views updated May 23 2018


Getting There
Getting Around
Public Safety
Health Care
Parks and Recreation
Performing Arts
Libraries and Museums
Holidays and Festivals
Famous Citizens
For Further Study

Brussels, Belgium, Europe

Founded: 979
Location: Europe, central Belgium, around the river Senne
Motto: "L'Union fait la forceEendracht maakt macht." (Unity is powerful.)
Flag: Yellow marsh iris on a field of blue.
Flower: Yellow (or golden) marsh iris (Iris pseudocorus)
Time Zone: 1 pm = noon GMT
Ethnic Composition: 55% Flemish (Dutch), 33% French (Walloons), 12% Germans and others
Elevation: Sea level
Latitude and Longitude: 50° 50 N, 4° 00 E
Coastline: None
Climate: Moderate temperatures year-round with little snow in the winters, predictable rainfall and mild summers
Annual Mean Temperature: 10° C (50° F), ranging from 3° C (37° F) in January to 18° C (64° F) in July.
Average Annual Precipitation: 70 cm (28 in)
Government: Mayor, congress, and district representatives under a constitutional monarchy
Weights and Measures: Metric
Monetary Units: Belgian franc (BFr)
Telephone Area Codes: 02
Postal Codes: B-1000, B-1020

1. Introduction

Brussels lies in the center of Belgium, with the Senne, a small stream splitting neatly in two around the city center. A popular convention and tourist center, the city is world-renowned for its fine beer, divine chocolate, and Belgian lace. Known as the "Capital of Europe," Brussels hosts the European Union Commission, as well as NATO headquarters, and is regarded as the international meeting hub of the twenty-first century.

2. Getting There

Getting to Brussels is fairly easy due to the advanced state of the city's transportation systems and city planning. Access to the Brussels Capital Region, the Grand Place center of town, and the many museums and shops in the Sablon district is provided by numerous routes that are vital to commerce and tourism.


The total area of Brussels highway system covers 430 kilometers (267 miles) of paved roads. Brussels Ring Road leads to Brussels International Airport, surrounding the Inner Brussels Ring Road which links to the three major train stations. From Brussels, the E40 leads east to Liège and Köln, and west to London. The E19 takes vehicles north to Antwerp and Amsterdam, south to Mons and Paris, while the E411 goes south to Namur and Luxembourg. Brussels roads are known for their foggy conditions, resulting from their proximity to the English Channel and North Sea.

Bus and Railroad Service

There are three main train stations that carry passengers into the city, the North, Central, and Midi (South) stations. The southern station receives the Thalys train from Paris and the Eurostar from London. Belgian Railways (SNCB/NMBS) services trains to and from Brugge, Ghent, Antwerp, Liège, Amsterdam, and Cologne, among other cities. Charter buses and coaches from tour operators also carry passengers into Brussels, such as "De Lijn" buses and "TEC." An airport express runs to and from Antwerp every hour.


Brussels National Airport is actually located in Zaventem, a close suburb of Brussels. Belgavia and Sabena are the main flight operators, but Air Canada, British Airways, Delta, KLM, Virgin Atlantic, Finnair, Quantas, Singapore Airlines, United Airlines, and Varig also fly into Brussels.

3. Getting Around

The streets of Brussels have grown out of the haphazard planning of the middle ages, making navigation in the city somewhat like traveling a maze. Tourists will need to find a street map in order to successfully get around in Brussels on their own, or find a reliable tour guide.

Brussels Population Profile

City Proper

Population: 951,580
Ethnic composition: 55% Flemish (Dutch); 33% French (Walloons); 12% German and other
Nicknames: City of Beer, Capital of Europe, Company Town (for the European government)

Metropolitan Area

Population: 1,122,000
World population rank 1: 330
Percentage of national population 2: 11.0%
Average yearly growth rate: less than 0.1%

  1. The Brussels metropolitan area's rank among the world's urban areas.
  2. The percent of Belgium's total population living in the Brussels metropolitan area.

Bus and Commuter Rail Service

Trains, buses, and the Metro can all be accessed with one ticket at 55 BFr for one hour. The city also provides day cards, ten-drive or five-drive tickets at a reasonable price. The metro is considered very safe and efficient with 58 stations. Five-hundred buses traverse the city, as do 15 tramlines.


In order to get a taxi, tourists must go to a taxi stand instead of attempting to flag one down. Taxis come in all different colors and brands, but a lighted sign on top says "Brussels Gewest-Taxi-Région de Bruxelles," and there should be a yellow and blue license emblem. A taxi from the airport to the city center is 1,000 BFr (about $30).


The Tourist Information Office is located in the right wing of Town Hall, a fifteenth-century structure which towers over the Grand Place town square. Many tours and excursions depart nearby, including De Boeck tours, which have a combined walking/luxury coach tour of the capital.

4. People

The population of Brussels numbers 951,580, most of whom speak French. While the southern Walloons are French speakers, the northern Flemish peoples speak Dutch. A small German enclave also exists in Liège. About one-third of the Brussels populace is made up of foreigners, many of whom work at the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters. The majority of Brussels inhabitants are Roman Catholic; however, there is also an active Jewish community, and Turkish migratory workers, who are Muslim, have a sizable community as well. Tensions between the more affluent Flemish and the poorer Walloons have existed for centuries.

5. Neighborhoods

The Brussels Capital Region is made up of 19 communes: Bruxelles, Jette, Ganshoren, Berchem-St.-Agathe, Koekelberg, Schaerbeek, Evere, St.-Josse-Ten-Noode, Molenbeek-St. Jean, Anderlecht, St.-Gilles, Ixelles, Etterbeek, Woluwe-St.-Lambert, Woluwe-St.-Pierre, Andeghem, Watermael-Boitsfort, Veele, and Forest.

The "petit ring" of the city is divided between the Upper and Lower sections, the more expensive areas being higher up, except for the Grand Place, which lies for the most part in the Lower town. The Gare du Midi area houses mostly immigrants and is more economically depressed than the Gare du Nord area that is still somewhat troubled. Once in the heart of the city, the scenery completely changes, with most of the government buildings and nice shops.

The main town square in the historical city center is called Grand Place, featuring city hall, Hotel de Ville, most administrative offices, and some shops. The Cinquantenaire district, on the edge of the city center, showcases the Triumphal Arch, museums and art nouveau houses, and the European Union Commission, Parliament, and Council of Ministers. To the east of city center, Royal Square houses the royal residency and Parliament, with a number of gardens and pleasant vistas. The Anderlecht area, west of the center, is well known for its soccer team but is otherwise seen as an industrial, drab neighborhood. The Heysel district and Sablon district to the south contain antique dealers and markets, and the fashionable neighborhood of Grand Sablon Square lies in the heart of the Sablon district.

