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Introduction to Belgium | Brussels | History | Art Cities

Brussels, The Capital of Europe

Brussels is a cosmopolitan city, with a liveliness and an appeal that are intimately related to its role as a crossroads for all of Europe. Architectural styles range from Gothic cathedrals and churches to the gracious classical facades of the Palais des Nations, the Royal Palace and to the many art nouveau and art deco houses in the comfortable neighborhoods where the Bruxellois live.

The heart of Brussels and the place to start getting to know the city is the Grand'Place. This historic square, lined with exuberantly ornate guild houses and focused on the Gothic heights of the Hotel de Ville, is widely held to be one of Europe's finest.








The Grand'Place is also, as it has been for centuries, the focal point of the city's social and civic life. The people of Brussels gather here for their most important ceremonies and festivals, for the traditional bird market on Sunday mornings, and - perhaps most importantly - for no task more pressing than to sit, have a beer, and let the world pass.

Every neighborhood has its own market as Brussels is a city of markets: the bird market, the flower market, the antique market, the flea market, and the horse market. Vendors bring fresh produce from nearby fields, cheeses made in farms and abbeys; hams cured in the Ardennes, flowers and potted plants, chickens, rabbits and fresh caught fish, shrimp and mussels from the North Sea.

At the corner of the Rue de l'Etuve and the Rue du Chene, stands the fountain of Manneken-Pis. The statue has long been a beloved figure in Brussels, having come to be regarded as an honored citizen of the town. Kings, Presidents, and celebrities have given costumes to the Manneken-Pis. He now has a wardrobe of more than 250 outfits which are housed in the Musee Communal.

To the east of the Grand'Place, the ground rises toward the upper town where the Royal Palace and the House of Parliament sit. In between these two is a formal park with fountains in the French style with statues where Belgians fought the Dutch for their independence. Slightly to the south is the Place du Grand Sablon, the center of exquisite antique galleries and sumptuous restaurants.

Just to the north of the Grand Sablon is the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, which comprises the museums of Ancient Art and of Modern Art. Both possess enormous collections featuring many outstanding works. Among the rooms not to be missed is the collection of Flemish paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries. All of the major artists are well represented here including Robert Campin, Rogier van der Weyden, Hugo van der Goes, Dirk Bouts, Hans Memling, and particularly, Peter Breughel the Elder. There is an entire room devoted exclusively to Breughel's work, including his Landscape with the "Fall of Icarus." The national sons, Peter Paul Rubens and his disciple, Anthony Van Dyck have an impressive presence.

There is no shortage of entertainment events in Brussels, and in keeping with the city's cosmopolitan outlook, these are widely varied. They range from the annual Queen Elizabeth Music Competition, which draws aspiring classical musicians from all over the world, to the annual Jazz Festival in Brussels which attracts legendary jazz stars to the city. The Theatre Royal de la Monnaie consistently offers first class opera and ballet. In the Palais des Beaux Arts, symphony and chamber music concerts are programmed year-round. There are cinemas with American films in their original version, nightclubs and discos to satisfy even the most energetic. Don't forget the folklore and pageantry integral to an understanding of Belgium, with the Ommegang Festival, the first Thursday in July or the Parade of the Giants in May.

Mussels in Brussels are a must! They are prepared in a variety of ways and are a bargain in season. All Belgian food is of course delicious. Proportions are huge, so try to save room for dessert. Chocolates, waffles and cookies are everywhere. And after all, you can always go on a diet in Paris.

Europe | Geographia World