This Unusual See-Through Church In Western Europe Is Worth Seeing In Person

In the charming countryside of Borgloon, Belgium, there's a church that's both there and, well, not there. From one angle, you'll notice the chapel looks solid. From another, it's see-through, with foliage appearing behind the beams and entire sections missing, as though they've simply dissolved into thin air. This impressive optical illusion is appropriately titled "Reading Between the Lines."

Installed in 2011, the piece was designed by Belgian architects Pieterjan Gijs and Arnout Van Vaerenbergh, known together as Gijs Van Vaerenbergh. They brought the chapel to life when the nearby Z33 art museum launched a competition to create a design that symbolized the community's relationship with the church. Of the 24 churches in town, only half were still in use, yet they were still considered beloved landmarks. In one interpretation, the art captures this relationship beautifully. The church remains a solid pillar for some and a familiar, if not fading, fixture for others.

How the chapel was constructed

Gijs Van Vaerenbergh drew on a local chapel for design inspiration, using software to construct the church in its entirety before strategically cutting out each section. For every half inch of material, there's three and a half inches of empty space, which gives the building its hallmark see-through quality. This emptiness is more than just physical, though. It provides ample space to interpret the piece in whatever way it speaks to you, said Gijs Van Vaerenbergh in an interview with Architect Magazine.

The shape of the chapel was carefully crafted with 100 layers of steel and 2,000 columns. In total, the steel pieces weighed more than 30 tons and took two months to cut with a laser. After that, the welding took three weeks, then the installation with a crane took one day, as seen in a timelapse on YouTube. The final result is a stunning place of worship: a 33-foot chapel framed by an idyllic orchard, complete with a pointed spire and a cross on the top.

What to know before you go

The see-through chapel is located about an hour east of Brussels. Once you arrive in the town in Borgloon, the fastest way to get there is by car, which takes about four minutes. There is a small parking lot at the entrance with signs that say "Doorkijkkerk" (the name of the chapel in Flemish) to point you in the right direction. You can also visit by bike, which would take 10 minutes from town, or opt for a 25-minute trek on foot. From the parking lot at the entrance, you'll see a short scenic trail that winds through farmland, giving you the opportunity to see the chapel from different angles and elevations.

Plan to spend at least an hour here, as there could be a line to get inside the church. For the best views and the fewest crowds, visit around sunrise or sunset. Holidays and weekends tend to be the busiest, as locals like to visit and have picnics on the grounds. For a little extra magic, you could always visit during spring, when the orchards will be in full bloom. If it happens to be raining outside, you're still in for a treat: the steel is arranged so that you'll stay dry inside the chapel. Down to every last detail, this is one spectacular building you don't want to miss.