City Fact Comparison
Population of urban area11,122,00010,772,0002,688,00012,033,000
Date the city was founded979AD 969753 BC723 BC
Daily costs to visit the city2
Hotel (single occupancy)$123$193$172$129
Meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner)$59$56$59$62
Incidentals (laundry, dry cleaning, etc.)$15$14$15$16
Total daily costs (hotel, meals, incidentals)$197$173$246$207
Major Newspapers3
Number of newspapers serving the city8132011
Largest newspaperDe Nieuwe GazetAkhbar El Yom/Al AkhbarLa RepubblicaRenmin Ribao
Circulation of largest newspaper307,5121,159,450754,9303,000,000
Date largest newspaper was established1897194419761948
1United Nations population estimates for the year 2000.
2The maximum amount the U.S. Government reimburses its employees for business travel. The lodging portion of the allowance is based on the cost for a single room at a moderately-priced hotel. The meal portion is based on the costs of an average breakfast, lunch, and dinner including taxes, service charges, and customary tips. Incidental travel expenses include such things as laundry and dry cleaning.
3David Maddux, ed. Editor&Publisher International Year Book. New York: The Editor&Publisher Company, 1999.

6. History

At the end of the sixth century, the Preacher Saint Gorik built a chapel on a small island formed by the two arms of the river Senne, creating the first building known to have been built in Brussels. Later, in A. D. 977, the first written record of Brussels declared Charles of France to be the legal owner of Low-Lorraine, including the island of Saint-Gorik, on which he built a fortress. But Brussels was not officially founded until 979, after Lambert of Leuven inherited the land from Charles. During the next three centuries, the city grew as a trading post and popular resting spot on the way to the channel ports, and the marshland surrounding the city slowly dried, opening up more land for habitation. The increased population put stress on the social system of guilds and noblemen, resulting in peasant uprisings that were quickly stifled during the thirteenth century. In 1402, construction on Grand Place began after 50 years of recession, and in 1430 Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy became the Duke of Brabant through marriage to Margaret, an heiress of the former ruler of Brussels, Duchess Joan. This period of relative calm was marked by a flowering of the arts and commerce in Brussels. The period of calm was shattered, however, when a plague killed about half of the city's 60,000 inhabitants in 1489. In 1507, Margaret of Austria was appointed General Governor of the Netherlands, and growth resumed in Brussels for a good 50 years.

The intrigues of Emporer Charles V and his successor Philip II brought revolution back to Brussels, as those sympathetic to William of Orange, supervisor of Holland (and champion of Charles V), fought against those who followed the Duke of Alva (favorite of William of Orange) in a battle for power over the city. Alva triumphed, only to be replaced by Isabella and Archduke Albert of Austria. Another plague outbreak, with losses comparable to the first, occurred in 1578, before Albert came into power in 1596. In 1695, Brussels was attacked by French King Louis XIV and his army, led by field marshal Villeroi, which destroyed more than 4,000 houses and Grand Place through fire and looting. The Royal Palace was burned down in 1731, and the French captured Brussels in 1746. This occupation lasted for about a century, until the Belgian revolution freed 138,000 Brussels citizens in 1830. On July 21, 1831, Leopold I became Belgium's first King, and the country rebuilt.

During World War I (191418), Brussels was an occupied city, but German troops did not incur much damage. The Germans returned during World War II (193945), resulting in Belgium's split into two semi-indepen-dent regions, the Flanders and Walloon Provinces, while the Brussels district had its own government. The Universal Exhibition took place in Brussels in 1958, and in 1970 construction of the Berlaymont building, house of the European government, began. The European Union and NATO moved their headquarters to Brussels, turning the city into quite an international meeting place for the twenty-first century.

7. Government

Brussels, the capital of Belgium, has an independent congress, mayor, and administration, all of which are elected by the people. On June 18, 1989, the citizens of Brussels elected their regional representatives directly for the first time because the Region of Brussels Capital is considered an autonomous region from the rest of the country of Belgium, which is a constitutional monarchy. On July 14, 1993, the Belgian parliament approved the creation of a federal state of Belgium, which amended the Constitution and Devolution Acts to give the regions (including Brussels) more political power.

8. Public Safety

The Brussels Fire Brigade employs 925 professional firemen, serving in more than nine fire stations. A fleet of 150 units is available to help with road accidents, and there are at least 40 ambulances, five with intensive care surgeons. The emergency number is 100; the police can be reached at 101. Each year the city responds to more than 30,000 calls.

9. Economy

Brussels has a well-developed infrastructure that is supported by about 2,000 foreign companies, including 1,400 U.S. companies and more than 1,000 international associations. The Belgian capital sports the world's second-largest congressional center, where numerous conferences for business are held each year. About 60 foreign banks operate in Brussels, making the city the seventh-largest financial market in the world. Despite the international links, the Brussels economy is actually based on small, private enterprises that service the European Community. About three-quarters of trade occurs with other European Union countries, and there is a large public debt due to social welfare programs. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita stands at $23,400 annually for Brussels citizens, which is mostly service-based, but about one-quarter of wages are for industrial labor. Unemployment has held steady at around 14 percent, along with most of the rest of Europe, but the administration has launched extensive work-incentive programs. As the capital of Europe, Brussels also experiences special treatment at the hands of European bureaucrats in the allocation of funding, since most fonctionnaires (officials) live in and around the city. In January 1999, the Euro came into common usage in non-cash transactions, and in 2002 the coins and bills will start circulating, replacing the Belgian franc and furthering the transition to a truly European economy.

10. Environment

The Meuse River provides drinking water to Brussels, as does the Scheldt River, but these two principal rivers have been polluted by steel production wastes that need to be filtered before consumption. Other rivers and tributaries are polluted by animal wastes and fertilizers from agricultural activity. Industry in the Brussels environs has caused acid rain to fall throughout the city and to drift over Europe, killing trees and plants and damaging monuments and other buildings. Flooding is a threat to reclaimed forestland, but a series of dikes that hold back the ocean protect the land from the majority of flood damage. As one of the Low Countries, much of the land is at or below sea level, causing the need for reclamation projects. Natural resources include coal and natural gas, which are the source of much of the country's pollution problems. Alternative sources of energy are being tested, including solar power and nuclear energy. The Center for Economic and Social Studies on the Environment, located in Brussels, was created in 1972 by the United Nations to conduct research on sustainable development and to compile an environmental metadatabase to take a holistic approach to environmental troubleshooting. While the research that the center does has global ramifications, local applications of new environmental policies are common. The Exporec 2000, European Recycling Exhibition, was held in Brussels, April 2128, 2000, and showcased the many ways that products from industrial production and general use may be reused instead of merely thrown away to damage the environment.

11. Shopping

There are three main shopping districts: Blvd. Adolf Max & Rue Nuve; Place Stephanie & Ave. Louise; and around Grand Sablon. Some of the popular souvenirs to bring home from Brussels are the famous fruit beers that often come with a matching glass, Sablon lace, Godiva chocolate, and comic strips like Tintin. Most supermarkets are on the outskirts of the city and in the suburbs, but there are two supermarkets near the Stock Exchange Building. Sunday is traditionally market day when Grand Place holds a bird market, and Sablon Square holds an antiques market (Saturday 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. Sunday 9:00 am to 3:00 PM). Every day of the week there is a flea market at the "Place du Jeu de balles" near the Palace of Justice. Near Place Bara and Slaughterhouse in the suburb of Anderlecht there are food markets. Chocolates can be found in shops by the name of Godiva, Wittamer, Neuhaus and Corne. The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert was Europe's first shopping mall, built in 1847, located on the Rue d'Arenberg. The famous Sablon lace comes from the Maison Antoine Old Brussels Lace Shop in Grand Place.

