The Grand Place or Grote Markt is the central square of Brussels. It is surrounded by guildhalls, the city’s Town Hall, and the Breadhouse. The square is the most important tourist destination and most memorable landmark in Brussels, along with the Atomium and Manneken Pis. It measures 68×110 metres and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Town Hall is a Gothic building from the Middle Ages. The facade is decorated with numerous statues representing nobles, saints, and allegorical figures. It towers 96 metres high, and is capped by a 3 metre statue of Saint Michael slaying a demon. To counter this symbol of municipal power, from 1504 to 1536 the Duke of Brabant built a large building across from the city hall as symbol of ducal power.
It was built on the site of the first cloth and bread markets, which were no longer in use, and it became known as the King’s House, although no king has ever lived there. It is currently known as the Maison du roi (King’s House) in French, though in Dutch it continues to be called the Broodhuis (Breadhouse), after the market whose place it took. Wealthy merchants and the increasingly powerful guilds of Brussels built houses around the edge of the square.
The fame and beauty of Grote Markt do not lie only in the Town Hall and the King’s House, but perhaps first of all in the presence of a remarkably beautiful set of elaborately decorated guild houses. The name “guild houses” is most commonly used for the entire set of houses, although in reality they did not all belong to the medieval guilds. Some of the houses were always privately owned.
During the Middle Ages and later every city in the Low Countries had guilds or corporations which always had a stake in the city administration. Because they were very wealthy and politically powerful , their importance had to show in their houses in which they regularly met to discuss new rules or regulations within their specific trade or commerce.
The House of the Dukes of Brabant – This is actually a group of 7 houses, each with a different name. The ensemble is called “The Dukes of Brabant” because on the first floor, under the windows, the statues of the dukes can be seen. No duke or king actually lived here. The names of the houses are: The Fame, The Hermit, The Fortune, The Windmill, The Tin Pot, The Hill, and The Beurs.
The monument underneath the arcades of the Maison de l’Étoile at the Brussels Grand Place commemorates Everard t’Serclaes, a 14th-century popular Brussels hero. T’Serclaes was caught up in a territorial feud with the Lord of Gaasbeek, who had his castle just outside Brussels. In 1388, when riding alone on the road from Brussels to Lennik, Serclaes was ambushed by the bailiff of Gaasbeek and Gaasbeek’s bastard son, who chopped off one of his feet and cut his tongue. The Brussels hero was transported to the Maison de l’Étoile, where he died. The Brussels citizens avenged Serclaes’ death by storming and destroying the Gaasbeek castle, pillaging its chicken pens and feasting on the chickens. This event has earned the Brusselers the nickname of “kiekenfretters”, i.e. “chicken-eaters”. Local superstition has it that stroking the statue, especially Serclaes’ arm and the dog’s nose, brings luck.
The St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral is named after the patron saints of Belgium and is the primary church of the Belgium. The first St. Gudula church originally built in Romanesque style was transformed in gothic style as from the 13th century. Today, the foundations of the first church can still be seen under the crypt of the gothic cathedral.The gothic choir was constructed between 1226 and 1276, nave and transept in the middle of the 15th century. The western facade, completed between 1450 and 1490, follows the example of the French gothic facades.
The Royal Palace of Belgium is one of the most beautiful official buildings in the capital, Brussels. It symbolises Belgium’s system of government, a constitutional monarchy. The Palace is where the King exercises his prerogatives as Head of State, grants audiences, and deals with affairs of state. The Palace also includes the State Rooms where large receptions are held, as well as the apartments provided for foreign Heads of State during official visits.
In 1873, architect Alphonse Balat designed for King Leopold II a complex of greenhouses which complement the castle of Laeken, built in the classical style. The complex has the appearance of a glass city set in an undulating landscape.
The famous Manneken-Pis (little man piss) remains the emblem of the rebellious spirit of the City of Brussels. Manneken Pis is a small bronze fountain sculpture depicting a little boy urinating into the fountain’s basin. On many occasions the statue is dressed in costume changed according to a schedule managed by the non-profit association Les Amis de Manneken-Pis, in ceremonies that are often accompanied by brass band music. His wardrobe counts more than 800 suits!
