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  BRUSSELS : Buildings and Monuments
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SIGHTSEEING

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- Sablon square
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- Heysel-Atomium
- St. Hubert gallery
- Royal Square
- Manneken Pis

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- St. Nicholas
- Church of Laken

Museums

Tourist Attractions

 

THE ROYAL SQUARE 

The royal square lies at the Koudenberg/Coudenberg, a natural hill at the edge of the medieval city center. Here, the duke of Brabant had a castle built in the 11th century. His successors left the city of Leuven, which had been the old capital of the dukedom and chose the castle in Brussels as their permanent residence. In the course of the following centuries, the dukes of Burgundy and, later, the Habsburg kings and emperors all adapted the castle to their needs and wishes. Between 1452 and 1459 Philip the Good of Burgundy had the Magna Aula constructed. This hall was meant for the many meetings of the Council of Brabant and other festivities. By the 16th century, the palace had become one of the most impressive and picturesque royal residences in Europe. It also had a magnificent garden, which is now the royal park.

brussel-paleis.jpg (24133 bytes)In front of the palace was a square called "BaliŽnplein" where the citizens of the city met, where markets were organized, as well as executions and festivities. Around this square a lot of noble families had constructed their mansions and houses. The castle itself remained the residence of the rulers and the governors of the Austrian Netherlands until the night of 3 February 1731. That night, a fire broke out in the kitchen of the residence. By the following day the entire royal complex lay in ruins and could not be used anymore. Fortunately a large number of tapestries, paintings and other art objects had been saved from the fire.

Above :Backside of the palace at the Koudenberg seen from the Warande-park, before the fire of 1731  Painted by L. Van der Stock (17th century). Reproduced by kind permission of Het Broodhuis -the City Museum of Brussels

In 1769 it was decided between the town authorities of Brussels and the court in Vienna (empress Maria-Theresa) that the former Balienplein should be rebuild in the then fashionable neo-classical style, the style of the age of enlightenment. Other European cities, such as Paris, Nancy and Reims, already had squares in that style. It reflected the new ideas of the French philosophers Descartes and Voltaire. They preferred cities to be urbanized according to plans and rules, rather than according to the illogical and whimsical construction methods of the Middle Ages.

Until then Brussels had been basically a typical medieval city with winding streets and little alleys. The construction of the new royal square was a breech with this tradition and already announced the bigger transformations that would take place in the city during the reign of king Leopold II in the 19th century. Noble families bought part of the square to build their new "hŰtels" on, however, according to strict architectural rules to preserve the unity of style. The new abbot of the St. James church also agreed to build a new church and two houses in exchange for his appointment as abbot and member of the Council of Brabant. This church, built in neo-classical style, was later crowned with a little tower which does not really fit in with the style of the rest of the building.

Nowadays, one can see in the middle of the square the statue of Godfry of Bouillon, leader of the first crusade in 1096. This statue was placed here in 1843 when the new state of Belgium wanted to legitimize its historic roots and several statues with national personae were erected in the entire country.

On the corner of the royal square are the buildings of the Museum of Ancient Art as well as the Museum of Modern Art. Behind the museum of Modern art the former palace of Charles of Lorraine can be seen. He was governor of the Austrian Netherlands in the second half of the 18th century. Parts of his palace have been replaced by the building of the National Library of Belgium. On the opposite site, a beautiful Art Nouveau house attracts all attention. This former shopping center, called "Old England" was built in 1900 and has recently been renovated. It will be used in the future as the Museum of musical instruments.

 

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