- Forêt de Soignes/Zoniënwoud
- Situated southeast of Brussels, the Forêt de Soignes lies beyond the Bois de la Cambre. Dubbed the "lungs of Brussels" and comprising a rolling woodland of 80 percent beech and 20 percent oak and conifer trees, the forest extends approximately 4,386 ha (10,833 acres). Criss-crossed by a network of roads and paths, it is a popular parkland for walking, cycling, and horseback riding.Comprising part of an ancient forest that once stretched from the Sambre River to the Scheldt, the forest sheltered prehistoric settlements, and, within its woods, the Nervii were defeated by Caesar's Roman legions in the half century before the Christian era. Wood charcoal was produced here in Roman times. It gained fame in the 15th century during the Burgundian regime when, under ownership of the dukes, the woodland was known throughout Europe for its excellent hunting. Charles V and Charles of Lorraine rode to hounds here.In the 14th and 15th centuries its tranquil setting made it a favorite place for abbeys and monasteries. All of them disappeared by the end of the 18th century and only a few scattered ruins remain, notably an 18th-century building from the Augustinian abbey of Groenendael founded in the 14th century by the mystic Jan van Ruusbroec.The woods witnessed many skirmishes between French and Spanish troops during the War of the League of Augsburg (1688-1697), including a troop led by Jacques "Jaco" Pasture, who later spread terror by robbing all who traveled the forest (see FORT JACO). Under the French regime, the republican government divided up the forest and parceled it out to neighboring towns and villages. Many of the oak trees were used in constructing naval vessels and defensive works. The forest was ceded to a private enterprise—the Société Générale des Pays-Bas—during the Dutch regime. It reverted to state ownership in 1842 and was managed by the Office des Eaux et des Forêts. In the 19th century, it covered three times its current area and included many lakes and streams, a number of which disappeared following improvements in the city's water supply undertaken in the mid-19th century. Today, approximately 38 percent of the forest is managed by the government of the Brussels Capital Region, 56 percent by the government of the Flanders region, and 6 percent by the government of the Wallonia region.Extensive deforestation occurred over the centuries. The forest harbors the Groenendael Arboretum, which features more than 400 species of trees and shrubs and a forest museum.
Historical Dictionary of Brussels. Paul F. State.