Sightseeing guide for Brussels

The Grand' Place

In the 12th century Brussels had become a commercial crossroad between Bruges (in Flanders), Cologne and France. English wool, French wines and German beer were sold in the harbour and on this market. As a result this square has seen a lot of Brussels' historic development through the years and has turned into one of the most beautiful squares in the whole world.

The Town Hall

When entering the Market Place from one of the seven side-streets, the gothic tower of the Town Hall attracts your attention. The construction of the building represents the growing power of Brussels. Until the end of the 14th century some small wooden houses and inns used to stand on the site where later the town hall was built. The constuction of the Town Hall began in 1402. Finally, in 1455 a guilded statue of St. Michael slaying the devil was put on top of the Brussels town hall tower. The original statue remained on the tower until June 1996, when it was replaced with a completely new one. When facing the town hall most people remark immediately that the tower is standing in the middle of the building. Legend has it that the architect committed suicide by throwing himself off the tower when he noticed that the tower was not in the middle. In 1840 the entire facade became decorated with a total of 203 little statues representing the Dukes and Duchesses of Brabant who ruled the dukedom between the year 580 and 1564. The town hall is nowadays the seat of the Mayor of Brussels.

The King's house

At the Market Place, opposite the Town Hall, stands the beautiful neo-gothic building with its many decorative statues, the "Maison du Roi". It now houses the historical City Museum. In the beginning of the 13th century a wooden construction stood here which was used by the bakers to sell their bread. In 1405 a stone building replaced the original wooden bread hall. During the early 15th century the bakers turned to selling their products from house to house, so the ancient bread hall began to be used for administrative purposes by the Duke of Brabant. During the reign of emperor Charles V, the King's House was rebuilt in Gothic style from 1515 until 1536. In1887 the King's House became the City Museum of Brussels.

The Guild Houses

The fame and beauty of the Market Place 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. Due to the fact that 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. On the Grand-Place the names of the houses are often indicated by a little statue or some part of the decoration.

The Royal Park

The entire area of the royal park and the royal square is situated on the site where the medieval court of Brabant used to stand. This enormous palace dated from the 11th century when the duke of Brabant left his palace in the centre of the city. A new castle was built. The successors of the dukes kept enlarging the palace which turned into one of the most beautiful and picturesque royal residences in medieval Europe. A part of this royal residence was the forest and the park of the palace. In 1775 the Austrian governor decided, together with the City of Brussels, to construct a new prestigious and modern residential area. The former park was almost like a forest in the city, with hills and little valleys where games took place and lots of animals lived. The Austrian empress Maria-Theresia agreed to turn the forest into a new park in classical style for the rich citizens of Brussels to spend their free time in. The park was leveled, new trees were planted and the roads where traced according to geometrical plans. The architects were Guimard and the Austrian Zinner.

The Royal Palace

During the Austrian rule in the 18th century, empress Maria-Theresia preferred not to have the old palace rebuilt because she didn't want the Austrian governor in Brussels to feel himself like a king. The Royal Palace in the centre is now used as the office of the king and as the residence of the crown prince.

The Government buildings

Opposite of the Royal Palace is the 'Palace of the Nation', or the Belgian Parliament. After the Belgian independence in 1830 this building housed the Parliament of the new state.

The Sablon sqauare

The Sablon is one of the most prestigious and attractive areas in Brussels. In recent years it has become the center of antique shops and art galleries. Around 1450 the little chapel that was situated there was transformed into a beautiful gothic church, the Sablon church or church of Our Lady of the Victories. This park is still surrounded by 48 little statues representing the medieval guilds of Brussels. Nowadays, the Sablon is visited by lovers of antiques and art because the entire area boasts hundreds of antique shops and art galleries.

The Palace of Justice

The Palce of Justice was built between 1860 and 1880 by Poelaert. The palace of justice is situated on top of a hill. The dimensions of the palace are remarkable: it is 105m high and covers a total surface of 24.000 square meters. It still functions as the supreme court of law for Belgium.

Arc de Triomphe

This arch was built as a monument to illustrate the glorious past of Brussels. It also served as a new entrance gate to the center for people entering from the eastern side of Brussels. The arch was planned for the world exhibition of 1880.

The Bordiau Halls

The beautiful Bordiau halls were the only buildings that were ready for the 1880 exposition. Their characteristic is the glass and iron constructions built in late 19th century Europe as influenced by the Crystal Palace in London. After the exposition, the government decided to use these halls for the museums of Brussels. The northern Hall now houses the royal Army museum. Unfortunately, the southern hall was destroyed by a fire in 1946. It was rebuilt in 1950 but not in the original style. Today it houses the Museum of art and history of Brussels.

