gradual decline of its prestige and remarkable heritage.
During this period, the site occasionally played host to leisure activities and festivals, from theatre shows to events, circuses, trade fairs, flea markets and funfairs. However, due to a lack of maintenance it continued to deteriorate.
The rebirth: a multipurpose, multigenerational space
Following an unsuccessful call for tenders in 2006 by the SAF (Brussels property acquisition corporation), the SAU (Brussels urban development corporation) launched a second call for tenders in 2012.
The Region wanted to use this exceptional site to deliver an original project that was adapted to this natural environment and reflected its unique heritage. The project needed to be open to as many people as possible, offering recreational, educational and cultural activities while acting as the gateway to the Sonian Forest.
Out of the seven proposed projects, it was the VO Group’s DROHME Park that walked away the winner. In August 2014, the SAU began restoring the outer shells of the four iconic buildings—the Grandstand, Small Stand, Weighing Room and Starting Tower—which were completed in late June 2016. VO Group founded DROHME Invest to operate the franchise for 15 years and entrusted it with the task of developing the site, running activities, maintaining the grounds and infrastructure, and managing the park.