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Visiting the Grand' Place, Brussels, Belgium: amazing, architectural gem

Updated on September 11, 2015
Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
City Hall, Brussels
City Hall, Brussels | Source
The Grand'Place, Brussels
The Grand'Place, Brussels | Source
Map location of Brussels, Belgium
Map location of Brussels, Belgium | Source

From blood-filled arena to symbol of prosperity

This amazing square in the heart of Brussels never fails to impress me. Everywhere you look there are 360 degrees of outstanding, ancient properties, excellently preserved and restored. It is among Belgium's most visited attractions.

Life has not all been plain sailing, however. This symbol of commercial prosperity was also the blood-filled arena of the cock-pit of Europe, as what is now Belgium has sometimes been called. In the 16th century, prominent, local people who had earned the dislike of the Spanish governors were executed on the square. These included Counts Egmont and Hoorne (decapitated under the orders of the Duke of Alba), and Lutherans.

Among the most prominent of buildings on the Grand' Place (Dutch: Grote Markt) is the 15th century City Hall (French: Hôtel de ville ; Dutch: Stadhuis), dating from about 1402. Its impressive, 96 metre belfry dates from about 1455, the work of Jan van Ruysbroek; the sheer height of this Medieval tower is really striking (1).

In 1695, the fine masonry of the Grand' Place came in between French King Louis XIV, his army's guns and his ambitions, and the square was badly damaged as a result.

Brussels mayor Charles Buls (1837-1914) was particularly known for his efforts to preserve and enhance the architectural heritage and beauty of the square.

Around the square are many ancient properties, the frontages of which display a variety of styles, from Gothic (including Brabantine Gothic) to Baroque. As well as the City Hall, noted buildings include those of various trade guilds, the House of the King (French: Maison du Roi ; Dutch: Broodhuis) — in which the city museum is housed; the House of the Dukes of Brabant (French: Maison des Ducs de Brabant; Dutch: Huis van de Hertogen van Brabant).

A market until a few decades ago, the square is regularly decked with thousands of flowers, arranged in careful 'carpet' patterns.

A night visit is often rewarded by brilliant floodlighting, which illuminates the careful masonry of the many stone frontages.

Before you go to Belgium, if you make a list of the most superlative adjectives which may describe architectural features, you may later find that they fit the Brussels Grand'Place very well.


(1) When one considers that Belgium's tallest skyscraper, the South Tower (French: Tour du Midi ; Dutch: Zuidertoren), built between 1962 and 1967, has a height of 150 metres, then the achievement of Jan van Ruysbroek with his Brussels City Hall belfry at 96 metres in the year 1455 is little short of amazing.

Also worth seeing

The other outstanding historical and cultural sites worth visiting in Brussels are too many to mention properly here, but a few of these include: The Royal Palace (French: Palais royal ; Dutch: Koninklijk Paleis), and the adjacent BELvue museum of the royal dynasty; the Erasmus House (Maison d'Erasme; Erasmushuis), Anderlecht, is a museum dedicated to Erasmus of Rotterdam.


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. 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.

For your visit, these items may be of interest


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