Visiting the Galerie Bortier / Bortiergalerij, Brussels, Belgium: a late Baroque frontage dating from 1763
A haven for bibliophiles
This property's fine, late Baroque frontage, at 55 rue de la Madeleine / Magdalenastraat, Brussels, dates from 1763. It was subsequently adopted in 1847/1848 by 19th century Belgian architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaar (1811-1880)(1) and made the entrance to what became known as the Galerie Bortier / Bortiergalerij. extending to rue Saint-Jean / Sint-Jansstraat. This itself was named for a local property owner, who made available land and real estate for use by Cluysenaar in his scheme of shopping galleries in Downtown Brussels.
Like Architect Cluysenaar's other gallery creations, it may be assumed that their original idea was similar to those of London, England's Burlington Arcade, dating from 1819, or the Passage du Caire, Paris, 1798 or the Galerie Vivienne, Paris, 1819.
Today, the Bortier Gallery (2), extending 65 metres, houses mainly bookstores and an art establishment.
The Gallery's fairly ornate, late Baroque frontage at rue de la Madeleine / Magdalenastraat consists of a decorated, open pediment atop four pilasters. Above the doorway is a window with an open arch pediment, in contrast with the larger, traditional, triangular pediment above it. The entrance way has two banded columns.
In the 1950s, part of the rue de la Madeleine / Magdalenastraat area was redeveloped, but No. 55 — the Gallery's entrance — was preserved. (Otherwise, this property might well have become another instance what commentators are increasingly calling — in French — bruxellisation and — in Dutch — verbrusseling (3), words which denote the unfettered destruction of Brussels buildings of heritage value for the sake of commercial development.)
The Bortier Gallery underwent a program of refurbishment in 1974.
In the 19th century the then owner of the property had plans for a complex containing a college of commerce, but this did not come to fruition.
The Bortier Gallery may not be Jean-Pierre Cluysenaar's most famous Brussels galleries, but it has long been a haven for bibliophiles in Belgium's capital. One suspects that, because of the reputation of its bookstores for stocking expensive items, that its clientele is sometimes more limited than would otherwise be the case. I get the very strong feeling that if, as at Cluysenaar's St Hubert Gallery creation nearby, the Bortier Gallery was more known for selling chocolates, lace products, coffee and newspapers in abundance, there would be a whole lot more pedestrian through-traffic!
Having myself lived in Belgium and subsequently travelled to Brussels on numerous occasions, this particular property is one with which I have become rather familiar over the years, especially since from the pedestrian's perspective it lies directly on one of the routes between the Grand'Place and the Gare Centrale / Centraalstation.
February 3, 2015
(1) Architect Cluysenaar was also responsible for the nearby Galeries Royales St.-Hubert / Koninklijke Sint-Hubertusgalerijen; the Royal Conservatory of Brussels (French: Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles; Dutch: Koninklijk Conservatorium Brussel ); and many other buildings.
(2) I have used the Anglicised form 'Bortier Gallery'. Interestingly, Italian uses the word 'galleria' to describe similar establishments such as the Galleria Umberto I, Naples or Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan. I could have equally used the form 'Bortier Arcade', since the term 'Arcade' is often used in English to denote an indoor shopping complex, not least for the 1819 Burlington Arcade.
(3) The term brusselisatië also has some currency in Dutch. Flemish language activists tend also to use the terms verbrusseling and brusselisatië as pejorative words to denote what they see as the erosion of the rights of Dutch-speaking residents of the Brussels periphery. Not surprisingly, Brussels Francophones tend to regard the introduction of a linguistic — as well as a real estate — aspect to the meaning of these terms as being euphemistic to denote Dutch language activists' attempts to ban the official use of French in the Brussels periphery!
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 (which lies a short, walking distance from the Bortier Gallery); 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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