12. Education

The Brussels school system teaches approximately 35,000 students who live in the Brussels Capital Region. Schooling is compulsory from six to 15 years of age, while nearly all children start with nursery and kindergarten. This system is fairly successful, considering the virtually nonexistent illiteracy rate among Brussels adults, which is practically unheard of, even in other advanced societies. Classes are taught in French, Dutch, and German, and some schools teach a combination of these languages in order to prepare students for the international European business scene. Both public "official" schools and private "free" schools (Catholic) are financed by the Brussels government, which has come under scrutiny from those who advocate the separation of church and state, religious and secular lives. The government has recently started an Internet system called BRUNETTE (Brussels Network for Telematics in Education), connecting all schools to the Internet with advanced technology.

Brussels has been a major center of learning since the Middle Ages and hosts eight major universities and numerous technical and vocational colleges. The Free University of Brussels was originally created to alleviate the Catholic rule over education in the country. It is separated into two almost completely different institutions, one French-speaking and the other Dutch-speaking. The constitution guarantees the freedom of choice of education, which draws foreign students seeking refuge from educational, political, and religious persecution in their own homelands.

13. Health Care

The IRIS network of Brussels (Interhospitalière Régionale des Infrastructures de Soins) offers nine public hospitals, basic medical care, and specialists who are available to all citizens. University hospitals also provide a number of services while teaching new doctors and nurses the trade. Modern medical, psychological, and geriatric care is available from state-run hospitals, clinics, and private doctors. About 95 percent of the Brussels population are covered by the state health plan. The twentieth International Symposium on Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine was held in Brussels March 2124, 2000, helping to update the techniques used by Brussels practitioners in emergency situations.

14. Media

The Brussels media is composed of three major French newspapers: Le Soir, La Libre Belgique, and La Derniere Heure ; three major Dutch newspapers: De Standaard, De Morgen, and Het Laatste Nieuws ; and one English weekly: The Bulletin. Most Brussels citizens get cable, which provides 40 channels: six of which are French (France), five Belgian Flemish, five Belgian French, three Dutch (Holland), two local Brussels (Dutch/French), two German, BBCI and BBC2, CNN, NBC Superchannel, Euronews, and a channel each from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Morocco, and Turkey, among others.

15. Sports

Brussels holds an annual 20-kilo-meter (12-mile) half-marathon every year on the streets of the city. The most popular sports are bicycling and soccer (also called football, but very different from American football). The Red Devils are Belgium's national soccer team, run by the Royal Belgium Football Association.

16. Parks and Recreation

Along the Bois de la Cambre, a visitor can stroll along the banks of the river, row on the river, bicycle, go horseback riding, roller-skating, or play miniature golf. The Park of Brussels also is a pleasant place to visit. On the Arcades of Cinquantenaire, Jabel Park was built to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Belgium Kingdom. La MiniEurope lies in the Laeken district, complete with a miniature Eiffel Tower, leaning Tower of Pisa, and other well-known monuments, in a theme park perfect for family vacations. In the same district is the Atomium, a large structure simulating the make-up of an atom, built for the 1958 World's Fair held in Brussels.

In Tervuren, there are acres of green land in the Forêt de Soignes and the Parc de Tervuren, making this the most popular destination for outdoors recreation. About 15 percent of Brussels is given over to parks and wildlife, which is a large amount considering the dense population of the city and suburbs.

17. Performing Arts

The Théatre Royal de la Monnaie, open since 1700 and supported by the Belgian government and Brussels City government, houses the Opera of Brussels and the Royal Ballet Company, putting on numerous shows every year. Other theaters include the Kaaitheater, the Royal Flemish Theater, and the Theater Factory Europe. The Palais des Beaux-Arts holds a wide range of dance and musical concerts and recitals by world-renowned performers year-round, and the Brussels Chamber Music Ensemble Oxalays performs classical music. One specialty of Brussels is the Toone Theater, or Theatre Toone VII, which is held in a pub built in 1696 near Grand Place. On the first floor, marionettes perform classical operas and Brussels folk stories in French, Dutch, and English; the second floor houses the actual pub. Every summer, the Festival of Flanders features concerts, theater, and dance performances in Brussels and other Belgian cities.

Brussels has also hosted the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition since 1951, offering support to young pianists, violinists, and composers.

18. Libraries and Museums

Brussels has a wealth of museums that cover topics ranging from antiquities to comic strips. The Cinquantenaire Museum of Classical Art and History, founded in 1835 and moved to Cinquantenaire Park in 1889, contains artwork from all over the world, from prehistoric times to the present. Brussels City Museum, located in the King's House on the Market Place of Brussels, opened in 1884. It showcases artwork specifically about the city of Brussels, featuring wall tapestries and the 600-costume wardrobe of Manneken Pis.

The Museum of Modern Art and Natural Sciences Museum also have extensive collections. Victor Horta House focuses on one of the founders of the art nouveau style, and the Belgian Comic Strip Centre houses the largest collection of comic strips in the world, including Belgium's Tintin. The Royal Library, or Bibliotheque Royal Albert I, located near the central train station, provides citizens with reading and reference material. The library holds nearly everything published in Belgium and much of what is printed in Europe.

19. Tourism

Whether shopping and sightseeing in Grand Place, Sablon Square, or the Heysel district, tourists get a grand taste of the good life in Brussels. The city's cuisine is one of the finest in the world, and the numerous chocolate shops make divine desserts. Known for its beer, Brussels is also a fine place to socialize in the pubs and take in a marionette play. Tourists from all over Europe come to Brussels because of its international ranking as a convention center and the capital of Europe. The museums and parks are top-notch and deserve as much time as possible from curious tourists. The comic strip museum, beer museum, and city museum offer rare glimpses into the private lives of Belgians and promise to entertain visitors. Although the weather is not always sunny, it is usually mild, allowing for comfortable sightseeing throughout the year. With the well-developed transportation, there is no reason that a traveler should pass up the opportunity to visit Brussels.

20. Holidays and Festivals

Brussels Annual International Motor Show

Brussels Cartoon and Animated Film Festival (from the end of February until the middle of March)

International Symposium on Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine

The Music and Light Show at Grand Place (from April through September)

The 20km Annual Marathon
Brussels Art Festival

Ommegang (Thousands parade on the streets in colorful costumes to commemorate the welcome of Charles V to the city.)

The Festival of Flanders

The Ivo Van Damme Memorial

21. Famous Citizens

Albert II (b. 1934), King of Belgium (r. 1993present), brother of King Baudouin I.

Baudouin I (19301993), King of Belgium (r. 19511993).

Victor Horta (18611947), architect.

Georges Rémi (19071983), creator of Tintin.

Antoine Joseph Sax (known as Adolphe Sax, 18141894), inventor of the saxophone.

