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Around the 1000-year-old historic center of Brussels, a group of ring roads form concentric circles. Pressing them is like traveling back and forth across the centuries. Brussels once had a river, Thenne, but it was buried in the 19th century after becoming clogged with sewage; the absence of left and right riverbanks can make orientation in the city a bit difficult.
The center, sitting in a bowl, is sometimes known as the Pentagon, from the shape of the oldest ring road, which roughly follows the ancient ramparts. Their main of its ruins include one of the gates, the Port de Hall, and a small patch of wall next to a bowling alley near Place de la Chapelle. From the 19th-century ring road you can see the cupolas of the Palais de Justice and the giant basilica in the local park commune. In the center the slender belfry of the Hotel de Ville rises like a beacon.
Brussels is small enough that you can get a superficial impression of it from a car window in a single day. For more substantial appreciation, however, you need one day for the historic city art, another for the Uptown Square’s museums, and additional days for museums outside the center excursions to the periphery.
Get Your Bearings
While Brussels typically includes 19 communes, or suburbs, most sites, hotels, and restaurants are clustered in the center, which encompasses the lovely Grand Place and Sablon squares, the two royal palaces, the old quarter of Les Moralles, and the urban chic of the place St.-Gerie and Ste. Catherine. Locals simply call this the center, but the tours are distinguished by Lower Town and Upper Town. The Lower Town is physically lower, including the area around the Grand Place and the borders. A steep slope leads up to the Upper Town, around rue d Regents, Place Royale, and the Sablon Squares.
To the south, the commune of Ixelles runs along the posh Avenue Louise to the huge Bois de Camera Park, and down to the European Parliament. The rest of the European institutions cluster to the east of the center Etterbeek, along with the museums of Cinquantinaire Park. To the west of the center lies St.-Gilles, with its mix of Art Nouveau architecture and immigrant areas around the Gare du Midi. Farther west you’ll find Erasmus's house in the industrial area of Anderlecht. The green communes of Jette and Laekin lie to north.
Lower Town: The Heart of Brussels
During the latter half of the 10th century, the village began to emerge on the site of the present-day Brussels. The population of craftspeople and traders settled gradually around the castle of the counts of Leuven, who are later succeeded by the Dukes of Brabant.
In 1430 Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, took possession of Brussels, then known as Brabant. During this era, Brussels became a center for the production of tapestry, lace, and other luxury goods. The city's market-town past can still be seen in the names of clusters of streets and the center of town- rue du March au Fromage was once here for cheese makers to set out their stalls, and you can imagine the feathers flying on rue du March aux Poulets.
By 1555, when Charles V. abdicated in favor of his son, Philip II of Spain, Protestant Reformation was spreading through the low countries. Philip, a devout Catholic, dealt ruthlessly with advocates of the Reformation. In 1568, his governor’s counsel fled with the execution of the Counts of Egremont and Hoorne, leaders of a popular rebellion. A monument to them stands in the Petit Sablon Square.
If you have one day: head through the Grand’ Place to drink in the gilded splendor of its medieval buildings. Wander the narrow, cobbled lanes surrounding the square and visit the graceful, arcaded Gallerie St- Hubert, an elegant 19th-century shopping gallery. Head down rue de l’Etuve to see the Mannekin Pis, the statue of the little boy who according to legend saved to Brussels by urinating to extinguish a fire. Walk to the place du Grand Sablon to window-shop at its many fine antiques stores and galleries. If it's a weekend, enjoy the outdoor antiques market. Visit one of the cafés lining the perimeter, and don't forget to buy chocolates from one of the top chocolatiers on the square. Then crossover rue de la Regence to see the place du Petit Sablon before walking down the street to the Musee d’Art Moderne and the Musee d’Art Ancien to view collections ranging from the surrealism of Belgian artists Rene Magritte to the delicately wrought details of Peter Bruegel the Elder’s The Fall of Icarus. Pick out a restaurant on the fashionable rue Antoin Dansaert for dinner. Finally, returned to the Grand’ Place to cap off the evening with a drink at one of the cafés to see the shimmer of the Golden decades under the glow of lights.
If you have three days: kickoff your stay with the exploration outlined above. On your second day, start at the Parc de Bruxelles, a formal urban park that originated as a game park. Across the street there’s the elegant Place Royale and the adjoining square. Take time to visit the nearby Musee des Instruments de Musique, which houses one of Europe's finest collections of musical instruments. Hop a tram to Avenue Louise in Ixelles, one of Brussels liveliest neighborhoods. Walk down rue Paul-Emile Janson, stopping to look at number six, considered one of architect Victor Horta’s finest Art Noveau works. Check out the shops on rue du Bailli, an eclectic mixture of trendy boutiques, old-fashioned bakeries, and antiques shops, before continuing on to Place du Chatelain for lunch.
After lunch, visit a commemoration to an architectural wonder, now the Musee Horta, on rue Americaine. If you crave more art and architecture, go to the Musee David-et-Alice-Van-Buren, a 1930s Art Deco masterpiece that also features a fun collection of old Master paintings, including one of three versions of Bruegel’s Fall of Icarus. If you're in the mood for lighter entertainment, head towards the Gare du Midi and visit the Musee de la Gueuze to see how iambic beer is brewed the old-fashioned way. Enjoy tasting at the museum, and maybe go on to the café to compare the taste to that of the commercially brewed versions. For dinner head to Place Ste-Catherine for a feast of Belgian seafood specialties. Later, check out the many cafés and bars that crowd the narrow streets around the Bourse.
