The Sonian Forest is a remnant of the centuries-old Silva Carbonaria (“ Charcoal Forest”), just like the Hallerbos, the Meerdaalwoud and the other Brabant forests. In the time of the Romans, the Silva Carbonaria extended from the banks of the Rhine and Moselle all the way to the North Sea.
The hunt and the monasteries
The Sonian Forest remained almost completely intact until the 15th century. First as the property of the Counts of Leuven and later of the Dukes of Brabant. At the end of the 12th century, they used the forest as a hunting ground. At that time, religious communities established themselves in the forest. Names such as La Cambre, Groenendaal, Val Duchesse, Rouge-Cloître Abbey and the Kapucijnenklooster (Closter of the Capuchins) became renowned as centres of religious and cultural life.
In the 16th and the 17th centuries, the Sonian Forest went through some turbulent times. In the eventful 18th century, the forest was plundered by the inhabitants of the area. The land ownerswho were in financial straits cut down a massive number of trees. Yet, there were two rays of hope: the reign of The Archduke and Archduchess Albert and Isabella (1598-1721) and that of the Austrian Habsburgers (1714-1795). The young Austrian landscape architect, Joachim Zinner, had an enormous number of beech trees planted. And, up to the present day, they still make up the majestic beech cathedral. Beeches older than 200 years are no exception here. They date from the first attempts at afforestation.
After the French regime (1794-1814), the Sonian Forest still covered an area of some 10,000 hectares. Under Dutch rule, the Sonian Forest became the property of the newly founded Algemene Nederlandsche Maatschappij (General Dutch Society) on 22 August 1822.
After the Belgian Revolution in1830, the company became Belgian, under the name Société Générale de Belgique, and sold almost 60 percent of its possessions. Those grounds were reclaimed. The remaining 4400 hectares is known today as the Sonian Forest. In 1843, the forest passed into the hands of the Belgian State.