Grand Place, Brussels
Grand PlaceThe 110m/120yds by 68m/75yds Grand'Place (Grote Markt) lies at the very heart of Brussels Old Town, its sublime stylistic unity making it one of the loveliest squares in the world. Delightful at any time it is especially so when lit up in the evening and when filled with the additional color of the Sunday bird market and daily flower markets. First established on a marsh in the 11th C. the market soon evolved to become the city's political, economic and social nerve center. The bombardment by the French on August 13-14, 1695 wrought havoc with its buildings, nearly all of which were subsequently rebuilt. The Place has thus preserved all its old magnificence and its original happy blend of Gothic and Baroque. Across the years, from the 14th and 15th centuries to the revolution of 1830, the square has witnessed many a dramatic political moment, including in 1568 the execution of Counts Egmont and Hoorn, beheaded in front of the Maison du Roi. It has also been the scene of much celebration and a stage for the city's major festivals. The "Ommegang" is held here every year and every second August the square is carpeted with flowers.
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The Place is dominated by the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), one of the biggest and finest buildings of its kind in Belgium. It was begun in 1402 with the intention of upstaging the Stadhuis in the rival city of Bruges. At first the plan was to build only what is now the left wing (1402-10); but in 1444 the right wing was also completed, followed in 1455 by Jan van Ruysbroek's 96m/315ft high belfry surmounted by the figure of St Michael. Although the French bombardment of 1695 left only the walls and tower standing, rebuilding started almost at once. Both wings are embellished with very fine Gothic sculptures beneath which, under the arcades on the right, are the signs of inns previously demolished to make way for the town hall.Inside are several magnificent rooms. Among the most impressive are the Maximilian Chamber hung with Brussels tapestries (historical scenes from the life of Clovis), the large Council Chamber with a superb ceiling by Victor Janssens and tapestries to his designs, the great banqueting hall and the Marriage Chamber, both beautifully panelled, and the Escalier d'Honneur with murals by Lalaing (1893) illustrating the history of Brussels.
Maison du Roi (Broodhuis)
Opposite the Hôtel de Ville stands the Maison du Roi which, despite its name, was never a royal residence. The king in question was the king of Spain and the "maison" was in fact the law courts. Directly in front is the spot where executions were carried out. The Maison's 13th C. predecessor was a building known as the Broodhuis (Bread House), appropriately enough since bread was indeed sold there for a time. Later it became a ducal law court before being replaced in 1515. By now rechristened the Maison du Roi, it was destroyed in 1695. The post-bombardment reconstruction was never very satisfactory and in 1873 rebuilding started yet again, based this time on the 1515 plans. The house as seen today was completed in 1895. The statues above the central arcade are those of Mary of Burgundy, Charles V and Duke Henry I.
The Maison du Roi is now Brussels' civic museum. The ground floor rooms to the left of the entrance contain 14th-18th C. sculptures, including some of the original ones from the Hôtel de Ville. In the rooms to the right of the entrance are 15th and 16th C. paintings, Brussels tapestries, porcelain and faience. The city's own development is the subject of a display on the first floor while on the second floor the emphasis is on social history - popular art, religion and other social themes. Also on the second floor is the wardrobe of Manneken Pis, a collection of costumes presented to "Petit Julien" by the rich and famous over the centuries, among them the French King Louis XIV.
Address: Rue du Poivre 1, B-1000 Brussels, Belgium
The famous Italian Baroque style Guild Houses were built mainly at the end of the 17th C.
Around the Grand Place
Musée du Costume et de la Dentelle
A narrow street off the south side of the Grand' Place just to the left of the Hôtel de Ville leads in a few steps to the Musée du Costume et de la Dentelle (Museum voor de Kleedertracht en de Kant) on the left-hand side a short way down the hill. As well as documenting the history of fashion from the 17th to the 19th C. the museum is a shrine to the art of Brussels lace making.
Address: Rue de la Violette 6, B-1000 Brussels, Belgium
Manneken Pis, a statue of a little boy urinating, is Brussels' most famous landmark. While this well-known figure has been stolen on several occasions, it has always been recovered and remained in the heart of the city's old town.
