The building’s forbidding Neo-Renaissance façade alone might be enough to deter some visitors, and once inside, creepy deserted corridors and a crumbling lecture theater beckon. That’s not the half of it though. Descend into the bowels of this place, and the horrors really begin. “The head of a calf joined with the leg of a cat,” was a sight reported by one explorer. “The lung of a sheep beside the brain of a bear, imprisoned behind half a centimeter of delicate glass.”
The site is known as the “Horror Labs”, and it’s a name it lives up to. Shelves are lined with jar upon jar of animals – or at least their organs and other body parts. Some of these are recognizable, others just mysterious and grotesque – particularly when different creatures’ remains have become bedfellows in death. It really is like a scene from a horror movie. At any moment, you might expect to see a deranged scientist leap out of the darkness to punish you for invading his secret laboratory. The punishment? Let’s not go there.
Before you can even begin to absorb and process the sights in this strange and macabre place, another of your senses is assaulted. The smell is almost overwhelming. It’s the sickly sour chemical odor you might remember from school science labs: formaldehyde. The fumes are so strong in this unventilated basement that other explorers have had to leave – forced out by the irritating reaction the chemical had on their skin.
Strange though they may seem to new visitors, all of these odd sights and smells appear far more normal when you discover the purpose this place once served. It is, in fact, an abandoned school for the training of veterinary surgeons. The veterinary school in Anderlecht, Brussels was closed down in 1990 after over twenty years at this location. It originally occupied the complex of 19 buildings and their web of interconnecting passages in 1969, but come 1991 the campus was moved to Liege, another Belgian city.
While some of buildings were converted into loft apartments when the veterinary school moved campus, the central building was allowed to fall into decay. Complete with its gruesome contents – like these horse organs – the strange, disused campus remained: creepy, macabre, and perfect for exploring – unless, that is, you’re squeamish.
Once, this might have been someone’s beloved pooch. Now, of course, it looks more like an apparition from a nightmare. The level of the formaldehyde appears to have dropped in the jar, so perhaps rot has set into the poor dead creature’s nose. We hope, at least, it didn’t look like this when it died. As for the mutt’s eyes, they still look disturbingly alert. This is definitely a bizarre addition to the macabre menagerie in these underground rooms – but it’s in good company.
We don’t know exactly what organs are trapped in these glass jars of formaldehyde, and we’re not sure we want to! Incidentally, compounding the fact that formaldehyde fumes act as an irritant, the chemical is now widely considered to be carcinogenic. So it’s probably not a good idea to breathe too deeply around here. Still, with the prospect of that sickly clinical smell, it’s unlikely you’d want to.
If this sample is anything to go by, tuberculosis really does have a horrible effect on the lungs. As for whatever is in the jar to the right – surely a limb of some kind – it doesn’t look to be in very good shape, either. Perhaps this is because the preserving liquid appears to have completely evaporated or otherwise leaked away. That said, even if something is immersed in formaldehyde, it doesn’t generally mean it will be preserved indefinitely, just that it’s decaying more slowly.
According to the label on this jar, these are the mammary glands of a female dog – one among many of the strange biological specimens stored in the catacomb-like cellars beneath Anderlecht’s former veterinary school.
This looks to us like a jar of fur. Perhaps the animal inside it dissolved away – who knows? When the school relocated to Liege, it clearly left a good portion of its specimen collection behind. We wonder why. Perhaps all the glass jars filled with toxic liquid were just too much trouble to transport. We can but wonder as we pore over these body parts, literally left for dead.
There are strange specimens all over the basement “jar room” – the name it is sometimes given. As stated, one explorer reported seeing a sheep’s lung kept together with a bear’s brain, and a calf’s head connected to a cat’s leg – not to mention various other unidentifiable creatures soaking in a single container. “This really is bad dream material,” he says. We wouldn’t care to argue.
The building in which the veterinary school was located from the late ‘60s to the early ‘90s was inaugurated back in 1910, and the Flemish Neo-Renaissance style roofs and façades are now legally protected. In the photograph shown at the beginning of the article, you can see what look to be the restored buildings behind the dark, somewhat sinister looking main edifice. There are plans in place to renovate the central building as well, so these spooky interiors will not stay this way for much longer.
Here, it’s as if somebody was disturbed while doing some reading and never came back to finish their chapter. As you can tell from the cobwebs, nobody has lingered in this space for a very long time. With the view the window affords, this room must be on one of the building’s upper levels, and through the grimy glass you can see one of the other wings of the complex.
The site’s previous function as a school is more apparent in this room than some of the others. This was obviously some kind of lecture theatre – and one praised by one explorer for its “ornate painted details,” despite its rundown overall appearance. The rows of tightly packed seats suggest the school accommodated quite a few students in its day. And from the look of those hard wooden chairs, the powers that be obviously didn’t want the undergraduates getting too comfortable and dozing off, either!
The onetime educational institution is full of corridors like this one. The mosaic tiles on the floor still look to be in very good condition, and we get a sense that this was quite a pleasant place to be when it was operational. The paint hasn’t even peeled away and remains a shade of white. All the same, walking down such long, empty hallways would still be more than a little eerie.
Here’s another couple of jars containing weird looking specimens, along with some bottles of chemicals, perhaps, or maybe water. Although people have been exploring this building for quite some time, there’s still a surprising amount of equipment and other remnants. That said, at least one recent explorer complained of damage to the property caused by visitors as well as a recent increase in looting.
There are no labels on these jars, so it’s hard to know what they contain; the organs on the right look as if they might be brains, though. We can only guess at how long some of these pickled body parts have been stored here, but since the place became a veterinary school in 1969, it’s more than conceivable that some of them are over 40 years old.
An entire collection of what look like glass medicine bottles lies strewn in this grubby tray, a sign of a site long since forsaken. Yet, since being abandoned, these premises have not always been entirely empty. Bedding, pieces of clothing and discarded food packaging have provided some explorers with clues about the occasional occupants who stay here, thought to be homeless people.
With its splattered trolley and floor, this dark corner seems like it could do with a clean up. When the renovations to the former campus have been completed, it is slated to be converted into a green building. In fact, planners hope the site will set an example to other local homeowners on how to make their own buildings more energy efficient. Sounds like a good use of an old school to us.
These corroding, mold-encrusted shelves contain yet more specimens that will all have to be cleared away once work starts on the building renovation. We wonder where they’ll end up. Thrown away, or in a museum? Or perhaps in somebody’s particularly macabre private collection.
The old veterinary school in Anderlecht, Brussels is a strange yet oddly fascinating place to explore. We’re sure some of the creepy items we’ve seen here will, like the smell of formaldehyde, linger with us for quite some time.
Thank you to photographer Stefaan Beernaert for braving the spooky interiors to capture these scenes before they are gone forever, and for sharing his images with us here.