Often featured in the media as the seat of government of the European Union (EU), Brussels is much more than a city of officials. It is a meeting point all the diverse cultures in Europe, and exudes a unique multicultural energy.
Brussels is not only the home of the EU. The Belgian capital is a diverse and wonderful city in its own right, a town rich in history and full of places to see. Designated the cultural capital of Europe in 2000, Brussels is no mere town of faceless bureaucrats. It has its own tale to tell.
A stronghold in the middle of a river.
The name Brussels (Bruocsella) is first written about in 966. It means chapel in a swamp, and likely refers to its position on the banks of the Senne River. The settlement itself had probably been founded between three and four hundred years previously. The earliest fortification on Brussels Island dates back to around the end of the 10th century.
The story of Grand Place (in French, or Grote Markt in Dutch), the town square located at the centre of Brussels, leads us on a trip through the citys history. Grand Place was created as a market and business square, but soon attracted the trade guilds and city officials.
They designed magnificent guildhalls and government buildings as proof of their power and affluence, Brussels became one of Europes most important trading and banking centres during the High Middle Ages and would remain so until 1695, when French cannons bombed the city for three days, levelling Grand Place and reducing much of the city to dirt and ashes. It was rebuilt quickly, and the guildhalls that currently stand on Grand Place bear witness to the citys renewal.
Grand Place remains a favourite meeting place for residents and tourists alike. Many of its countless restaurants, cafes and hotels are open around the clock.
Brussels city hall.
The Hotel de Ville (Brussels city hall), completed in 1450, is an architectural masterpiece even among the grandiose guildhalls and structures surrounding it. Its facade was one of the few structures to survive the French bombardment of 1695. With its 96-metre-tall tower topped by a gilded statue of St. Michael and the dragon, the Hotel de Ville is Brussels most recognisable landmark, visible from every part of the historic old town.
A different kind of city emblem.
Most visitors consider the statue called Manneken Pis (literally, the boy peeing) at the corner of the Rue de lEtuve and Rue des Grands Charmes to be the symbol of Brussels. Just who the little boy in this work by sculptor Heironimus Dusquesnoy is supposed to represent is an unsolved mystery. In any case, the brazen lad is certainly one of the citys main tourist attractions. Meanwhile, his girl counterpart, the Jeanneken Pis, can be found at the end of a cul-de-sac called Impasse de la Fidelite just off La Grand Place. The habitants of [the city~Brussels} have always been in favour of equal rights, and if that meant commissioning a statue of a similarly naughty little girl, so be it. The statue was dedicated in 1987.
The giant molecule.
The 102-metre-high Atomium is another symbol of Brussels. It began its existence as an exhibition hall built for the 1958 World Fair. It represents an iron molecule, magnified 165 thousand million times. The tubes connecting the nine atomic particles are actually conduits containing escalators and walkways.
Due to its use of futuristic materials and non-traditional design, it has long been considered both an architectural wonder and an impressive piece of grand monumental sculpture.
Within, the Atomium still houses the occasional exhibition on topics related to nuclear technology, aeronautics, astronomy and meteorology. Inside the uppermost sphere is a restaurant that affords a beautiful view of the entire city, weather permitting.
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