Friday, March 7, 2008

Brussels - The Capital of European Union

Brussels – the capital of Belgium and the heart of European Union. The City what I never had a chance to visit… when finally, in the last day of February 2008, it changed: I spent a day in the Old Town of Brussels, trying to catch the atmosphere of this well-known city in Europe. Apart from the fact, that the day was freezing (compared to the 20 degrees in Marseille, from where I arrived to Brussels), I enjoyed the day in the heart of Brussels very much.
Brussels explains it’s aura as follows: “Brussels has been given its character by the coexistence of French and Flemish culture, and it is nowadays home to nationalities around the world, adding a cosmopolitan flavour to its atmosphere”. And you can really feel it when you walk around there…
Brussels has grown from a 10th century fortress town founded by Charlemagne's grandson into a city of over 1 million inhabitants. Yet, the Old Town is fairly small and you can reach the main sights by walking.

The Grand Place (the main square in the heart of Brussels Old Town; also called The Market Place) is one of the most beautiful squares in Europe– it has many nice houses with variety of style (mainly Gothic and Baroque), and the Town Hall is just amazing - and all the narrow streets around it… Just lovely! One can see, it has developed with time: during the early Middle Ages small wooden houses were scattered around the market, but as from the 14th century the rich and powerful patrician families built stone mansions. Gradually the market turned into the main commercial and administrative centre of the city.
Town Hall – the first stone of the current Town Hall was laid in the spring of 1402. This original town hall (which is now the left wing) was completed in 1405, together with a small tower. The architect is believed to be JACOB VAN THIENEN. However, on the 3rd March in 1444, the original building was extended with a smaller right wing, which was ready in 1449. In that same year the architect JAN VAN RUYSBROECK built the tower that still crowns the building today.The King’s House – stands opposite to the Town Hall, is a lovely neo-gothic building with its many decorative statues. It harbors the historical City Museum today. The house has been severally rebuilt – it used to be a gothic building, but after the French bombardment of 1695, the building stayed in poor conditions for many years, and was decided to rebuild in neo-gothic style in 1860’s. Guild Houses
Most were built between 1696 and 1700 in the style of Italian Baroque, but with some Flemish influences. As well as bearing the names of the guilds, each house has its own individual name as well.

The Peeing Boy

To see the Manneken Pis (“The Peeing boy”) in Brussels is the MUST – the most famous boy in the whole Europe.
It’s such a small statue, but so nice to look at it in real life after seeing him in many different postcards! It’s an old statue - already in Already in the 15th century a fountain called manneken-pis existed in the same place. The official origin can be traced back to the 13th of August 1619 when the city ordered the sculptor Jerome Duquesnoy to make a bronze statue of manneken-pis to replace an old and withered one.

Photo: I with the Manneken Pis
There are several legends behind this statue, but the most famous is the one about Duke Godfrey II of Leuven. In 1142, the troops of this two-year-old lord were battling against the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen, in Ransbeke . The troops put the infant lord in a basket and hung it in a tree, to encourage them. From there, he urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle.

The Saint Michael and Saint Gudula Cathedral Already at the beginning of the 11th century a church was situated here. 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 western facade, completed between 1450 and 1490, follows the example of the French gothic facades.

The Royal Palace In 1815, William I, king of the reunited Netherlands, decided to rebuild these houses to turn them into a royal palace. This was finished in 1829. One year later Belgium became independent and the new king of Belgium, Leopold I, decided to use the new palace as his residence. It was king Leopold II, who had the original building turned into the palace like we now know it. This transformation ended in 1903. Nowadays, The Royal Palace is used as the office of the King and as the residence of the Crown Prince.

Food in Brussels
Belgium is famous of certain food items:
1. Belgian chocolate – has been the food of champions;
2. Brussels waffles - have been an important part of the Belgian diet for centuries. The authentic Belgian waffle is unique because of the special waffle irons used to bake them;
3. It is said, that the best French fries you can get from Brussels… (I didn’t try though).

My dessert: Brussels waffles with whiped cream and strawberries... how sweet!

There are lovely dining streets all around the Grand Place - each street has its own speciality – the most famous street is called Rue des Bouchers and is a “fish street” – many restaurants have a display of seafood outside in the street.