Brussels, capital of the kingdom of Belgium is also the capital of Europe.
A destination that's easy to reach and reasonable prices that won't strain its visitors' pockets, regardless of age. This cosmopolitan city that loves good food lives life its way and expresses itself in a style very much its own: sometimes rebellious and mischievous, sometimes thoughtful and composed, but always very likeable. Despite its European dimension and despite all the different languages spoken on the corner of every street, Brussels is still inspired by a very "village-like" spirit. Of course, it's well known for its Grand-Place, its Atomium, its Manneken-Pis, its Gueuze and its Kriek, its waffles and its chocolates... (don't miss them!). But, just one tip: take the time, too, to soak up the very special atmosphere of its many different districts. Take a stroll to Rue Dansaert, Halles Saint-Géry and Place Sainte-Catherine. Head for Saint-Boniface, Châtelain or Flagey... You'll discover a Brussels that's in the spirit of the times, a capital that's relaxed and comfortable, as much in its history as in its present-day reality. Very fashionable. Very designer. Very creative. In other words, to put it in a nutshell, just relish Brussels, a fine and beautiful city to explore and discover...
Brussels at the heart of Europe
Headquarters of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (N.A.T.O.), Brussels is an international financial centre and home to the European headquarters of over two thousand multinationals. Brussels offers high-calibre scientific resources and has flexible economic infrastructures that have enabled it to keep pace with the great technological changes of the 21st century.
Brussels in figures
- Like the Parisian arrondissements and the London boroughs, every Brussels commune is designated by a specific postcode: 1050 for Ixelles, 1180 for Uccle, etc.
- The Brussels-Capital region consists of 19 communes: Anderlecht (1070), Auderghem (1160), Berchem-Sainte-Agathe (1082), Bruxelles-Ville (1000 and 1020), Etterbeek (1040), Evere (1140), Forest (1190), Ganshoren (1083), Ixelles (1050), Jette (1090), Koekelberg (1081), Molenbeek-Saint-Jean (1080), Saint-Gilles (1060), Saint-Josse-Ten-Noode (1210), Schaerbeek (1030), Uccle (1180), Watermael-Boitsfort (1170), Woluwe-Saint-Lambert (1200) and Woluwe-Saint-Pierre (1150).
- The conurbation covers a total surface area of 16,179 ha.
- The population has around 1.1 million inhabitants. Roughly 30% of the city's total population is foreign.
- The city's green spaces (parks - woods - forest) account for 11.4% of the region's territory.
- The time is GMT +1 in winter GMT + 2 in summer
- Brussels has a temperate, maritime climate.
- The average temperature in summer is ± 16°Celsius (± 60° Fahrenheit).
- The average winter temperature is ± 3°Celsius (± 37° Fahrenheit).
- Brussels's central boulevards are 15 m above sea level, Place Madou is 52 m above sea level, and the area between Forest and Duden parks is 100 m above sea level.
- A motorway ring road (RING) has been built roughly 6 km from the centre of Brussels to make both transit and entry into the city easier.
Top museums and attractions
From early times through to the present day, the history of Brussels has been played out within a physical framework remarkably well-suited to ushering in the birth of a major urban conurbation.
Born at the point where two contrasting regions - one, to the west, made up of marshy plains and the other, to the east, comprising hills and low plateaux - come together, the city has successfully taken advantage of its central location. It did so first by ousting Louvain as capital of the Duchy of Brabant, then by receiving confirmation of its political functions down the years under successive regimes and, finally, by ascending to the rank of European capital.
From what date can Brussels be said to have acquired each of the characteristics that transformed it into a city? No satisfactory answer has ever been given to this question. Brussels represents a most challenging enigma that leaves historians scratching their heads. Excavations have shown that the site was successively home to a Neolithic settlement, Roman villas and a Merovingian farming community. One such property is reputed to have provided refuge for Vindicien, Bishop of Cambrai, in around 695. However, it was in the second half of the tenth century that the village on the site began to emerge slowly from the shadows. In 977, it fell into the hands of Charles of France, Duke of Lower Lotharingia, who had a castle built on the river Senne complete with chapel dedicated to Saint Géry. Two years later, the Duke stayed at the castle.
The mediaeval city
As the years went by, a population of craftsmen and traders rose up around the primitive castle. The property then passed to the Counts of Louvain. One of them, Lambert II, began work on a major project to build a surrounding wall, the construction of which went on for half a century. During the same period, the counts abandoned their former residence (Castrum) and moved into the new castle they had built on the Coudenberg hills. Brussels had now become a fully-fledged city since, to enter it, visitors had to pass through one of its seven gates. It was now a real city that gradually acquired political status, to the considerable benefit of its rulers, now the Dukes of Brabant, and its patrician middle classes.
The power of these middle classes is symbolised by the charter, bestowed by Duke Jean II, granting each of the seven lines of noblemen the privilege of holding the key to all seven of the gates around the first wall. Completed in 1379, the second wall followed the route of the boulevards that today make up Brussels's inner ring-road.