Jean-Claude Van Damme (b. 1960), movie star and karate expert, nicknamed "the muscles from Brussels."

22. For Further Study


Brussels Online. [Online] Available (accessed December 20, 1999).

City of Brussels. [Online] Available (accessed December 20, 1999).

Irisnet. [Online] Available (accessed December 20, 1999). [Online] Available (accessed December 20, 1999).

Government Offices

Brussels Congress
Rue du Marché-aux-Herbes 61
1000 Brussels
Tel.: (02)5040276
Fax: (02)5130750

Centre Administratif (CA)
6 Boulevard Anspach
1000 Bruxelles
Ville de Bruxelles

City Hall (Hôtel de Ville, HV)
Grand Place
1000 Bruxelles
Tel.: (02)5127554

MayorMr. François-Xavier de Donnea
Tel.: (02)2795010
Fax: (02)2795021

Tourist and Convention Bureaus

Blvd. Du Centenaire
B-1020 Bruxelles
Tel.: (02)4770977
Fax: (02)4778398
e-mail: [email protected]

Brussels Exhibition Center
Place de Belgique
B-1020 Bruxelles
Tel.: (02)4748277
Fax: (02)4748390
e-mail: [email protected]

Tourist Office (Tourist Information Brussels)
Hôtel de Ville
Grand Place
B-1000 Bruxelles
Tel.: (02)5138940
Fax: (02)5144538
e-mail: [email protected]


Le Soir
Rue Royale
120-1000 Bruxelles
Tel.: (32)22255432
e-mail: [email protected]

La Libre Belgique. [Online] Available (accessed December 20, 1999).


Deprez, Kas and Louis Vos, eds. Nationalism in Belgium: Shifting Identities, 17801995. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Ephrem et. al. Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium: A Guide to the Collections of Ancient Art and Modern Art. Brussels: Alice Editions, 1996.

Roberts-Jones, Philippe, ed. Brussels: Fin de Siècle. Köln: Taschen, 1999.

Swimberghe, Piet and Jan Verlinde, eds. Brussels: The Art of Living. New York, NY: Stewart, Tabor and Chang, 1998.


views updated May 23 2018



The name Brussels covers three distinct entities. First, it designates the City of Brussels, the constitutional capital of Belgium since 1831. A township of medieval origin, circumscribed by the layout of its ancient battlements, it was enlarged on several occasions in the middle of the nineteenth century and in 1921, at the expense of bordering townships. Second, Brussels is the agglomeration the city became part of when two belts of urbanized townships cropped up around it. Third, it is the Brussels-Capital Region, an administrative entity made up of the City of Brussels and eighteen townships. This region is governed by a parliament and an executive branch, and since 1989 it has been one of the three districts that make up the Belgian state (federalized in 1993), along with the Flemish Region and the Walloon Region.


With seven hundred thousand residents in 1910, Brussels (including its agglomeration) was the most populous city in Belgium. It also supplied the largest number of jobs in the country, which is remarkable in a heavily industrialized nation, where the main industry centers were located in Wallonia (coal, glass, metallurgy) or in Flanders (textiles).

Brussels was industrially diverse (metal products, manufacturing, food processing, chemistry, energy production, printing, clothing manufacturing), and this diverse activity was usually represented by small or medium-sized businesses. Their preferred location was the western side of Brussels and its agglomeration, close to a two-canal waterway: the first, the Charleroi Canal, connected Brussels to the important metal mining basin of Wallonia; the second, the Willebroeck Canal, made it possible to sail to the port of Antwerp, the gateway to the North Sea. Several railway hubs supported these industrial neighborhoods. As the seat of government, command center of the country's economic life, its financial hub, and its cultural and educational heart, the City of Brussels also developed service-sector activities, which found a home in the historical center of the city, as well as in its eastern expansion.

Political, administrative, and cultural functions, conducted almost exclusively in French, created a complex linguistic situation. In this originally Flemish agglomeration, the "frenchifying" of the population rapidly progressed with the arrival of French speakers who populated the service sector. The trend progressed with the declaration of Flemish-French bilingualism, claimed in 1910 as the linguistic choice of 57 percent of Brussels's population, when exclusively French speakers represented only 26 percent and exclusively Flemish (Dutch) speakers only 16 percent of the population. By contrast, in 1866 nearly 40 percent of the population of Brussels declared themselves exclusively Flemish speakers. The desire for upward social mobility and administrative accessibility evidently motivated this linguistic mutation, which, in the eyes of Flemish activists, turned Brussels into an "oil spill," a machine to "frenchify" the population that moved there or to its periphery. The essentially French character of Brussels's public life and the difficulty of enforcing Dutch-speaking educational programs would make the language and culture of Brussels a long-lasting and divisive national political problem. On the political level, the City of Brussels, like most cities in Belgium, was traditionally liberal and secular, though the country was otherwise very Catholic. Because of its leading administrative role, Brussels politicians had particular influence over national liberalism. In the second half of the nineteenth century a radical movement emerged that focused on democratizing the right to vote, as well as a factory workers' movement, rooted in the progressive federation of professional associations and cooperatives. In spite of a large concentration of workers in both Wallonia and Flanders (Ghent), the Belgian Workers' Party—forerunner of the Socialist Party—was founded in Brussels in 1885. Many of the early and most important leaders of this party, like those of the liberal movement, issued from Brussels intellectual circles, whose center was the Brussels Free University. This institution, founded in 1834, was the product of secular liberalism, destined to combat the influence of the church in higher education and to train the future elite of the country. It was a fighting organization, thought of as such by its professors and students. The student life it generated would trigger cultural events and feed the artistic and literary avant-garde. The presence of young creators and of critical, educated consumers explains why Brussels opened up to musical, choreographic, sculptural, and poetic innovations. Between the two world wars, Brussels would become an important axis for surrealism, and after World War II, one of the headquarters of the expressionist CoBrA movement.


With larger state responsibilities in social and economic matters and with the concentration of industrial and financial groups—two trends that really took off in Europe in the 1920s—the central role of Brussels solidified. By the 1930s half of the City of Brussels's employment was in the service sector. This phenomenon would be strongly accentuated in the 1960s and would combine with deindustrialization. The agglomeration, which had remained industrial on its western side, was heavily hit. From 1970 to 1990 it lost 50 percent of its manufacturing jobs, losing first place in that sector to Antwerp. In 2004 less than 10 percent of employment in the Brussels region was still tied to industrial production. Light industry and construction were predominant. Mechanical construction was essentially represented by a large Volkswagen factory.

One of the important phenomena contributing to the rapid mutation of Brussels and its acceleration during the second half of the twentieth century was the internationalization of the city. This development resulted from the political repositioning that Belgium underwent at the end of World War II. Belgium renounced the status of neutrality it had been forced to adopt when it became an independent state, participated in the preparatory acts of the United Nations Organization beginning in 1944, and partnered with Holland and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg in a customs organization called the Benelux. Anxious to have a noteworthy place in the community of nations despite the small size of the country, the leaders of Belgium decided to play an active role in the elaboration and realization of the various policies of integration in progress in the West. The Brussels Pact for a Western European Union (1948), the North Atlantic Treaty (1949), the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC; 1951), the European Economic Community (EEC; 1957), and Euratom (1957) were all the result of discussions and development projects for which many meetings took place in Brussels, where Belgian representatives were in the spotlight. The most significant of these representatives was Paul-Henri Spaak (1899–1972).

