KU Leuven: KU Leuven is restoring historical heritage in honor of its 600th anniversary

In 2025, KU Leuven and UZ Leuven will open a new interdisciplinary experience center for the general public on the Hertogen site. The Vesalius project will focus on scientific research, care and society. The university is restoring two historic buildings to house the project: the Pathological Institute and the Anatomical Amphitheater with its Cutting House, which stands out from the street.

2025 already presents itself as an exceptional year for the university community, because then KU Leuven will celebrate its 600th anniversary. One of the eye-catchers during this anniversary year promises to be the opening of the Vesalius project. With this initiative, KU Leuven and UZ Leuven want to inspire the general public with stories about science and care. This interdisciplinary center will not only accommodate a museum – which will house parts of the university collections and the HistarUZ collection – but also studios and a visitor centre.


The neo-Gothic Anatomical Amphitheatre, designed by the well-known architect Joris Helleputte, circa 1910. | © Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (Brussels)
As befits the legacy of Vesalius, the human body is central to the project. The body is the starting point for diverse stories and questions about health and disease, science and innovation, quality of life and human well-being. What effect do new technologies have on the possibilities of medicine? How does the changing ideal of beauty determine the way we treat our bodies? What is the social impact of a pandemic? …

Heritage revaluation
The project will be located on the Hertogensite in the center of Leuven, the former hospital site between Brusselsestraat, Kapucijnenvoer and Minderbroedersstraat. For this purpose, the university is restoring two historic buildings in the Minderbroedersstraat: the Anatomical Amphitheater with adjacent Snijhuis and the Pathological Institute.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the University of Leuven developed more and more into a scientific institution. Both buildings are the result of this development. The neo-Gothic Anatomical Amphitheatre, designed by the well-known architect Joris Helleputte, dates from 1877. This auditorium accommodated two hundred students who could follow anatomy lessons and demonstrations. Afterwards there was also a rectangular dissection room, the so-called Snijhuis. Such infrastructure – with plenty of light, ingenious ventilation and excellent acoustics – was unseen at a Belgian university at the time.

At the beginning of the twentieth century (1906-1907) the Pathological Institute arose right next to it. Inside, the large halls for medical, chemical and microscopic analyses, which were used for both research and education, stood out. In addition, the institute included an anatomical museum and an 80-person auditorium. In the interwar period, a U-shaped auditorium with two hundred seats was added. In the second half of the twentieth century, more and more services moved to the Gasthuisberg site. Both locations currently have no function, but that will change in a few years.

(Read more below the photo)


As part of the Vesalius project, the university is restoring two historic buildings in Minderbroedersstraat: the Anatomical Amphitheater with adjacent Snijhuis and the Pathological Institute (l.). | © KU Leuven – Rob Stevens

Power of science
“With the Vesalius project, this classified heritage is given a contemporary interpretation that at the same time fits in seamlessly with its historical significance,” says Luc Sels, rector of KU Leuven. “Over the past year, we have all experienced first-hand the power and importance of science. Science is all about imagination and pushing boundaries. We want to emphasize that even more with Vesalius.”

“The two historic locations have been of great importance for the development of medical education at our university. With this new interpretation, we show our honor in an appropriate way”, responds professor Wim Robberecht, managing director of UZ Leuven. “The human body used to be literally central here and we are continuing that tradition in a modern way with the Vesalius project.”

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