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert (St. Hubert Galleries) is a glazed 19th century shopping arcade in the heart of Brussels. I don’t enjoy shopping much, but the architecture itself was worth a visit. In the middle of the 19th century, the Saint-Hubert Galleries were the longest, highest, best decorated, and best lit galleries in the world, thanks to the enormous glass roof which is 200 meters long.
Along Rue des Bouchers and the three tiny streets that branch off it – Petite Rue des Bouchers, Rue de la Fourche Petite and Rue Gretry – there are more than 70 restaurants, one next to the other, on the street levels of the old step-roofed stone, brick and timber buildings in what is one of the oldest sections of historical central Brussels. Rue des Bouchers is more than a street of small restaurants in the center of old Brussels. It is the gateway to a neighborhood of food that takes in four narrow, cobbled streets in the center of the city.
The streets of food are always a delight and there is as much variety as you could wish. But if there is one thing you must try, it is moules frites (mussels with fries), an iconic Belgian dish. You get a pot of steamed mussels, broth, and a side of frites. There are many ways to sauce the mussels, but the most classic is moules mariniere, where the mussels are presented in a broth of white wine, shallots, parsley and butter. You can also find mussels served with broth made with beer, or cream, or vegetable stock. For the greatest authenticity, use a shell to crack open the moules, not your fork.
Next to Swiss chocolates, Belgian chocolates are rated some of the best in the world. There is a reason for this. Belgians take chocolate making very seriously! Just like beer making. There are thousands of varieties to choose from and endless choices to be made.
Belgium is also famous for their waffles. Here, waffles are sold in waxed wrappers and eaten like a street food, eaten hot and out of hand. The Brussels waffle is based on a batter raised with yeast — as opposed to most North American waffle or pancake batters, which are raised with baking powder.
The Cinquantenaire Park was planned by King Leopold in the late 19th century. This park holds imposing monuments including the Triumphal Arch, Exposition Halls and the Bordiau Halls, which house the prestigious Museum of Art and History. The most eye-catching monument is the triumphal arch built to serve as a monument to illustrate the glorious past of Brussels. It also was to serve as a new entrance gate to the center for people entering from the eastern side of Brussels, via the Tervurenlaan.
The Atomium was the main pavilion and icon of the World Fair of Brussels (1958), commonly called Expo 58. It symbolised the democratic will to maintain peace among all the nations, faith in progress, both technical and scientific and, finally, an optimistic vision of the future of a modern, new, super-technological world for a better life for mankind.
A seminal totem in the Brussels skyline; neither tower, nor pyramid, a little bit cubic, a little bit spherical, half-way between sculpture and architecture, a relic of the past with a determinedly futuristic look, museum and exhibition centre; the Atomium is, at once, an object, a place, a space, a Utopia and the only symbol of its kind in the world, which eludes any kind of classification.
The peaceful use of atomic energy for scientific purposes embodied these themes particularly well and, so, that is what determined the shape of the edifice. At 102 metres high, with its nine interconnected spheres, it represents an elementary iron crystal enlarged 165 billion (thousand million) times. It was dreamed up by the engineer André Waterkeyn (1917-2005). The spheres, though, were fitted out by the architects André and Jean Polak.
With its 115,000 square metres of facilities, Brussels Expo is Belgium’s biggest Exhibition Centre. It hosts 60 exhibitions and 90 events every year. It also reflects the enthusiasm and the energy of the capital of Europe.
This post is one of an 10 part entry of our trip to Netherlands and Belgium. See all the places we visited on this trip below:
- Zaanse Schans – Windmills & Cheese
- Volendam & Marken – Seafood & Clogs
- Lisse – Keukenhof & Flowerfields
- Amsterdam – Flowers, Food, Culture
- Amsterdam – Buildings, Places, Waterways
- Amsterdam – Graffiti, Marijuana, Prostitutes
- Brussels – Mussels & Manneken Pis
- Antwerp – Grote Markt & Surrounds
- Brugge – Museums, Chocolates, Lace
- Gent – Korenmarkt, Architecture, Waffles