Since the year of the signing of the Treaty of Rome (1957), which established the EEC and Euratom, the City of Brussels officially referred to itself as the seat of the European institutions. The organization of the Universal Exposition of 1958 in Brussels, the first exposition since World War II, was part of the city's policy of attracting business. Other cities or countries, including Luxembourg, Strasbourg, and Paris, also referred to themselves as the seat of the EEC, but because of the lack of any agreement between the states, a temporary situation created for Brussels in 1958 became a permanent fact. The city welcomed community executives from the European Commission and the Council of Ministers. Brussels was also home to some parliamentary activities: the commissions, political groups' meetings, and additional assemblies. It was not until the Merger Treaty (1965) that the three temporary locations of European institutions (Brussels, Luxembourg, and Strasbourg) were formally recognized as such and not until the Edinburgh European Council (1992) that Brussels was officially named the seat of the Commission, the Council of Ministers, the Economic and Social Committee, the Regions Committee, and the parliament. Everything regarding the organization of the commissions and the parties and the preparation of plenary assemblies would take place in Strasbourg. These events triggered the concentration in Brussels of the economic and diplomatic delegations related to the European Union and the establishment of all sorts of lobbying offices.

The internationalization of Brussels was not limited to welcoming the European institutions. The city also has been officially, since 1967, the seat of the NATO Council, with its Military Committee and its International Secretariat, thus taking advantage of France's partial disengagement from NATO, as well as of Belgium's decidedly Atlantic political and diplomatic conjuncture.

The last stage in the evolution of Brussels's importance took place in the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. During this time, the reform of the Belgian state was completed. The city, already the federal capital, became the capital of the Flemish Region, the seat of the ministry and the executive branch of the French Community of Belgium Wallonia-Brussels (an institution that organizes the cultural sector and education), the seat of parliament, and the seat of the ministries and administrations of the Brussels-Capital Region.

All of these institutions produced an extraordinary concentration of power and services over a single generation, in spite of the physical constraints of the city. Many administrative jobs were created, which generated the mass construction of office buildings that has pushed the population farther out into faraway neighborhoods. The administrative evolution of the eastern neighborhoods of the city contributed to the creation and enlargement of a business district where other urban functions, especially residential real estate, have had trouble surviving. In 1998 (before the enlarging of the European Union to twenty-five member states in 2004) it was calculated that the business of the European institutions alone accounted for 13 percent of the Brussels-Capital Region's gross domestic product and 13 percent of total office-space occupancy.


The City of Brussels proper, the historical center of Brussels, began losing population very early on: between 1900 and 1920, when the trend started, the population in the city went from 183,600 to 154,800, but continued to grow in the surrounding townships making up the agglomeration. In 1968 the total population of the Brussels-Capital Region, counting all of its nineteen townships, reached 1,079,181. At that time, an urbanization campaign was well under way in the surrounding townships of the city, which caused the population to further diminish. Between 1968 and 1997 the nineteen townships combined lost 240,000 people, who resettled in the suburban outskirts to escape city life and the soaring cost of real estate fueled by the growing service sector. This migration remains active, but its effect was largely offset by the internationalization of the city, which brought in many European executives, and by the arrival of many workers from the Mediterranean basin, starting at the end of the 1960s. Moroccans, Tunisians, Algerians, and Turks responded massively to official government-to-government agreements that sought to fill the need for unskilled laborers, which was made evident by the large infrastructure developments carried out in the 1960s and 1970s, and for low-skill maintenance and services personnel. By welcoming these migrant workers, who settled down with their families, Brussels restored its population count. In 2004, 950,000 people lived in the Brussels-Capital Region, 30 percent of whom were immigrants, mostly Moroccans.

The ethnic structure matches the age structure of the population, where the youth under the age of twenty represented 23 percent of the population in 1997, whereas those older than sixty accounted for 27 percent. The large representation of young people is the result of the demographic behavior of the immigrant population while that of the older residents results from older Belgians being trapped in the city or returning to it (whereas young middle-class Belgian families have a tendency to leave).

The significance of these numbers with regard to the history of the city cannot be established without taking spatial and social considerations into account. The North African and Turkish populations found lodging for reasonable prices in old and quasi-abandoned neighborhoods in the central and western parts of the city, where industrial workers made modest homes in the old industrial zone, and in some communities in the first belt of peripheral towns, where decaying middle-class houses had lost their appeal by the time the immigrants arrived. The other new residents of Brussels—brought in by the internationalization of the city—were mostly French. Even though these new residents embraced city life more than the native Belgians, they chose to settle in the more elegant residential neighborhoods to the east and southeast of the city.

Because many different nationalities are mixed together in most neighborhoods, one cannot speak of the existence of a ghetto in Brussels. Still, a socio-spatial division in the agglomeration distinguishes a poor multiethnic zone from a dense but not very populated administrative business district and from a second crown of affluent, cosmopolitan townships.

Though Brussels offers many employment opportunities, particularly in the service sector, these jobs do not fit the profile of a large part of its population, especially its youth. The employment situation more often benefits workers from outside the region, who make up a huge daily commuting traffic by road or train between the outskirts and the city. Though Brussels is located in the middle of the largest employment hub in the country, the internal unemployment rate for the capital region is up to 21.5 percent, and its median income is the lowest of the three regions of Belgium.


Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the Flemish movement has demanded an official place for the Flemish language in a city where French has the upper hand. This demand has had two major targets: schools and public administration. Theoretically, the laws of 1932 were to ensure that the language of primary and middle schools would be that of a child's maternal language in order to slow down the process of "frenchification." They also stipulated that administrative services in Brussels must be bilingual. The laws were poorly enforced, which frustrated Flemish activists, who were witnessing the inexorable progress of "frenchification" in the outer neighborhoods of the city. After World War II, the balance of power between French and Flemish speakers changed. The economic changes of the 1950s and 1960s drastically favored the northern region, Flanders. In the context of the exacerbation of community tensions, Belgium was officially divided by a linguistic barrier: in the north was Flanders, with monolingual Dutch speakers; in the south, Wallonia, with monolingual French speakers; and in the middle, nestled in Flanders, Brussels with its eighteen surrounding townships, all recognized as bilingual (laws of 1962 and 1963). The boundary was designed to be permanent. In fact, the suppression of the language census prevented any new sharing of land based on changes in the ratio of Flemish speakers to French speakers in other towns around Brussels.