Ilôt Sacré, the district extending north of the Grand' Place as far as the Place de la Monnaie, was the original Senne island on which St Géry founded his chapel. Nowadays it is known for its numerous, always busy, restaurants and bars in the Rue des Bouchers (Beenhouwerstraat) and the streets around it.
Toone Puppet Theater
Tucked away in a narrow cul-de-sac called the Impasse Schuddeveld is one of Brussels' oldest institutions, the "Toone Puppet Theater", carried on by the Toone family for seven generations.
Address: Petite rue des Bouchers, 21 Impasse Schuddeveld, B-1000 Brussels, Belgium
Situated only a short distance from the northeast corner of the Grand' Place is one of the first covered shopping arcades to be built in Europe, the Galéries Saint-Hubert completed in 1846. There are two main arcades, one either side of the Rue des Bouchers, the nearer of the two being the Galérie de la Reine (Queen's Gallery) with, on the other side of the road, the Galérie du Roi (King's Gallery). Off the latter runs the little Galérie des Princes (Princes' Gallery). The motto "Omnibus omnia" ("Everything for everyone") above the entrance is all that remains of the silversmiths' guild house demolished when the Galéries were built. The three-storied arcade is a shoppers' delight with luxury boutiques, cafes, restaurants and chocolate shops.
Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie (Muntschouwburg)
Turning left at the end of the Galéries leads to the Place de la Monnaie and the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, both of which take their name from the 15th C. Hôtel de la Monnaie, the Duchy of Brabant's mint, which originally stood there. Designed by the architect Damesme, the Neo-Classical theater, its facade embellished with Ionic columns and gable relief, was built in 1819 to replace an earlier building, also a theater. It was here on August 25, 1830 that the Belgian Revolution began. During a performance of the opera "La Muette de Portici" (by D. F. Auber) the audience, stirred by the duet "Sacred Love of the Fatherland", rushed out onto the streets sparking off the rebellion against the Netherlands. The theater burned down in 1855 and was then rebuilt with the original facade. It was here also that Maurice Béjart founded his world-famous ballet company "Ballet du XXme Siècle" (now based in Lausanne).Built on the site of a mint, Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie is a splendid example of a mid-19th century opera house (it opened in 1856) but is probably best known today for its productions of contemporary operas and introductions of new works. It also boasts a famous spot in Belgian history. In 1830 a patriotic duet during an opera performance so aroused the crowd that it stormed into the street and was the catalyst for Belgian independence that year. The season runs from early September through to late June and one opera is performed at a time. The box office, located on the right side of the house, is open Mondays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Address: Rue Léopold 4, B-1000 Brussels, Belgium
Place de Brouckère (Brouckèreplaats)
Across the Place de la Monnaie towers the Center Monnaie (Muntcentrum), a shopping precinct and office block facing onto the large and busy Place de Brouckère (Brouckèreplaats) with its restaurants, cinemas and shops.
Saint-Nicolas (Sint-Niklaas aus Brussels)
A block or two south of the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, hidden away behind the Bourse, stands one of the city's oldest churches, Saint-Nicolas, built originally by merchants in the 11th or 12th C. in honor of their patron saint, and from which, as was the custom, they marketed their wares. Inside the church, which has since undergone alteration several times, is an interesting 15th C. Madonna.
Saint-Nicholas faces the rear of the Bourse (1871), the country's leading stock exchange. The main facade, overlooking the Place de la Bourse, has wonderfully rich figurative ornamentation with a crowning figure symbolizing Belgium itself.
A small multi-media museum located in a 17th century house that offers a general overview of Belgian history and culture.
Address: Chartreux 25, B-1000 Brussels, Belgium
European Christmas Market
The European Christmas Market will open from December 12-14. The products are from all the countries of the European community, displayed in a warm and friendly atmosphere. It is the holiday shoppers' delight.
Music and Light Show
From April through September, there are nightly music and light shows on the Grand' Place.
An interactive museum that invites visitors to explore the world of science through more than 70 hands-on exhibits.
Address: 23 rue de la Jonchaie, B-1040 Brussels, Belgium