Restauration of Borgharen castle

A real challenge

Restauration of Borgharen castle

Time, attention and a large amount of knowledge come together in the restoration of Borgharen Castle, just outside Maastricht. Two bricklayers from Laudy Bouw & Ontwikkeling, a subsidiary of Ballast Nedam, are working with a team of volunteers on the complete restoration of this castle.

Cliché, but true: Borgharen Castle project is best described with the word 'unique'. As a child, Ronny Bessems lived opposite the castle and looked out over the estate. He used to dream of being a knight. That plan did not work out, but in 2015 he bought the monument for the symbolic amount of one euro. Since then, Ronny has been taking care of restoring the castle to its former state.

He cannot do that restoration alone. In a short time, he gathered a loyal group of volunteers ranging in age from 37 to 87. Some are former restorers, others have worked as carpenters for years or are simply dedicated and enthusiastic to make it a success. They started cleaning up in 2015, after which the restoration started in 2018 together with Laudy Bouw & Ontwikkeling.

'Never experienced anything like it before'

Marc Bokop has worked as a bricklayer for Laudy for many years. From the first day of work he has been involved in the restoration and coordinates the bricklaying work. "This is really nice work. Restoration is my passion and on this project everything comes together. We do everything ourselves and quality is paramount. I've been on many projects in the past few years, but I've never experienced anything like this. On this project, there is a very close, unique cooperation between the craftsmen and the volunteers."

All walls in the dammed-up moat are being restored. In places where parts of the walls have disappeared, new walls will be bricked up. These will connect seamlessly to the old brickwork. All remaining old pointing will be removed and the entire walls will be re-pointed. The volunteers make sure that the brickwork, marlstone and natural bricks no longer contain any mortar and they sort everything by size. This enables the bricklayers to work quickly and efficiently and it ensures that materials are not wasted. The bricklayers use the restoration ladder, which continuously monitors whether an element is to be retained, repaired or renewed.

Marl: the white gold of Limburg

The word 'marl' makes Marc's eyes sparkle. "We call it our 'white gold', it is precious and can be applied beautifully. The darker the block appears, the stronger it is." On this project, marl recurs in several places, including the cornice in the moat. The blocks are placed in a semi-circular shape, so that they stand out gracefully next to the stone blocks. Marc explains: "You can't simply position marl blocks. It is made of layers of shellfish that have sunk to the bottom of the sea over millions of years, also called 'the army of a marl block'. This makes a marl block very vulnerable at the sides, but incredibly strong at the top and bottom. So we have to make sure that we place it on the right side."

Despite the strength it can withstand, marl is a relatively soft material. Therefore, it is necessary that the joints are also soft enough so that they move along with the marl. Hard cement joints would make the marl break as soon as it moved due to temperature differences or other factors. That is why yellow restoration joints were chosen. "Typical Limburg," says Marc. "The yellow joints are a combination of lime and yellow sand, which allows the joint to move flexibly with the marl. This material really needs that."

Inside, in the former stable, his colleague Roland shapes the marl blocks for the moat. It is handwork. With a marl cutter, the right curve gradually appears, allowing it to fit seamlessly onto the other blocks. "This is the kind of work I find challenging," he says. "Laudy is one of the few companies in the area that still masters the craft of working and processing marl. That's why I'm constantly learning something new. With our own work, we see the outside area improve."

The right colour

While outside, volunteers are working hard on the canal, inside, restoring interior elements in the salon and other rooms. In the 'Blue Room', the heart of the castle, several layers of paint are coming up. Layer by layer, the interior of the room is peeled off. When the right colour has been chosen, the whole room is brought back into the right style. Meanwhile, the original art is bought back and old murals in the corridors are brought to light.

With winter approaching, work on the moat will come to a temporary halt as it becomes too cold to work with marl. In the spring of 2022, restoration work will resume and bricklayers Marc and Roland will finish the moat together with the volunteers. Although time is of the essence and the result is paramount, progress is steady. The restoration work is expected to be completed around 2024. From that moment on, visitors to the castle will go back in time.

Are you curious?

Would you like to come and take a look in the meantime? That is possible! Every Saturday, the restoration work on Borgharen Castle is explained during guided tours at 10:15 am and 1:15 pm. For more information, please visit the website. 

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