Nothing is more wondrous than resting your eyes upon a city that is strikingly modern juxtaposed with medieval architecture and ancient history. Lively Brussels is one of those places. It offers a vibrant, cultural lifestyle and museums and galleries showcasing modern, nouveau as well as ancient historical art.
A prominent percentage of the Brussels population is made up of an international business community composed of euro-politicians, diplomats and lobbyists as well as NATO personnel. This influx of international business arrived in the last three decades. It has resulted in blocks lined with glass and steel office buildings built to keep their occupants safe from any attacks. These modern buildings are only a few steps from the cobble stone streets, array of café’s, and graceful art nouveau architecture that capture the city’s eventful past.
Located in the middle of Belgium, Brussels is one of the world’s few bilingual capital’s. Dutch is spoken primarily in the north and French, with Dutch influences, in the south making for a lovely Belgium/French accent.
Brussels inhabitants are known to be politically and religiously conservative. There is a strong influence to national and family traditions. A large percentage of Belgians are Roman Catholics, and although a decline in attending church services, religious customs still mirror much of Belgium’s daily life.
When Brussels was first built, it sat along the banks of the River Senne, but during the late 19th century, city officials decided to cover the river with a brick boulevard to eliminate the risk of flooding. The river still flows under the city today.
Brussels was under Austrian rule for a portion of the 18th century. During this time building and structures were designed in a rational, modest, neoclassical style. After the war of independence ended in 1831 Brussels built with a new vitality and vigor in an effort to catch up with the exuberant and extravagant structures of London and Paris. Out if this time period came the first covered shopping centers. The glass-covered roof of the Gallery Saint Hubert continues to astound visitors today as when it was first built.
One of the most famous post World War II structures in Belgium is the Atomium. Designed to showcase the Belgian metal industry during the 1958 World Fair, the structure was modeled on the shape of a molecule. The 300 foot steel structure consists of cylindrical columns linked with nine spheres making for an awe inspiring site.
Throughout the decades, Brussels has been a world leader not only in architecture but also in music, literature, dance, sculpture painting and textiles. The city contains a plethora of examples showcasing excellence in each of these genres.
In the art community it is known that early Belgian artists were the inventors of oil painting. Many masterpieces have come out of Belgium. The technique originated in the 15th century by Jan Van Eyck. Pieter Brueghel his predecessor with his portrayals of peasant life in the 16th century, and Pieter Paul Rubens in the early 17th century art as the influencing artist of the Baroque period.
Often referred to as ‘one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe, if not in the world’, by visitors to Brussels. French speakers call it ‘Le Grand-Place’, and in Dutch refer to it as ‘de Grote Markt’. Writers Victor Hugo and Baudelaire frequently wrote about the charm of the market square set against the backdrop of the Town Hall, its rows of guild houses and the King’s house.
The origins of the Grand-Place were modest. The site began as a hill of sand bank between two brooks that ran downhill to the river Senne. The “niedermerckt”, or ‘lower market’ was the first to be built. By the beginning of the 12th century, Brussels had become a commercial junction between Bruges (in Flanders), France and Cologne. English wool, German beer and French wines a were sold at the market and in the harbor.
During the early Middle Ages modest wooden houses were dispersed around the market. Beginning in the 14th century, wealthy families began to build stone mansions. Over time the market turned into the main administrative and commercial center of the city. Between the years 1402 and 1455 the Town Hall was built. By then, the square had become the political center where the towns people would congregate for meetings, where kings, dukes and emperors were officially received and where executions were held. In the centuries to come most of the wooden houses where replaced with lovely decorated stone ones, owned by the prevalent Brussels trade guilds.
The Grand Sablon is a sophisticated square surrounded by cafe’s, restaurants and popular antique shops. Every weekend morning of the month a busy antique’s market takes over the upper level of the square. The petit Sablon, the lower level of the square, is encompassed by a marvelous wrought-iron fence topped by forty-eight bronze statues representing the city’s guilds.
Belgian food has an excellent reputation throughout Europe. Often compared to French cuisine. Combining German and French styles, seafood and meat are the main ingredients. The Belgians allege to be the inventors of frites (fries). These fried treats rank in popularity with Belgian beer and Belgian chocolate.
There are a multitude of attractions people of all ages will enjoy. One that is sure to please is Brupark, an famous theme park in the city’s northern neighborhood. Visitors can step inside the famous Atomium structure. There is a twenty-four theater complex, a water park, planetarium and a miniature re-creation of the European continent that has several interactive components.
Shopping in Brussels is a favorite pastime and know for its lace. There were 22,000 lace makers in the city during the 17th century. Today, visitors can chose from roughly 40 lace makers’ shops. Most lace today is now machine made, but handmade lace can is still available . Antique and antique shops are also prevalent. Downtown boutiques feature the latest ready-to-wear fashions.
Beloved sports enjoyed in Brussels are soccer (voetbal in Flemish), golf, archery, tennis and horse-ball. When dusk falls, entertainment offers everything classical music to discos to rock and jazz to latin flavored clubs. Ballet, opera and theater are also part of life his adorned city.
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