With the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO basing its headquarters in the city, Brussels, the capital of Europe, as it is often called, is one of the most important European cities.
Like other cities in the continent its past still breathes fresh in its architecture and museums, while its scintillating present pulsates with life in the streets, restaurants and pubs. From a fortress town established in the tenth century by Charlemagne’s grandson it has become a large cosmopolitan metropolis that is the largest urban area in the country. Both Dutch and French are official languages of the city. Though Dutch is historically the language of Brussels, a larger percentage of the population today is French speaking.
Things to see in Brussels
From the medieval Grand Place to the post modern European Union buildings, all styles of architecture dot the skyline of Brussels. The Grand Place is one of the most popular tourist attractions. It was granted World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 1988. It is the central market square of the city with the guild houses, the Bread House and the Town Hall surrounding it. The ninety seven meter tall Gothic tower with the statue of Brussels’ patron saint, St. Michael, standing on top of it is a popular landmark. In its original form the Grand Place was a collection of building belonging to different architectural styles all constructed in the two hundred years between the fifteenth century and the seventeenth. After the bombardment of the square by the French in 1695 only the stone shell of the town hall remained standing among the ruins.
The subsequent reconstruction was somewhat more harmonious, with the buildings now belonging to only the Baroque, Gothic and Louis XIV styles. The extraordinary ‘flower carpet’ that is laid on the square in the middle of August once every two years is a big tourist attraction. Begonias of every color are skillfully arranged to create an intricate design. The Atomium was built to celebrate Expo 58, one of the World Fairs held in Brussels. It represents, (magnified to a hundred and sixty five times), the unit cell of an iron crystal. The tubes containing escalators connect the nine steel spheres which house public spaces like an exhibit hall. A ride to the topmost sphere unfolds a panoramic view of Brussels.
A little distance away from the Town Hall is the famous Manneken Pis or, as it is known in French, the petit Julien. This Brussels landmark is a bronze sculpture of a little boy urinating into the basin of the fountain it stands on top of. While the Royal Palace is where the King of the Belgians operates from in his official capacity, it is the Royal castle of Laken on the outskirts of Brussels which is the official residence of the King. The monumental domes that house the Royal Greenhouse are rarely open to the public but are a sight not to be missed if your visit to Brussels coincides with one such period. The Brussels Stock Exchange, the first pan-European exchange, holds sculptures by some of the most famous artists including Auguste Rodin. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is the sixth largest church and the largest example of the Art Deco architectural style in the world. The platform on the cupola allows for a magnificent view of the city. The European Quarter with its EU institutions and the Cinquantenaire park are other must see place in Brussels.
Brussels has a high concentration of Museums. The Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium is the country’s most famous museum. With more than twenty thousand sculptures and paintings dating back to the early fifteenth century, the collection at the Royal Museum is truly extensive. It houses a great collection of Flemish and Belgian art. Four other museums are connected to the Royal Museum. The Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Ancient Art are both located in the main building of the museum. The surrealist section in the modern wing has some truly amazing work. The other two museums are dedicated to Constantin Meunier and Antoine Wiertz, both famous Belgian artists. The Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History stands in the Cinquantenaire Park. Its collection includes military uniforms, armors, weapons, wartime vehicles and even aircrafts from all countries and belonging to all ages of military history. Belgium is also the home of some of the most famous comic characters like Tintin, probably the most famous, Lucky Luke and Gaston Lagaffe. The Comic Museum covers exhibits of all these characters. However Tintin, Snowy and their creator Hergé dominate the exhibition. The Horta Museum is not a museum in the traditional sense of the word. Built in 1890, it was Victor Horta’s home and is a perfect showpiece of the Art Nouveau style that made Horta an acclaimed architect.
How can Brussels, the capital of Europe not have something that reminds a tourist of every country of Europe? Well, it does, in Mini Europe! More than three hundred models bring the best of Europe to this city. The amusement park is located at the foot of the Atomium. From London’s Big Ben to Venice’s Gondolas is just a short walk. There are even working models like the one of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the historic fall of the Berlin Wall.
Photo of Atomium, Brussels, Belgium by doegox