Things to see and do - Brussels
Brussels Grand-Place :
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Brussels Grand-PlacePedestrian, 4 km, 2 days
Starting at the famous Grand-Place, here's an idea for a weekend that will enable you to discover the many riches that central Brussels has to offer.Customise this route and add it to My travel book
Victor Hugo called it a "marvel", Jean Cocteau a "rich theatre". There is nothing like the Grand-Place in the world. It is the centre of Brussels and a spectacle in its own right. It is constantly bubbling, and attracts a crowd of visitors from all around the world. You will be drawn in by its atmosphere. The Grand-Place has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998. While it is beautiful at any time of the day, try to come here early on a summer's morning, when the sun caresses the paving stones, terraces, windows and façades. In the early evening, the illuminations make the gilding shine while bringing the buildings out in stark shape. During August every second year, a carpet of flowers covers the ground here for several days. In December, a large Christmas tree and crib containing live animals stands in the centre. It has always been the centre of the city, a place for political meetings, police orders, revolts, privileges, justice and public celebration. Many guilds had their headquarters here, building more and more beautiful guildhouses with extraordinary façades - the guilds of bakers fat makers, cabinetmakers and coopers, archers, boatmen, haberdashers, butchers, brewers, tailors, painters and more.
Built in the 15C, this is a Gothic masterpiece. In 1421, the Town Hall only took up the left wing and belfry. Its entrance was the current Lions staircase. In 1459, a slightly shorter right wing was added. The building is dominated by a magnificently elegant and powerful tower, without a doubt the most beautiful in Belgium, that Hugo compared to the steeple at Chartres. It was erected by Jan Van Ruysbroeck in 1449 to replace the original belfry. This elegant stone lacework is nearly 96 metres high. The copper statue of St Michael has stood at its summit since 1455. The Town Hall contains a fine collection of tapestries, paintings, sculptures and antique furniture. Two fountains representing the Escaut and the Meuse decorate the interior courtyard. The Council Room is a meeting place for the burgomaster, aldermen and communal councillors. The tapestries in the Maximilienne Room are particularly beautiful. Made in the Brussels studio of Van der Borght, they illustrate the life of Clovis. In the antechamber of the Burgomaster's Cabinet, you can see some paintings by the Brussels artist Van Moer of the city. The Gothic room is decorated with neo-Gothic woodwork and tapestries made from drawings by Guillaume Geets and is a reception room. In the wedding room, you will see the coat of arms of the guilds and the seven lineages of Brussels decorating the woodwork.
Situated on the site of the old bread market, this house, originally called the House of the Duke, used to house the tax and tribunal services. It was entirely rebuilt in 1515 and renovated in the 19C, nonetheless preserving its late 16C Gothic style. Today, it houses the Brussels City Museum that includes works of art and collections retracing the history of the city or display the many local artistic activities. The ground floor is certainly the richest level. Among the paintings and retables from the 15C and 16C, do not miss the Wedding Procession by Bruegel the Elder and Retable de Saluces, masterpiece of the early 16C. You can also see, among the Brussels tapestries, one representing the story of Our Lady of Sablon (16C) from drawings by B Van Orley. In the room devoted to Gothic sculpture, you can see the eight prophets from the portal of the Town Hall. The collections of porcelain and silverwork are fine exaples of Brussel decorative art. On the first floor, there are paintings, engravings, photos, models and various objects illustrating the history of the city. The second floor is devoted to life in Brussels from its origins to the present day.
This houses surrounding the Grand-Place were built after the destruction of the city by the French in 1695, and restored in the 19C. Ionic, doric and Corinthian orders stand on the façades. Each is topped with a vaulted gable and decorated with sculptures and golden motifs. The Ommegang procession in July every year pays hommage to the guilds and is the reconstruction of the ceremony that took place in 1549 in the presence of Charles Quint. Certain of the guildhouse names can be guessed by their internal or external decoratieon (statues, motifs, coat of arms) - the House of the King of Spain, the Bakers' House (the most classical), the Wheelbarrow or the House of the Fat Makers, the Sack, or House of the Cabinetmakers and Coopers, the She-Wolf, or House of Archers, the Cornet, or House of Boatmen, the Fox, or House of Haberdashers, or the house of the representative of the sovereign (Amman), the Swan, or House of Butchers, the Golden Tree, or House of Brewers (previously the House of Tanners and Tapestry Makers), the Rose and the Mount Mont Thabor (private houses), the House of the Dukes of Brabant, the Deer, the Golden Boat, or Tailors' House, the Pigeon, or Painters' House, the Chamber of the Amman, the King's House (which now houses the Brussels City Museum), the Helmet, the Peacock, the Little Duck and the Oak, Saint Barbe and finally, the Ass. A sublime ensemble.