The laws of 1962–1963 triggered great opposition among the French-speaking population of Brussels. The more radical among them created a new political party in 1964, the Democratic Front of French Speakers of Brussels, which very quickly won several elections. The creation of this party reflected the emergence of regional parties throughout the country that crossed over the traditional Belgian political divisions. Brussels became marginalized, as unitarian Belgium progressively took a backseat to the intense institutional work that took place in the 1970s, allowing Flanders and Wallonia to become more autonomous. In spite of important political confrontations, no concrete fate ever emerged for Brussels or its agglomeration. It was only in 1988–1989 that the Brussels-Capital Region was established, even though the constitutional amendment of 1970 had already designated the three regions of the Belgian state. Despite its late creation, the Brussels-Capital Region was the first to elect, by universal suffrage, its parliamentary assembly (1989), at the heart of which a minority was guaranteed to the Flemish deputies. The Flemish population was represented, from the beginning, by two ministers out of four and by one secretary of state out of three in the government, due to the fact that Brussels kept its status as capital city of both the region and the newly federalized state (1993).

In order to help the City of Brussels fulfill its responsibilities as a capital, an agreement between the region and the state in 1993 enabled the transfer of resources to Brussels, based on the idea that the Brussels-Capital Region was in a very difficult situation. Income taxes, which constitute a large part of the city's revenue, weigh heavily on the impoverished population. A large portion of the revenue that Brussels generates through its activity and employment escapes city taxation because most of the people who make their living in the region do not reside there. The region is rigorously delineated, and its limits do not include the whole of the city's active economic areas, nor those generated by the central institutions of Brussels, which could otherwise be taxed (peripheral industrial zones, large commercial areas along the beltways surrounding the city, airport facilities, and so on). The Brussels-Capital Region is heavily dependent on the federal state, which makes it the focal point of the permanent conflict that pits Flemish against French in all institutional matters.


The landscape of both Brussels and its agglomeration is surprisingly diverse. Because of this lack of unity, a visitor may have trouble reading its personality. In the mosaic of neighborhoods there is one predominant trait: the massive number of individual homes.

This particularity has encouraged architectural expression, especially in the first half of the twentieth century. Art nouveau until 1914, and art deco and modernism between the two world wars, found a well-off clientele in the first and second belts surrounding the City of Brussels. The second belt was mostly urbanized by the end of the 1930s. Among the residential developments in this area are around ten garden cities, all housing projects, erected in the 1920s by socially committed architects. They have become famous and represent a precious part of the country's modern history. With the exception of a few large luxury buildings, built in rich neighborhoods and close to the city's center in the 1920s and 1930s, apartment buildings did not begin spreading in Brussels until the 1960s and 1970s. They replaced the more destitute houses of the popular neighborhoods or, because of intense speculation pressure, occupied some areas of the second belt still not very densely built.

Urbanization in Brussels during the second half of the twentieth century was notoriously bad. Some informed European circles spoke of "Brusselization" to designate the arbitrary destruction of old residential neighborhoods and their replacement, without any concern for their social or aesthetic context, by large-scale office buildings. This phenomenon struck the center of the city quite heavily, as well as its northern and eastern districts, particularly those neighborhoods where the European institutions are located. However, since 1989 the Brussels-Capital Region has been working to change this trend with the help of its Administration for Land Management and Housing. The administration has been planning urban development while gaining better control over real estate promotion. It has also worked to better the conditions in the more dilapidated neighborhoods and to help local municipalities embellish public spaces. The problem it faces in the early twenty-first century is that of rising rents. This increase, which hits hardest the more fragile populations concentrated in the capital-city region, also accentuates the migration of more wealthy households toward the outskirts.

The construction since 1989, which made the center of the city much more pleasant, has attracted a new type of resident and consumer: young, employed singles or childless couples. These city dwellers, a large number of whom are Flemish, actively participate in the multicultural life of Brussels, known for its concerts and its alternative music, theater, and film festivals. There are many cultural establishments, artist groups, and theaters in the center of the city. Brussels is at the heart of an intense rivalry between Flemish and French entities that subsidize culture, which results in the multiplication and diversification of cultural output. This culture is also enriched by the presence of historical and cultural institutions created or subsidized by the state: the Museum of Fine Arts, the Art and History Museum, the Opera (Theatre de la Monnaie), and the Royal Library.


The originality and paradoxes of Brussels are the result of the conflicting history of Belgium in the twentieth century. Its central functions have grown, but its political importance is fading; its internationalization is real, and the wealth it produces grows while public finances are more and more meager. Its culture is mixed and cosmopolitan, while the two linguistic communities continue to fight for its control. Despite the contradictions and problems, Brussels remains a lively city, less hectic and more secure than the majority of Europe's great capitals. A possible hypothesis is that despite the socioeconomic threats that weigh on it, the regional institution has thus far managed to maintain a kind of balance in the urban society. It is a balance in which a waxing sense of belonging among its mixed population probably plays a role.

See alsoBelgium; Flemish Bloc; Luxembourg.


Billen, Claire, and Jean-Marie Duvosquel, eds. Brussels. Antwerp, 2000. Contains a synthesis of the history of the city since the Middle Ages. Abundant illustrations, interesting map portfolio.

Dumoulin, Michel, ed. Bruxelles l'Européenne, regards croiséssur une région capitale. Brussels, 2001. Abstracts in English.

Govaert, Serge. Bruxelles en capitales 1958–2000: De l'expo à euro. Brussels, 2000. Excellent explanation of the linguistic, political, and institutional problems relative to Brussels's status.

Hoozee, Robert, ed. Bruxelles, carrefour de cultures. Antwerp, 2000. Study of cosmopolitan art and literature of Brussels in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Smolar-Meynart, Arlette, and Jean Stengers, eds. La Région de Bruxelles: Des villages d'autrefois à la ville d'aujourd'hui. Brussels, 1989. Elaborates on specifically social and spatial aspects of the history of the city since the Middle Ages and includes illustrations.

Witte, Els, André Alen, Hugues Dumont, and Rusen Ergec, eds. Het statuut van Brussel geanalyseerd. Brussels, 1999. Very specialized study of the institutional problems and of Brussels's relationship with the European Union; abstracts in English.

Witte, Els, André Alen, Hugues Dumont, Pierre Vandernoot, and Roel De Groof, eds. De Brusselse negentien gemeenten en het Brussels model. Brussels, 2003. Study of the political and social problems of the agglomeration. The entries are summarized in English and the conclusions are translated.

Claire Billen


views updated May 18 2018


BRUSSELS , capital of *Belgium. A Jewish community existed in Brussels by the mid-13th century. Its cultural standard is attested to by the fine illuminated Pentateuch completed there by the scribe Isaac for Ḥayyim, son of the martyr Ḥayyim, in 1310. The Jews of Brussels were massacred during the *Black Death (1348–49). A few subsequently resettled, but a further massacre followed an accusation of desecrating the Host (May 1370), and the Jews were officially excluded from Brussels until the end of Spanish rule in Belgium. The memory of the reputed sacrilege was preserved, as the wafers became an object of worship, still commemorated on the third Sunday of July. The episode is depicted in the stained-glass windows of the St. Gudule Cathedral of Brussels. Marranos, however, found their way to Brussels from time to time, such as the Mendes family in the 16th century. In the 17th century several Marranos, including Daniel Levi (Miguel) de *Barrios, served in the Spanish army in Brussels. Some of them later settled in Amsterdam where they openly professed Judaism.

