Brussels is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union (EU). It is also the largest urban area in Belgium, comprising 19 municipalities, including the municipality of the City of Brussels, which is the de jure capital of Belgium, in addition to the seat of the French Community of Belgium and of the Flemish Community. Brussels has grown from a 10th-century fortress town founded by a descendant of Charlemagne into a metropolis of more than one million inhabitants. The metropolitan area has a population of over 1.8 million, making it the largest in Belgium. Since the end of the Second World War, Brussels has been a main centre for international politics. Hosting principal EU institutions as well as the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the city has become the home of numerous international organisations, politicians, diplomats and civil servants.
Although historically Dutch-speaking, Brussels became increasingly French-speaking over the 19th and 20th centuries. Today a majority of inhabitants are French-speakers, including a significant population of immigrants with French as second language, and both languages have official status. Linguistic tensions remain, and the language laws of the municipalities surrounding Brussels are an issue of considerable controversy in Belgium.
|The Manneken Pis|
|Remains of city walls|
The city has had a renowned artist scene for many years. The famous Belgian surrealist René Magritte, for instance, studied in Brussels. The city was also home of Impressionist painters like Anna Boch from the Artist Group Les XX. The city is also a capital of the comic strip; home to some treasured Belgian characters such as Lucky Luke and Tintin, Throughout the city, walls are painted with large motifs of comic book characters. The totality of all these mural paintings is known as the Brussels' Comic Book Route. Also, the interiors of some Metro stations are designed by artists. The Belgian Comics Museum combines two artistic leitmotifs of Brussels, being a museum devoted to Belgian comic strips, housed in the former Waucquez department store, designed by Victor Horta in the Art Nouveau style.
Brussels contains over 80 museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. The museum has an extensive collection of various painters, such as the Flemish painters like Bruegel, Anthony van Dyck, and Jacob Jordaens. The recently opened Magritte Museum houses the world's largest collection of the works of the surrealist René Magritte.
|The St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral|
- The Grand Place is the central square of Brussels. It is surrounded by guildhalls, the city's Town Hall, and the Breadhouse. The square is the most important tourist destination and most memorable landmark in Brussels. It measures 68 by 110 metres (223 by 360 ft), and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Improvements to the Grand Place from the 14th century onwards would mark the rise in importance of local merchants and tradesmen relative to the nobility. The city of Brussels, as with the neighbouring cities of Mechelen and Leuven constructed a large indoor cloth market to the south of the square. At this point, the square was still haphazardly laid out, and the buildings along the edges had a motley tangle of gardens and irregular additions. The city expropriated and demolished a number of buildings that clogged the Grand Place, and formally defined the edges of the square. Every two years in August, an enormous "flower carpet" is set up in the Grand Place for a few days. A million colourful begonias are set up in patterns, and the display covers a full 24 by 77 metres (79 by 253 ft), for area total of 1,800 square metres (19,000 sq ft). The first flower carpet was made in 1971, and due to its popularity, the tradition continued, with the flower carpet attracting a large number of tourists.
- The Royal Castle of Laeken is the official residence of the King of the Belgians.
The castle was built at Laeken between 1782-1784 after the plans of the French architect Charles de Wailly under supervision of Louis Montoyer as a summer residence for the Governors of the Habsburg Netherlands. On 21 July 1803, Nicolas-Jean Rouppe, as commissioner of the department of the Dijle, received Napoleon at the Castle of Laeken. Napoleon stayed here with his Empress in August 1804 on his way from awarding the first Légion d'honneur to his invasion troops at Boulogne to his progress along the Rhine, and later (on invading Belgium during the Hundred Days War in 1815) dated this proclamation prematurely from the palace.
- Manneken Pis. (literally Little Man Pee in Marols, a Dutch dialect spoken in Brussels, also known in French as le Petit Julien), is a famous Brussels landmark. It is a small bronze fountain sculpture depicting a naked little boy urinating into the fountain's basin. It was designed by Jerome Duquesnoy and put in place in 1618 or 1619. It bears a similar cultural significance as Copenhagen's Little Mermaid. The famous statue is located at the junction of Rue de l'Étuve/Stoofstraat and Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat. To find it, one takes the left lane next to the Brussels Town Hall from the famous Grand Place and walks a few hundred metres to arrive at the spot. The statue will be on the left corner. The 61 cm tall bronze statue on the corner of Rue de l'Etuve and Rue des Grands Carmes was made in 1619 by Brussels sculptor Hieronimus Duquesnoy. The figure has been repeatedly stolen; the current statue is a copy from 1965. The original is kept at the Maison du Roi/Broodhuis on the Grand Place. There are several legends behind this statue, but the most famous is the one about Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. In 1142, the troops of this two-year-old lord were battling against the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen, in Ransbeke (now Neder-over-Heembeek). The troops put the infant lord in a basket and hung the basket in a tree to encourage them. From there, the boy urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle.
- The St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church on the Treurenberg hill. In 1047, Lambert II, Count of Leuven founded a chapter in this church and organized the transportation of the relics of Saint Gudula, housed before then in Saint Gaugericus Church on Saint-Géry Island. The patron saints of the church, archangel St. Michael and the martyr St. Gudula, are also the patron saints of the city of Brussels. In the thirteenth century, the cathedral was renovated in the Gothic style. The choir was constructed between 1226 and 1276. The façade was completed in the mid-fifteenth century. It is an archiepiscopal cathedral of the Archbishop of Mechlin-Brussels, the Primate of Belgium, currently Archbishop André-Mutien Léonard. It is located in the national capital and therefore often used for Catholic ceremonies of national interest, such as royal marriages and state funerals.
- The Atomium is a monument, originally built for Expo '58, the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. Designed by André Waterkeyn and Les Architectes Polak, it stands 102 metres (335 ft) tall. It has nine steel spheres connected so that the whole forms the shape of a unit cellof an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Tubes connect the spheres along the 12 edges of the cube and all eight vertices to the centre. They enclose escalators connecting the spheres containing exhibit halls and other public spaces. The top sphere provides a panoramic view of Brussels. Each sphere is 18 metres in diameter. Three spheres are currently (2008) closed to visitors, others can be reached easily by escalators. The vertical vertex contains a lift which was very fast and advanced at the time of building (the speed is 5 m/s). The Atomium is one of the most visited attractions in Brussels today.