At the top of Rue de la Montagne, the architect Cluysenaar built an elegant Classical façade with pilasters in 1846. The Galerie du Roi and Galerie de la Reine are covered with a glass vault on a metal framework. The galleries are home to many luxury shops (including two bookshops), teashops and restaurants. At the junction with Rue des Bouchers, the Galerie de la Reine heads left into a third gallery called Galerie des Princes.
This small street lined with touristic restaurants is also home to the famous Toone Puppet Theatre which is held very dear by the people of Brussels.
In 1830, this theatre witnessed the beginning of the "September Days". During a performance of La Muette de Portici by Auber, the audience sparked off the rebellion. Rebuilt in 1855 by Poelaert en 1855, the building was renovated in 1985-86. The postmodernist part that was added at that point blends in perfectly with the original neo-Classical building. The interior is richly decorated, by well-known contemporary artists such as Buren.
This large construction looks similar to the Opéra Garnier in Paris. La Bourse (Stock Exchange) was built by Léon Suys from 1868 to 1873. The inspiration is Classical but the simplicity of its design is dominated by a decorative abundance. Auguste Rodin and other artists contributed work to this building, which is certainly of interest.
Sculpted in 1619 by J Duquesnoy the Elder, the Manneken ("Little Man") Pis, or "Little Julian" used to bring water to the district. This little pot-bellied boy symbolises Brabançon vigour. In the name of decency, or to honour "the oldest citizen of Brussels", it is traditional to offer him an item of clothing. From Louis XV to the Military Police, many countries and institutions have contributed to his wardrobe, which is on display at the Brussels City Museum.
This is one of the most elegant squares in Brussels. It is lined with ancient façades, antique shops, many cafés and luxury restaurants. Its atmosphere will delight you.
This lovely flamboyant style building was originally a chapel of the crossbowmen. Legend has it that in 1348, the pious Béatrice Soetkens brought a statue of the Holy Virgin from Antwerp to Brussels as a gift for the crossbowmen. The chapel became a place of pilgrimage and was enlargened from the 15C to 16C, at the end of the flamboyant Gothic period, but also its pinnacle. The exterior was entirely renovated more than a century ago by followers of Viollet-le-Duc, who added some belltowers, towers, pinnacles, balustrades and statues. The main shape of the building luckily remains intact. Inside, you will see the long choir and the high glass canopies with thin columns between. The pulpit dates back to 1697. Above the entrance, you will see the statue of Our Lady of the Tree (see Antwerp). The sephulcral chapel of the Tour et Taxis (or Tassis), an Austrian family that founded the international post office in 1516, is a masterpiece. The black and white marble décor is by Lucas Fayd'herbe. A statue of St Ursula in white marble is by J Duquesnoy the Younger. Tapestries by B Van Orley, illustrating the legend of Notre Dame du Sablon, used to decorate the lower sides. One of them now stands in the Brussels City Museum, the other in the Musée du Cinquantenaire.
The collection of early Flemish work, as well as masterpeices by Bruegel the Elder and Rubens make this a museum of worldwide renown. It is situated in a classical style palace from the late 19C with a modern wing. The 15C and 16C sections include some real treasures from the Flemish, French, German, Dutch, Italian and Spanish schools. The Scenes from the Life of the Virgin Mary, by an anonymous Dutch master (late 14C), is one of the oldest paintings. You can also admire works by Van der Weyden (Antoine, Great Bastard of Burgundy), Robert Campin (Annunciation), Petrus Christus (Pietà), Dirk Bouts, Hans Memling (Madonna and Child), Jérôme Bosch (Calvary with Donor), Hugo Van der Goes (Madonna and Child) and Gérard David. Room 31 is devoted to the work of Bruegel the Elder. Here you will discover the range of his work across paintings such as Fall of the Rebel Angels or The Count at Bethlehem. The paintings in the rooms devoted to the Delporte Legacy include a masterpiece by Bruegel the Elder: Winter Landscape with Skaters and Bird Trapping. Rubens and Jordaens dominate the section devoted to 17C and 18C painting. Among the more remarkable paintings, there is the 'Adoration of the Magi, Raising the Calvary or The Negro Heads by Rubens and Allegory of Fecundity by Jordaens. You can also see paintings by Van Dyck, Teniers and Frans Hals.