The Middle Ages were marked by frequent civil unrest between the lower classes and their rulers. As in the major cities of Flanders, weavers were among the most rebellious. And when Duke Jean III died without a male heir in 1355, the Count of Flanders stepped into the breech to undermine his troublesome neighbour. After the rout of the Brabant troops, the banner of Louis de Maele flew over Brussels. The Count's victory was short-lived, however. Two months later, a hundred or so men led by Everard 't Serclaes succeeded in driving out the Flemish garrison. The Duchess Jeanne and her husband, Wenceslas of Luxembourg, were able to return to their capital. It was during this couple's long reign that the foundation stone was laid for the Brussels Town Hall in 1402. The death of the Duchess Jeanne, aged over 80, signalled the end of the venerable House of Louvain and left the way open for the ambitious House of Burgundy.
From the Burgundians to the Habsburgs
In the course of a quarter of a century littered with civil and dynastic unrest, three Burgundians succeeded one another as rulers of the Duchy. In 1430 Philip the Good took possession of Brabant. Brussels, and not Dijon, became the true capital of the Burgundians, who had become the equals of kings and emperors. At the same time, the city underwent a remarkable economic transformation as it switched to the production of luxury goods. The work of unifying the Netherlands undertaken by the Burgundians benefited Brussels, which became home to a sumptuous court into which flocked the leading artists and craftsmen of the day. The end of the fifteenth century was marked by further dynastic upheaval. The fortunes of politics and marriage resulted in Charles V, better known under the name of Charles Quint, succeeding the Burgundians. Heir to the Netherlands through his father, and to Spain, Naples and Sicily through his mother, not to mention a German emperor on his grandfather's side, Charles took up residence in Brussels at the Coudenberg Palace. In spite of hostility from Mechelen, the city thus gained irreversible confirmation of its political and administrative pre-eminence at the head of the Netherlands. In turn, this triggered remarkably swift economic growth.During his long absences, Charles Quint delegated his powers to Margaret of Austria, his aunt, then to Mary of Hungary, his sister. His successors would continue to be represented in Brussels by blood princes. And Brussels, more than any other city, was to benefit from the policy of centralisation pursued across territories under Habsburg rule.
All the more understandable, therefore, that Brussels once again became the natural leader of the uprising against the tyrannical regime introduced from Madrid by Philip II. For eight years the city experienced the horrors of the Inquisition, including the execution of the Counts of Egmont and Horne in 1568 on the Grand-Place. Yet this was only the beginning. Completely won over to the cause of William of Orange and Calvinism, the city, bled dry by these years of struggle as fierce as they were unequal, only admitted defeat on 10 March 1585 when Alexandre Farnèse secured the city's surrender. These years of sorrow delayed the moment when Brussels began to reap the benefits of the newly-opened Willebroeck canal, which was designed to provide the city with an indirect link to the sea. Despite a minor renaissance in the reign of Arch Duke Albert and Isabella, throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Brussels remained listless amid the decadence of the Spanish Habsburgs, although without its role as capital of the Spanish Netherlands ever coming under threat.When Europe once again rose up in anger, the armies of Louis XIV, commanded by Marshal de Villeroy, bombarded Brussels on 13 and 14 August 1695, destroying a great many buildings in the process. It took four years to restore the Grand' Place as one of Europe's most resplendent architectural settings.When the Austrian Habsburgs replaced their Spanish cousins in 1716, the city was plagued by a wave of social unrest. This culminated in the beheading of the Dean of the Guilds, François Anneessens, three years later.
Traumatised, Brussels would have to wait another 25 years before finding its feet again. It was the government of Charles of Lorraine which finally led the city out of the darkness and also improved it by making far-reaching changes to the urban landscape. By the eve of the French Revolution, one third of the city had been entirely remodelled. Yet Brussels did not escape the cauldron of philosophical and political upheaval at the end of the eighteenth century. Converted to the ideas of the Enlightenment, Emperor Joseph II had promulgated a series of reforms. However, his intentions were as noble as their procedures were unwieldy. Resistance began to ferment in people's minds. So, when Paris rose up in 1789, Brussels' only thought was to rise up against its foreign rulers, all in the name of defending the ancient privileges of the Catholic Church and the bourgeois aristocracy.
The long march to the future
Having quelled the revolt of their subjects in the Netherlands one last time, the Habsburgs had to bow to the might of France under the Directoire. After the battle of Waterloo and the fall of Napoleon, Brussels became one of the two capitals of the new Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with The Hague. The 1830 Revolution, Belgian independence and the rejection of Dutch rule marked a decisive and irreversible point in Brussels's ascension to the rank of major world city. From this moment on, the city quickly took on the attributes of a modern conurbation: conversion of the old city walls into boulevards; construction of railway stations (the first dating from 1835); foundation of a university in 1834, distribution of drinking water to homes, the laying of a network of sewers and the completion of ambitious urban building projects, including the covering of the river Senne -- not simply as a public health measure but also as an opportunity to give the central boulevards the uniform aspect they still retain to this day.
In the process of attracting an ever increasing number of administrative, commercial and financial activities to its centre, the city gradually swallowed up the neighbouring communes. Quite naturally, this rapid growth brought with it a continuation into the twentieth century of further rounds of major building projects. As such, Brussels was plainly not immune to the general trends that were transforming all the great cities in the west. The city's metro and tower blocks changed the traditional urban landscape. Mercifully, not all of Brussels's architectural treasures were bulldozed; those that remain are now guarded more and more jealously. Meanwhile, the dynamism, which this city of some million inhabitants has demonstrated down the years, was rewarded by decisions to make the city the headquarters of the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and numerous other international organisations, both public and private.