Visiting Elisabeth Park, Brussels: lush verdure and authentically Belgian spelling complexities and referents

Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
Elisabeth Park, Brussels
Elisabeth Park, Brussels | Source
Elisabeth Park, Koekelberg, Brussels
Elisabeth Park, Koekelberg, Brussels | Source
Elisabeth Park, Brussels
Elisabeth Park, Brussels | Source
Elisaberth, Queen of the Belgians, by Jean McLane, 1921
Elisaberth, Queen of the Belgians, by Jean McLane, 1921 | Source
King Leopold II of the Belgians and Consort Baroness Vaughan
King Leopold II of the Belgians and Consort Baroness Vaughan | Source

A rich tapestry of urban vegetation and linguistic subtleties

So: Canadians reading this article may consider the name of the Park, and, learning also that a significant proportion of its abundant trees is represented by fine specimens of maple, may immediately think of Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Well, this Park is indeed named for a queen, but it is actually in Brussels (French: Bruxelles; Dutch: Brussel), Belgium.

Other species of tree found in quantity in this Brussels Park include the sycamore. Noted flora include rhododendrons.

The Park, which still acts as a refreshing lung to air quality in Brussels, extends to 21 hectares. Interestingly, in its early days, sheep used to graze on its green expanses. It is regularly used to host musical events.

Geographically the Park lies within Koekelberg and Ganshoren municipalities within Brussels Capital Region (French: Région de Bruxelles-Capitale; Dutch: Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest).

An adjacent landmark is the Koekelberg Basilica (French: Basilique de Koekelberg; Dutch: Basiliek van Koekelberg). Botanical Gardens are also located close to the Park. The elongated shape of the Park, with an avenue of trees enclosing a large, lawn area, recalls the shape of a monogram used over a century ago for King Leopold II of the Belgians (1835-1909), who reigned from 1865 until 1909 (1). It was in the later part of King Leopold's reign that the Park began to be planned; Leopold was also the prime mover of the adjacent Koekelberg Basilica, and an important avenue situated nearby is named for Leopold II.

However, in due course the authorities decided to name the Park for the Queen.

So instead of being named for King Leopold, who died in 1909, was the Park named for his Consort?

Well, no; Leopold II's first wife and Consort was Queen Marie Henriette (also used as the Dutch form) who had died in 1902; and his second Consort, Caroline, Baroness Vaughan, whom Leopold married shortly before his death, did not enjoy a status which was recognized by the Belgian government. It is to be noted also that the project to build the adjacent Basilica, strongly favoured by Leopold II, was the subject of some serious disagreement between himself and the Belgian government of the day.

In the event, the Park was named for Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians, Queen Consort of King Albert I (1875-1934), who reigned from 1909 until 1934.

It may be noted also that references to Elisabeth Park (French: Parc Élisabeth; Dutch: Elizabethpark) raise issues of spelling convention. I have taken care to use the English spelling of 'Elisabeth' with an 's' and have omitted the accent on the 'E', thus; instead of 'É'.

So why should this matter?

Well, given that a version of 'Elisabeth' with an 's' does exist in English, then in this way one is being seen to favour neither the French nor the Dutch spelling over one another. (This has even been taken by some English language sources to the extent of calling a former King of the Belgians 'King Baldwin', rather than 'King Baudouin'.) If, on the other hand, the form 'Elizabeth Park', had been used, this could have been perceived as favouring the Dutch spelling over the French one.

But who cares?

The short answer is: Belgians do! From time to time North American countries have sought to advise European and other nations on how to order their affairs; and so these kinds of cultural subtleties are exactly the sort of details which North American would-be advisors can usefully take into account, in order to avoid stepping unwittingly into orthographic and semantic minefields...(3)

September 16, 2015

Notes

(1) See also (in French): http://documentation.bruxellesenvironnement.be/documents/IF_EV_Parcs_Parc_Elisabeth_FR.PDF

(2) Baroness Vaughan herself, who later remarried, passed away in 1948, her religious marriage to Leopold having never been acknowledged by the Belgian government, although the Vatican did indeed acknowledge it. Meanwhile, in the first decade of the 20th century, Belgian Socialists repeatedly used ungracious references to Baroness Vaughan in order to reinforce their criticism of what they regarded as Leopold II's financially grandiose schemes.

(3) In fact, Belgian and Canadian diplomats have at least this in common: with both Belgium and Canada being bilingual countries, their diplomats tend continuously to strive to maintain strict neutrality in the face of being seen to favour one language community over another and to prize an aggregate of opposites as an ever elusive ideal.

Map location of Brussels, Belgium
Map location of Brussels, Belgium | Source

Also worth seeing

In Brussels itself, there are very many visitor attractions and these are not easy to summarize adequately; but included among these are: the Grand' Place; the Royal St. Hubert Galleries; the Cathedral of Saint-Michel / Sint-Michiel ; the Koekelberg Basilica; the Royal Palace, the Palace of Justice, the opulent Stock Exchange building, the Erasmus House museum, Anderlecht, and many others.

...

How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel-Nationaal / Bruxelles-National), from where car rental is available. However, the Metro (Simonis station serves Elisabeth Park) is a very convenient way of getting around Brussels. Buses 49 and 87 also serve Elisabeth Park. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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