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Visiting the Belgian Infantry Monument, Place Poulaert / Poulaertplein, Brussels, Belgium: dating from 1935
Designed by Antoine De Mol and Edouard Vereycken
This impressive structure in Brussels, Belgium is the Belgian Infantry Monument (French: Monument à l'Infanterie belge; Dutch: Monument voor de Belgische infanterie). It dates from 1835, dedicated to the memory of members of the Belgian infantry who fell in World War One. After World War Two, it was rededicated to commemorate Belgian infantry who died in that war also.
Readers familiar with Brussels may recall that the Monument's location on Poulaert Square (French: Place Poulaert; Dutch: Poelaertplein) is the location of the gigantic Palace of Justice (French: Palais de Justice; Dutch: Justitiepaleis), the Square being named for the huge building's architect.
Responsible for the design of the Monument were architect Antoine De Mol and sculptor Edouard Vereycken (both of whom — incidentally — were wounded in World War One)(1). The main body of the Monument consists of a simple, tall pillar-like structure executed in granite, and topped by a crown emblem (2). The sculpted statue — or series of statues — show soldiers in Belgian infantry uniform under the watch of an angel. Representations of further soldiers standing watch are executed in granite at the foot of the Monument, and also at its top, supporting the crown emblem..
It would be accurate to say that among Belgians this Monument has not always been universally popular. The reason for this maybe surprising observation lies in at least three reasons. Firstly, because of its very location, what would otherwise be regarded as a large structure is actually dwarfed by the gigantic Palace of Justice, which in its time for various reasons earned itself somewhat of the opprobrium of the citizens of Brussels. Secondly, the huge, sanguinary conflagrations represented by World Wars One and Two, which were fought partly on Belgian territory, involved the armies of other countries with greater firepower and — especially in the slaughter of World War One — led to higher rates of casualty among those foreign armies. (Indeed, Belgium was long known as the 'Cockpit of Europe', indicating that its territory has historically been the arena for foreign armies to settle their scores with one another.) A further reason would be because the Monument was inaugurated by King Leopold III of the Belgians, who, because of controversies undergone in World War Two, remained in exile until 1950, and, indeed, was forced to abdicate in favour of his son King Baudouin of the Belgians (3).
Notwithstanding these factors, 32, 000 Belgian infantry members died in World War One, a loss still immensely worthy of commemoration; and the Monument itself, while perhaps not among them best known ones to foreign visitors in Belgium's capital, is still a significant focal point of national commemoration.
Not far from the Belgian Infantry Monument is another commemorative structure: the Anglo-Belgian War Memorial.
From close to the Monument here at Place Poulaert / Poulaertplein there may be obtained a breathtaking panorama of the Brussels cityscape. On a clear day especially, the Brussels Atomium may be seen in the distance, as well as several of the city's more famous and conspicuous buildings. I recall first standing here over 30 years ago and being memorably impressed by the magnificent view.
February 6, 2015
(1) See also (in French): http://www.ebru.be/monuments/statue-bruxelles-1000-monument-a-l-infanterie.html
(2) Interestingly, the crown on the Monument broadly matches the much larger crown atop the neighbouring Palace of Justice; it represents the Belgian monarchy and thus the Belgian state.
(3) Leopold III's abdication was announced in 1950, and took effect in 1951. It may be added that this monarch was not universally unpopular, with particularly strong levels of support in Flanders; but his exile and abdication may be said to underline some particularly problematic aspects of the commemoration in Belgium of wartime events.
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 is a very convenient way of getting around Brussels. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please 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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