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ULB’s origins and evolution

The history of the Université libre de Bruxelles is tightly interwoven with that of Belgium itself. In 1830, when the 9 provinces that had separated from the Kingdom of the Netherlands formed the new Belgian state, three state universities existed in the country: those of Ghent, Liège, and Leuven. Although it was promoted to the rank of capital, Brussels did not have its own university.

This is why, in 1831, a group of key Brussels figures in the fields of letters, sciences, and education decided to create a university. To them, it could be either a state university or a private university, as the Belgian constitution—the most liberal in Europe—allowed this.

The Belgian state, finding that its three existing universities were already too much of a financial burden, was not very enthusiastic about the project. However, when the episcopate decided to found a Catholic university in Mechelen in 1834, events unfolded quickly: liberals and Freemasons, who were backing the Brussels project, ramped up their efforts and, on 20 November 1834, at the initiative of Auguste Baron and Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen, the Université libre de Belgique—ULB’s original name—started its first academic year.

In 1842, it became the ‘Université libre de Bruxelles’: the geographic indication changed, but the adjective ‘libre’ remained. It was essential.

Find many articles and books about ULB’s history in the University’s digital library.


L'ancien Palais Granvelle, situé rue des Sols et rue de l'Impératrice, au centre ville, constitua le siège principal de l'Université entre 1842 et 1928.
The former Palais Granvelle, located rue des Sols and rue de l’Impératrice, in the city centre, was the University’s main building from 1842 to 1928.

Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen, avocat bruxellois, qui donna l'impulsion nécessaire à la création de l'Université libre de Bruxelles.
Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen, a Brussels lawyer who provided the impetus for the creation of the Université libre de Bruxelles.

Updated on January 11, 2021