Leuven (; , , often used in English) is the capital of the province of Flemish Brabant in the Flemish Region, Belgium. It is located about east of Brussels, close to other neighbouring towns such as Mechelen, Aarschot, Tienen, and Wavre. The municipality itself comprises the historical city of Leuven and the former municipalities of Heverlee, Kessel-Lo, a part of Korbeek-Lo, Wilsele and Wijgmaal.
It is home to Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewing group and one of the five largest consumer-goods companies in the world; and to the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, the largest and oldest university of the Low Countries and the oldest Catholic university still in existence. It is also home to the UZ Leuven, one of the largest hospitals of Europe.
The earliest mention of Leuven ("Loven") is from 891, when a Viking army was defeated by the Frankish king Arnulf of Carinthia (see: Battle of Leuven). According to a legend its red-white-red colours depict the blood-stained shores of the river Dijle after this battle.
Situated beside this river, and near to the stronghold of the Dukes of Brabant, Leuven became between the 11th and 14th centuries the most important centre of trade in the duchy. A token of its former importance as a centre of cloth manufacture is shown in that ordinary linen cloth is known in late-14th-century and 15th-century texts as lewyn (other spellings: Leuwyn, Levyne, Lewan(e), Lovanium, Louvain).
In the 18th century the brewery Den Horen (meaning "the horn") flourished. In 1708 Sebastien Artois became the master brewer at Den Horen, and gave his name to the brewery in 1717, now part of AB InBev, whose flagship beer, Stella Artois, is brewed in Leuven and sold in many countries.
Both world wars in the 20th century inflicted major damage upon the city. Upon Germany's entry into World War I, the town was heavily damaged by rampaging soldiers. Some German soldiers shot the burgomaster, the university rector and all of the city's police officers. In all, about 300 civilians lost their lives. The university library was also destroyed on 25 August 1914, using petrol and incendiary pastilles. 230,000 volumes were lost in the destruction, including Gothic and Renaissance manuscripts, a collection of 750 medieval manuscripts, and more than 1,000 incunabula (books printed before 1501). The destruction of the library shocked the world, with the Daily Chronicle describing it as war not only against civilians but also against "posterity to the utmost generation." It was rebuilt after the war, and much of the collection was replaced. Great Britain (on the initiative of the John Rylands Library, Manchester) and the United States were major providers of material for the replenishment of the collection. The new library building was financed by the National Committee of the United States for the Restoration of the University of Louvain and built to the design of architect Whitney Warren; it was officially opened on 4 July 1928.
In World War II, after the start of the German offensive, Leuven formed part of the British Expeditionary Force's front line and was defended by units of the 3rd Division and Belgian troops. From 14 to 16 May 1940, the German Army Group B assaulted the city with heavy air and artillery support. The British withdrew their forces to the River Senne on the night of 16 May and the town was occupied the next day. The new university library building was set on fire by shelling on 16 May and nearly a million books were lost.