After the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Belgium came under Austrian rule and Jews began to settle in Brussels. Decrees of expulsion were issued in 1716 and in 1756, but were averted by gifts to the crown. In 1757 the community of Brussels consisted of 21 men, 19 women, and 26 children, many of whom had moved there from Holland. In 1783 Philip Nathan, who received the right of citizenship of Brussels, asked the authorities to assign a site for a new Jewish cemetery. With the annexation of Belgium in 1794 by France, Jews were able to settle freely in Brussels. At the beginning of the 18th century, the Brussels community recognized the authority of the rabbinate of Metz. The Napoleonic edict of March 17, 1808, included Brussels in the *Consistory of Crefeld. When Belgium was united with Holland, Brussels became the head of the 14th religious district of Holland. Belgium became independent in 1830 and the constitution of 1831 accorded religious freedom. Brussels became the center of the Belgian consistories, and Eliakim *Carmoly (1802–1875) was appointed chief rabbi of Belgium in 1832. The community, originally made up primarily of Jews from Holland and Germany, increased through immigration from Poland and Russia and, after 1933, again from Germany. Before World War ii, the Brussels community totaled some 30,000, although it remained second in size to Antwerp.

[Kenneth R. Scholberg]

Holocaust Period

The Nazis occupied Belgium in May 1940. A committee of the Association de Juifs en Belgique (ajb) was created in Brussels. All Jews were subjected to direction from this organization under the pretext of providing social relief for their brethren. The local Jews were sent to the labor camp of Mechlin (Malines) and from there they were sent to the extermination camps in the east.

For details see *Belgium: Holocaust Period.

Contemporary Period

From 1945 until approximately 1950, the Jewish population of Brussels was as large as it had been before World War ii (about 27,000), owing to the temporary sojourn of thousands of refugees from Eastern and Central Europe there. After that period, however, immigration to Belgium decreased and an important wave of emigration began to the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, and Israel. The total population was not known precisely, but certain statistical data, such as the average family size (which is 2.6 persons), indicated that it did not substantially exceed 18,000. The age distribution, owing to a low birthrate and an increasing trend of assimilation, points to the fact that the population had become stationary and was on the road to natural diminution. The community's reconstruction after World War ii was severely hampered by Belgium's economic instability and the process of rehabilitating war victims. Furthermore, as the majority of Jews were foreigners, it was difficult for them to obtain work permits. In 1946 a monthly average of 4,500 persons required relief or some form of aid from Jewish agencies, while only a few hundred were still in need in 1970. Priority was given to the creation of general institutions for social assistance and public services, such as L'Aide aux Israélites Victimes de la Guerre (now the Service Social Juif), L'Heureux Séjour, an old-age home, and the Caisse de Prêt de Crédit, to cope with the needs of the postwar Jewish community. The important contributions of the *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the *Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany to the institutions largely supported by them for 20 years eventually tapered off. A central fund-raising agency, La Centrale d'Oeuvres Sociales Juives, unifying 15 institutions, was created in 1952.

In 1970 Brussels had two primary Jewish day schools run on different ideological bases: one religious-traditionalist, l'École Israélite, and the other, Ganenou, more specifically Zionist-oriented. The Athénée Maimonide high school was run by the same board as the École Israélite. These three schools were recognized and subsidized by the state. Participation in a Jewish curriculum was also been expanded through other endeavors, such as the creation of Sunday schools, a school of Yiddish language and literature, and a number of Hebrew classes. Three ideologically different communal centers also provided educational and leisure activities. Apart from its four legally recognized religious communities (three Ashkenazi and one Sephardi), Brussels had several groups that organized their own religious services. In 1966 Belgian Jews and American Jews residing in Belgium created L'Union Israélite Libérale de Belgique, which had a Progressive ideology. The Centre National des Hautes Études Juives, created by the Free University of Brussels and subsidized by the state, promotes research and studies on contemporary Jewry and played an active role in the cultural renewal of the community.

The community grew slightly in the ensuing decades and reached a population of around 15,000 in 2002, representing about half the Jewish population of Belgium (with the other half in *Antwerp). In addition to maintaining its three Jewish schools, the community saw to the religious instruction of those in public schools in voluntary classes taught by Consistoire-appointed rabbis, with around 60% of Jewish public school children in attendance. The community had over a dozen synagogues and a yeshivah operated in the borough of Forest, where Orthodox Jews were concentrated. A Jewish Studies Institute operated within the framework of the Brussels Free University. The Jewish Secular Community Center (Centre Communautaire Laic Juifs) offered lectures, seminars, and Hebrew and Yiddish classes.

[Max Gottschalk /

Willy Bok]


H. Ouverleau, in: rej, 7 (1883), 117–38; 8 (1884), 206–34; 9 (1884), 264–89; M. Kayserling, in: rej, 18 (1889), 276–89; R. Orfinger-Karlin, in: ajyb, 49 (1947), 325–30; jyb (1964), 171; W. Bok, in: Deuxième colloque sur la vie juive dans l'Europe contemporaine (1967); W. Bok and H. Helman, in: Jewish Communal Service (1967), 69–75; M. Flinker, Young Moshe's Diary (1965). add. bibliography: ajyb (2003).


views updated Jun 11 2018


Located at the crossroads of Europe and the center of Belgium, the Belgian capital of Brussels lies in a valley of the Senne River. The name probably derives from Bruocsella, or "village of the marsh." The village, documented as early as 966, prospered as a river crossing on the trade route between Cologne and Ghent. The town received its first charter in 1312. Walls surrounding Brussels were raised between 1357 and 1387 and strengthened in the sixteenth century. It was first designated as the government seat of the Netherlands in 1531 and has continued to serve as a capital to the present day. Article 126 of the Belgian Constitution of 1830 made Brussels the capital of Belgium and the seat of its government. The commercial, industrial, administrative, financial, and political institutions of Belgium were concentrated in Brussels.

Brussels has traditionally been known for the production of luxury goods. In the mid-nineteenth century, the majority of Brussels workers were employed in the production of clothing, leather, and paper; as printers; and in metal- and woodworking, and construction. Through the 1890s, Brussels remained the principal center of production in the country, employing 101,948 industrial workers out of a national total of 1,130,000. Linked by rail—the first continental railway ran from Brussels to Mechelen—as well as by canal to points throughout Belgium and Europe, Brussels served as an important commercial center for Belgium and Europe as a whole.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the city of Brussels occupied only 416 hectares. The central pentagon was separated from neighboring rural villages by walls and taxes. Napoleon I (r. 1804–1814/15) ordered the destruction of the ramparts surrounding Brussels, work that continued for two decades. A ring of boulevards, inaugurated in 1871, replaced the fortifications. That allowed development to spread outward, especially to the north with the creation of the Botanical Gardens and the extension of the Rue Royale and to the east through the gates of Louvain and Namur with the Quartier Léopold. The bourgeoisie and the aristocracy abandoned the flood-ridden lower plains of the city and moved to higher ground in the Upper Town and beyond the former walls in

the Quartier Léopold. Brussels workers remained behind, occupying two- to four-roomed houses of one to two stories on dead-end alleyways or impasses. By 1878, the central pentagon was completely encircled by the suburbs (or faubourgs).

