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Visiting the Place de Brouckère / De Brouckèreplein, Brussels, Belgium: the real 'centre of the centre'
Where citizens of Brussels converge
Seeing as the Grand'Place is largely closed to vehicle traffic, if one were to ask citizens of Brussels which locality marks the real centre of Brussels, they would probably say that this term belongs to De Brouckère Square (French: Place de Brouckère; Dutch: De Brouckèreplein).
Here it is that road traffic converges; here it below this Square that four lines of the Brussels Metro meet. When I lived in Belgium I recall going to the Square which, outside a nearby Hotel, acted as a sort of terminus for international coaches.
Facing onto the Square is Brussels' historic Stock Exchange. Only a short walk about is the famous Grand'Place.
Canadians familiar with Toronto might compare De Brouckère Square with Yonge-Dundas Square, Toronto. Travellers familiar with London, England might compare it with Piccadilly Circus, or even Trafalgar Square. Americans might instinctively think of Time Square, New York City.
The Brussels Stock Exchange is probably the most opulent of adjoining properties. Other noted properties facing De Brouckère Square include the Hotel Métropole (at which the influential First Solvay Conference on Physics was held, attended by distinguished scientists including Albert Einstein, Ernest Solvay, Ernest Rutherford, Max Planck, Marie Curie, Paul Langevin, Maurice de Broglie, and many others), and the former Continental Hotel. The Square is still redolent somewhat of the Belle Epoque in the late 19th century, when architectural styles were purportedly gracious and even flamboyant, and this is reflected in the designs of various of the surrounding buildings.
During World War Two, the liberation of Brussels was celebrated here on September 4, 1944 by a huge crowd of Belgians who welcomed Allied military vehicles here. Much of Belgium had been liberated, before the Battle of the Bulge produced a temporary, and sanguinary, rearguard action, partly on Belgian territory.
The Square continues to be a popular venue for public demonstrations. Arguably it represents an exchange of ideas as well as a transportation crossroads. Sometimes demonstrations at De Brouckère Square have been highly spirited and even dangerous; in 1950 a protestor was killed when a demonstration linked with controversies relating to the soon to abdicate King Leopold III turned violent (1).
The very centrality of the Square is borne out by its postal code for adjoining properties: 1000 Bruxelles / Brussel.
The Square is named for Brussels Mayor Charles de Brouckère (1829-1879), who served in that office from 1848 until his death, during which term many projects or urban improvement were undertaken; he also occupied significant posts in the Belgian government.
From 1897 until 1973 a memorial fountain to Jules Anspach (1829-1879), another long-serving 19th century Mayor of Brussels, stood in the Square (2). Boulevard Anspach / Anspachlaan continues to be the name of one of the major roads to converge at the Square.
For so many residents and visitors to Brussels, De Brouckère Square is thus also a locality that one goes through, as well as a destination; and may truly be described as the heart of the city: the Downtown of the Downtown, as it were.
January 28, 2015
(1) See also (in French): http://www.larevuetoudi.org/fr/story/juillet-50-de-la-question-royale-%C3%A0-la-question-belge
(2) One of Mayor Anspach's achievements was the underground diversion of the Senne River, the course of which former ran close to where the Square now is.
Also worth seeing
The visitor attractions of Brussels are numerous, but a few of these include the Royal Palace and BELvue museum; the Grand' Place; St Michael's Cathedral; the enormous Palace of Justice; the Atomium; the Erasmus House museum, Anderlecht; the Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries; 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. Please note that 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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