The Egmont Castle and its surrounding park determine the panorama of the town centre. Though the castle looks nice, it is only a shade of the former "House of Pleasance”, the sixteenth century residence of Egmont.
The early fortress at least dates back to the eleventh century. Not an imposing fortress, more a country house built out as a fortress, almost completely constructed in earth and wood.
A few decades later the dungeon and the chapel were built in natural stone. Traces of the dungeon are still to be seen in the front part of the crypt.
At the start of the thirteenth century the Lord of Zottegem added a stone hall to the site. In 1452 the fortress and the village were plundered and burnt down.
Between 1477 and 1485 the whole building was deconstructed - only the gate building of the medieval fortress was partly saved - and a new castle was built. It was surrounded by moats and a rampart with small half round towers. Part of it is reconstructed in the archaeological park. The ground plan of the twelfth century chapel, also the first Zottegem church, is also visualised in yellow dolomite.
The main buildings are L-shaped, with a north and a west wing, an exterior staircase facing south and a few minor buildings on the north and west side.
The castle was entered over a wooden drawbridge, adjacent to the remains of the medieval gate building.
North and east wing consisted of three building layers.
This fine court becomes the property of the Egmont family in 1530. Lamoral inherits it in 1541.
Castle and owner shivered under the sixteenth century violence.
After the execution of Lamoral in 1568 the castle was confiscated and came under Spanish control.
The Knights’ Hall, with renaissance loggia, still shows the traces of the "purification” of the Egmont relics: the coat of arms of the unfortunate count are chopped from the crown plates. The same hall exhibits two glorious tapestries, made in Oudenaarde at the beginning of the eighteenth century: one showing allegoric figures, the other one a fox hunt.
In 1576 Sabina of Bavaria, Lamoral’s widow, recovered the confiscated castle. It stayed with the Egmont family till 1707, when it was inherited by the Pignatelli family. At this point the definitive decay started. In 1830 the castle was turned into a two family house. In 1967 the south part was enlarged with a crow-step gable and an extra floor, while the façade was reconstructed in neo-renaissance style, according to the plans of the Ghent architect E. Van Hoecke.
In 1927 the remains of the surrounding rampart were broken down and the moats were filled. On the south side the Egmont Street is constructed on top of the former moat.
The north part was bought by the town in 1957 and the south became town property in 1965. Especially this part of the castle is used for several purposes. The Saint-Elisabeth Hospital was founded here in 1938 and stayed till 1948, afterwards the brand new royal Atheneum used the building, followed by some classes of the Catholic College.
In the middle of the 1960’s efforts were made to restore the castle into its former grandeur.
A fine attempt was made to turn the castle into a centre for arts and culture. For a while it housed the Museum of Folklore, History and Archaeology and it was tried to establish a Museum of the Sixteenth Century. But small quarrels meant the end of these plans.
The building was then temporary used by the City Academy of Fine Arts, while the crypt was turned into an alternative art gallery.
In the meanwhile the City Public Library moved in and a new wing was built adjacent to the south façade in 1986. It is a modern structure, perfectly in harmony with the old castle.
In 1996 the castle was profoundly renovated, taking care of the needs of a modern library.
The roof forms a nice example of the castle renovation. The brilliant roof construction, seen from the Book Attic, deserved to be kept visible. To make this attic usable isolation had to be installed: the original slates were taken off and isolation was placed on the outside, with the definite roof cover on top.
In another room - formerly described as the chapel - the fine gothic vaults were kept, including the short pillars, capitals and decorative motives. Here, a Napoleonic tent decoration, very popular at about 1800 and referring to the tents the emperor used during his Egyptian campaign, was reconstructed.
The monumental staircase also forms a good example of the renovation. To preserve it new "understairs” were constructed in concrete. Very unusual was that the original railing stayed in place during the whole process.
Very successful and original is the glass cover in the corridor on the park side. The original plinth is situated on a lower level than the modern parquet floor. In this passage two original arcs were saved too.
The librarian’s office is very remarkable. The almost complete wall decoration was renovated, as well as the boarding, mouldings, doors and mantelpiece.
Visitors find an "old” castle, renovated with the most modern materials, but making maximum use of the historical traces.