The city of Brussels experienced its most significant growth in the first half of the nineteenth century, with the population rising from 66,000 in 1801 to 150,244 in 1856. By the end of the century, residents began flowing outward to the suburbs. The population of the Brussels agglomeration increased from 288,400 residents in 1866 to 458,700 in 1890.

Jules Anspach, mayor of Brussels from 1863 to 1879, inspired by the Parisian schemes of the Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann (1809–1891), canalized and built over the Senne and replaced the warren of narrow streets in the Lower Town with wide, straight boulevards. The monumental Palace of Justice, designed by Joseph Poelaert (1816–1879), was built between 1866 and 1883 on a plateau overlooking the city, also requiring the clearance of extensive areas of worker housing. Charles Buls, who served as mayor from 1886 to 1889, championed municipal activism in urban planning. Linked to the question of public health was national pride—the capital symbolized the kingdom—and Belgian king Leopold II (r. 1865–1909) called upon the Brussels officials to "embellish the center of government to increase its air of elegance and pleasure." Planners drew up plans beginning in 1895, at the initiative of Leopold II, for the Mont des Arts that would be connected to a central railway station and join the upper and lower quarters of the city.

The nineteen Brussels communes, Anderlecht, Auderghem, Berchem-Ste-Agathe, Brussels Etterbeek, Evere, Forest, Ganshoren, Ixelles, Jette, Koekelberg, Molenbeek-St-Jean, Saint-Gilles, Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, Schaerbeek, Uccle, Watermael-Boitsfort, Woluwe-St-Lambert, and Woluwe St. Pierre, remained administratively separate throughout the nineteenth century. They issued their own proclamations regarding public works, police, building, and so on, and joined together only informally through sporadic meetings of the mayors at the City Hall in the center of Brussels. Unable to cooperate officially with the surrounding communes, Brussels pursued a deliberate policy of annexation, expanding its territorial limits ten times between 1851 and 1913.

The Communal Council of Brussels was directly elected every six years, meeting in the City Hall whenever required by communal business, usually every other Monday in the nineteenth century. The mayor, named by the king, presided over the Council. The Council elected nine échevins to manage finances, education, public works, and other business of the city. At the end of the eighteenth century, the upper bourgeoisie and the aristocracy with roles in the government tended to speak French, while the workers and the artisans spoke Flemish or Dutch. By the end of the Napoleonic regime, the civil service was completely French-speaking. The exclusive use of French in the institutions of independent Belgium precipitated a reaction, first among intellectuals and later politicians who claimed rights for Flemish speakers in the Belgian capital. Brussels was a bastion of the Liberal Party throughout the nineteenth century. Increasingly, the left wing of the Liberal Party in Brussels coalesced with moderate socialists in municipal and national politics; they were both vehemently anticlerical.

The architecture of Baron Victor Horta (1861–1947), employing glass and steel, made Brussels the center of art nouveau. Horta completed the Maison du Peuple, with its facade of metal and greenery, in 1899. The painter and sculptor Constantin Meunier (1831–1905), together with other avant-garde artists, founded the Société Libre des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1868. His visits to glassworks and mines in the Borinage in Southern Belgium in the 1870s inspired his heroic depictions of the working class. Baron James Sydney Ensor (1860–1949), who

painted The Entrance of Christ into Brussels, was born in Ostend, but was tied to Brussels by his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts as well as his relations with Les XX, an association of artists that promoted individualism and freedom of artistic expression.

The Université Libre de Bruxelles was founded in 1834. The Royal Conservatory of Music was opened in Brussels in 1876; the violinist Eugène-Auguste Ysaye (1858–1931) was named a professor of music there in 1886.

See alsoAmsterdam; Belgium; Cities and Towns.


Archives d'Architecture Moderne. Art nouveau in Brussels. Translated by Brigid Grauman. Brussels, 1988.

Goddard, Stephen H., ed. Les XX and the Belgian Avantgarde. Lawrence, Kan., 1992.

Henne, Alexandre. Histoire de la ville de Bruxelles. 3 vols. Brussels, 1845.

Smolar-Meynart, A., and J. Stengers, eds. La région de Bruxelles: des villages d'autrefois a' la ville d'aujourd'hui. Brussels, 1989.

Stengers, J. ed. Bruxelles: Croissance d'une capitale. Antwerp, 1979.

Janet L. Polasky


views updated May 18 2018


The city of Brussels, in present-day Belgium, was an important political and cultural center during the Renaissance. At the time Brussels lay within the Netherlands, also known as the Low Countries, which were under the control of Spain. In 1531 Mary of Hungary, the ruler of the Low Countries and the sister of Holy Roman Emperor* Charles V, moved her court to Brussels. Her arrival marks the beginning of the Renaissance in the city.

Brussels had prospered in the Middle Ages thanks to its highly successful cloth industry. During the 1400s, carpet and tapestry weaving became major industries. The influence of Italian Renaissance styles can be seen in many of the beautiful tapestries produced in Brussels during the 1500s. The Italian Renaissance also influenced the city's painters, especially Pieter Brueghel the Elder, the father of a notable family of artists.

Echoes of the Renaissance appeared in the city's architecture as well. The presence of the court prompted many nobles to build splendid homes for their families in Brussels. One outstanding Renaissance palace (now in ruins) belonged to Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, who later became a Catholic cardinal. However, Renaissance styles had little effect on church architecture, which continued for many years in the Gothic* tradition of the Middle Ages.

A revolt during the reign of Philip II of Spain pulled the Netherlands into a civil war that lasted from 1568 to 1648. However, Brussels returned to Spanish rule in 1585 and came under the control of the archdukes of Austria in 1598. Brussels once again emerged as a thriving center for the arts, home to such noted painters as Peter Paul Rubens. The city experienced a burst of new construction in the early 1600s, adding many buildings in the Baroque* style of architecture.

(See alsoArt in the Netherlands; Netherlands. )

* Holy Roman Emperor

ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, a political body in central Europe composed of several states that existed until 1806

* Gothic

style of architecture characterized by pointed arches and high, thin walls supported by flying buttresses

* Baroque

artistic style of the 1600s characterized by movement, drama, and grandness of scale


views updated May 29 2018

Brussels (Bruxelles) Capital of Belgium and of Brabant province, central Belgium. During the Middle Ages, it achieved prosperity through the wool trade and became capital of the Spanish Netherlands. In 1830 it became capital of newly independent Belgium. Sites include a 13th-century cathedral, the town hall, splendid art nouveau buildings, and academies of fine arts. The main commercial, financial, cultural, and administrative centre of Belgium, it is also the headquarters of the European Community (EC) and of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Industries: textiles, chemicals, electronic equipment, electrical goods, brewing. Pop. (2000) 133,859; 959,318 (metropolitan).


views updated May 29 2018

Brussels the capital of Belgium and of the Belgian province of Brabant; the headquarters of the European Commission is located there.