Brussels, The European Village

Next stop on my European tour is Brussels.  We flew from Nice to Brussels on EasyJet, a United Kingdom low cost carrier.

Brussels is the capital and largest city in Belgium.  It is also headquarters to many European institutions, therefore it is also known as the capital of European Union (EU).

Since Brussels is the capital of European Union, our first stop has to be the European District, which is home to the European Parliament, European Commission and the Council of Ministers.  The European Parliament is an ultra modern building with tinted glass consists of two wings – Paul-Henri Spaak building and Altiero Spinelli building.  The parliament is open to visitors but we didn’t go for the tour.

From the parliament building we walked towards Parc du Cinquantenaire.  We passed another building associated with the EU.

European Economic and Social Committee building

Parc du Cinquantenaire or Golden Jubilee Park was built in 1880 during King Leopold II’s reign to celebrate the 50th year of Belgium’s 1830 independence.  Work on the extensive park and triumphant arch continued until the 20th century.

The most eye catching monument in the park is of course the triumphant arch.  At the top of the arch is a bronze quariga, a horse-driven chariot and a central figure raising the national flag.

Apart from the triumphant arch, the park also houses a few museums – Musée du Cinquantenaire (Cinquantenaire Museum), Musée Royal de l’Armée et d’Histoire Militaire (Royal Museum of the Army and Military History) and Autoworld Museum, a vintage car museum.  We wanted to visit the museum but unfortunately it was closed for a private function.

So we continued our way towards Palais de Berlaymont (Berlaymont Palace).  This 240,000m² X-shape building is the European Commission headquarters.

European Union flags flying at Berlaymont Palace

Robert Schuman, a Franco-German statesman, one of the founders of the European Union, the Council of Europe and NATO

Our next stop was Palais Royal de Bruxelles (The Royal Palace of Brussels) which is located in front of Brussels Park.  This neoclassical grand palace is the official palace of the Kings and Queens of the Belgians.  The palace is only used for state receptions, royal audiences and court ceremonies.  Every summer, the palace is open to the public.  The public can tour selected rooms of the palace for free.

A couple posing for their wedding photo at The Royal Palace

As it started to rain, we took the subway to Gare Centrale (Central Station) and walked the short distance to Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula.  This imposing Gothic cathedral with its magnificent twin towers is named after St. Michael, the patron saint of Brussels and St Gudule, daughter of a 7th-century Carolingian nobleman.

Construction of the cathedral began in 1226 and work continued for another 300 years.  It was officially consecrated as a cathedral only in 1961.

Once inside the cathedral, the impressive columns and arches catches one’s attention.  The beautiful stained glass windows of the cathedral are truly a sight to behold.

Ancient pipe organ inside the cathedral

A short walk from the cathedral is Les Galeries Royale Saint Hubert (Galerie Royales Saint-Hubert), the world’s first shopping mall.  This Italian neo-Renaissance style gallery with a vaulted glass rooftop opened in 1847.

Comprising the King’s gallery, the Queen’s gallery and the Prince’s gallery, this long shopping arcade houses high-end boutiques, antique furniture emporiums, luxury chocolate shops, restaurants and cafes.  It’s a good place to do some souvenirs shopping as well.

Patrons at a restaurant inside the mall

A souvenir shop

A stone’s throw away from the gallery is Grote Markt or The Grand Place.  The square dates back to the 12th century and was essentially a market place.  This central square of Brussels is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.

Measuring 68 by 110 metres, The Grand-Place is surrounded by the Houses of the Guilds (or Guildhalls), the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) and the Maison du Roi (King’s House).  These buildings are built in 3 different styles – Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance.

The guild houses at the Grand-Place were built between 1696 and 1700 in the style of the Italian Baroque.  Each merchant guild erected its own building with name reflecting the trade they were in.  These elegant guild houses with magnificent gables, columns, balustrades, elaborately carved stonework and rich gold decoration add to the charm and attraction of the Grand-Place.

Some of the Guild Houses at The Grand Place

One of the more famous guild house is Maison du Roi.  It was originally a bakery in the 13th century, hence it is also known as Bread Hall.  The current Gothic style building was built from 1515 until 1536 and served as an administrative building for the Duke of Brabant.

This building now houses the Musée de la Ville de Bruxelles (Museum of the City of Brussels).  This museum is dedicated to the history and folklore of the town of Brussels.  This museum also display the wardrobe of Manneken Pis.  Entry fee to the museum is €3.

The Maison des Brasseurs or the Brewers’ Guild is to the left of the Town Hall.  This baroque style building with gold barley decoration and a sculpture of Duke Charles of Lorraine on the roof now houses the quaint little Musée de la Brasserie (Brewery Museum).  Entrance fee is €6 which also include a beer at the bar.

At the south of Grand Place stands Hotel de Ville.  This Gothic style Brussels Town Hall, built in stages between 1401 and 1455 has its entire facade decorated with statues dating from the 19th century.

It towers 96 metres (315 ft) high, and is capped by a 3 metre statue of Saint Michael slaying a demon.  The building is still used for government offices but guided tours for the building are available in English, Dutch and French.

Intricately carved statues, Town Hall

Statues adorn the Town Hall building

A must see when one is in Brussels has to be the Manneken Pis.  This 61cm tall bronze statue of a peeing boy was created in the 17th century by Jerome Duquesnoy.  This famous statue is dressed in different costumes at certain times of the year.  Rubbing the bronze statue is said to bring one luck.

We also visited the Marolles Flea Market at Place du Jeu de Balle.  This flea market has been operating daily for more than a century.

Here one can find everything from junk and antiques, expensive to bargain buys, fine delicate china set to big household items, there is something for everyone.  About 200 dealers turn up every day from 7am to noon to merchandise their wares.

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