Manneken Pis

This statue is one of a little boy pissing. He is believed to be nothing more than a decoration on top of a fountain, where people in the Middle-Ages came to get fresh water. There are many legends about the Manneken. According to one of them a little boy had watered against the door of a witch who lived where the fountain now stands. The witch was so angry that she turned the little boy into a statue.

The St. Nicholas church

Close to the Market Place, is one of the oldest churches of Brussels, Saint Nicholas Church. The church was named after Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of the traders, which was not surprising because the trade center, the market, was just around the corner. The entrance gate to Saint Nicholas church dates from the second half of the 12th century. The choir was completed in 1381 and the side-chapel, devoted to the Holy Virgin, was constructed in 1486. In 1929 a plan was proposed to demolish the church because it hindered the traffic in the Boterstraat. Fortunately, the plan was never executed. The old houses surrounding the church have been preserved until today.

The Saint Michael and Saint Gudula Cathedral

The Saint Gudula and Saint Michael church took the lead over all the other churches in Brussels. Because of its growing importance, the first St. Gudula church originally built in Romanesque style was transformed in gothic style. 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. The choir is darker because of the smaller window openings. In the northern chapel on the left side of the choir, one can see the portraits of several kings and emperors who bestowed the richly decorated glass-stained windows: Joao III of Portugal, Louis of Hungary and many more.

The Sablon church

The Our-Lady-of-the-Sablon church is situated in Sablon square. The little chapel very soon turned into a major pilgrimage site. The Sablon church is one of the most beautiful, gothic churches in Brussels and a true example of brabantine gothic style.

Museum of Ancient Art

This museum is situated next to the Museum of modern art. The symplex of the two is called "The Museum of Fine Arts". This museum houses a splendid collection of paintings from both the Netherlands and the world. On the first floor, you may find the masterpieces of the 15th and 16th century. Among the famous artists whose works are displayed here are the master of Flemalle, Rogier van der Weyden, the master of Aix, Barend van Orley, Dirk Bouts, Hieronymus Bosch, Lucas Cranach and Quentin Metsys. The pride of the museum is of course the Bruegel collection, of which the "Landscape with the fall of Icarus" is considered to be one of the seven wonders of Belgium. This is one of the masterpieces of the Brussels Museum. In another part of the museum the Rubens collection can be seen, as well as works by other famous painters from the 17th century like Jordaens, Teniers, Van Dijck.

Museum of Modern Art

In this complex, the collection of modern masters of the Museum of the Fine Arts is now housed. The entrance, situated in a neo-classical building at Place Royal, leads to the underground museum, built around a central light well, where the displays are arranged in chronological order. The modern artists of the 19th century, however, are located on the ground level of the Museum of Ancient art, which can be reached via an underground passage between the two museums. You can also find works of major foreign artists like Miro, Picasso, Chirico, Dali, Nam June Paik, Boltanski, Allen Jones and many more.

Museum of Art and History

This museum has an important collection of art objects from different civilizations from all over the world. The main collections are divided into the following categories:

  • Middle East and Ancient Iran: This collection comprises objects from an extended area, ranging from the Mediterranean to the Zagros Mountain range and from the Caspian Sea to the Gulf. The Ancient Iran collection gives an overview of the Iranian cultures from 6.000 B.C until the rise of Islam in the 7th century.
  • Egypt: An overview of Egyptian art from prehistoric times until the Christian era. One of the most important objects is the so-called "Lady of Brussels", an archaic sculpture representing a woman dating from the first dynasties and considered to be one of the oldest Egyptian sculptures of a woman.
  • Greece: The Greek collection was composed primarily in the second half of the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th century with objects which came mainly from private collections. The collection is constructed around Greek vases that lead the visitor from the Bronze Age until the Hellenistic era.
  • Rome: This collection is less important than the Greek one. The most important are the floor mosaics from Apamea (Syria).
  • Byzantium: The Byzantine collection was founded in 1979 and is the only one of its kind open to the public in Belgium. Some objects go back to the Byzantine era, others come from different places and eras in the orthodox world.
  • There are also collections from non-european civilizations.

Comic Strip Museum

The museum is situated in the beautiful Art Nouveau setting of the Waucquez Warehouses. One can see here the history of a very typical art form in Belgium: the comic strip. The Waucquez Warehouses are considered to be one of the masterpieces of the most famous Belgian Art Nouveau architect, Victor Horta. After World War II, most of the Belgians have grown up with Belgian comic strips. There are comics in both official languages, French and Dutch. This beautiful museum illustrates this "9th art" in Belgium, with sets of enlarged drawings, three-dimensional recreations, etc. One can also learn everything about the birth and the development of a comic strip album. The museum has an excellent shop.

The City Museum

The City museum is situated in the King's House on the Grand' Place of Brussels. In 1884 Brussels decided to open a museum about the rich past of the city. Finally, in 1960, the King's House was entirely transformed into the city museum. The museum is devoted to all aspects of the city's history.

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