On day three, take the Metro to Schuman, walk past the cluster of modern buildings that house various functions of the EU as you had up through Parc Cinquentaire. Visit the auto world Museum, which houses a fantastic collection of vintage cars. Head up Avenue Tervuren to catch a tram to Tervuren and the Koninklijk Museum voor Midden Afrika/Musee Roayl dem l’Afrique Centrale, a legacy of Belgium's role in the Congo, including objects and memorabilia from explorers. Relax in the surrounding park before heading back into town for another fine dinner. Another option would be to visit some of the famous sites and towns on the border of Brussels. First on the list is Waterloo, the battlefield that changed the course of European history, where you can explore the Musee Wellington, the Butte de Lion, and the Champ de Bataillefield. Next, head for Gaasbeek, real fine the Gaasbeek Château and scenery straight out of a Bruegel painting.
In 1695, on the orders of French King Louis XIV, Marshall the LeRoi bombarded the city with red-hot cannonballs for the extended siege of Navarre. The ensuing fires destroyed 4000 houses, 16 churches, and all of the Grand Place, with the exception of the Hotel de Ville. The buildings around the square were immediately rebuilt, and with the splendour seen to this day.
In 1713 the Spanish Netherlands came under the rule of the Austrian Habsburgs. Despite the influence of Enlightenment theories on the province's governors, nationalist feelings had set in among large sections of the populace. These sentiments were quashed by neither the reprints of armies of Napoleon nor the post-Waterloo incorporation of Belgium into new Kingdom of the Netherlands. On August 25, 1830, a rousing duet from an opera performed inflamed patriots in the audience, who burst onto the streets and raised the flag of Brabant. With support from Britain and France, independence came swiftly.
Since then, Brussels has undergone image upheavals almost as significant as the impact of the centuries’ two world wars. At the turn of the 20th century, the wide boulevards and Art Noveau buildings symbolize the city as bustling and metropolitan as Paris. However, from the 1950s onward, Brussels became a by-word for boring: a gray, faceless city of bureaucrats where cavalier neglect of urban planning created a new word-Bruxellization- for the distraction of architectural heritage. Now the pace of European integration has helped to restore the city's international reputation.
What to See
Bourse: at the stock exchange, the decorative frieze of allegorical statues in various stages of nudity, some of them by Rodin, forms a sort of idealization of the common man. Trading here, as at most European stock exchanges, is via electronic computer screens, meaning that there is no longer a trading floor. Next door lies Bruck Sele 1238, an archaeological museum where you can inspect the excavation of a 13th-century church.
Cathedrale St-Michel et Ste-Gudule: the twin gothic towers and outstanding stained-glass windows of the city's cathedral looked down over the city. One namesake, Saint Michael, is recognized as the patron saint of Brussels, but mention St. Gudule and most people will draw blank. Very little is known about this daughter of a seventh-century Carolingian nobleman, but her relics have been preserved here for the past 1000 years. Construction of the cathedral began in 1226 and continued through the 15th century; chapels were added in the 16th and 17th centuries. The remains of an earlier, 11th-century Romanesque church that was on site can be glimpsed through glass apertures set into the floor. Among the windows in the cathedral, designed by various artists, those by Bernard van Orally, a 16th-century court painter, are the most spectacular. The window of the last judgment, at the bottom of the name, is illuminated from within in the evening. All weddings and christenings take place here.
Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinee: it fell to the land of Tintin, a cherished cartoon character, to create the world's first and museum dedicated to the ninth art-comic strips. Despite its primary appeal to children, comic strip art has been taken seriously in Belgium for decades, and in the Belgian comic strip center it is wedded to another strongly Belgian art form: Art Nouveau. Based in an elegant 1903 Victor Horta-designed building, the museum is long on the history of the genre but sadly short on kid-friendly interaction. Tintin, the cowlick adventurer created in 1929 by the late, great Brussels native Herge, became a worldwide favorite cartoon character. But many other artists have followed in Herge’s footsteps, some of them even more innovative. The collection includes more than 400 original plates by Herge and his Belgian successors and 25,000 cartoon works; those not exhibited can be viewed in the archive. There are also good temporary exhibitions from time to time, a large comic strip shop, a library, and a lovely Art Noveau brasserie. Most information is in French.
Eglise St. Jean-du-Beguinage: originally this elegant Flemish baroque church served as a center for the beguines who lived in houses clustered around it. The interior has preserved it’s Gothic elements, with soaring vaults. The surprisingly different architectural styles combined to make this one of the most attractive churches in Brussels. A number of streets converge on the small, serene, circular square, which is surrounded by buildings and help create a harmonious architectural whole.
Eglise St. Nicolas: The small church, surrounded by tiny houses that seemed to huddle under it, is almost a thousand years old. Little remains of the original structure, but a cannonball fired by the French is still lodged in one of the pillars. You can only view the exterior as the church is closed for renovation.
Galeries St. Hubert: there are three parts to this arcade: de la Reine, du Roi, and du Prince. They were built in 1847 as the world's first covered shopping galleries, thanks to new engineering techniques that allowed architects to use our interiors to design soaring constructions of glass. Neoclassical gods and heroes look down from their sculpted niches on the crowded scene below; flags of many nations billow ever so slightly; and the buskers play classical music, while diffused daylight penetrates the gallery from glassed arcs. The shops, which are generally open Monday to Saturday, 10 to 6, are interspersed with cafés, restaurants, a theater, and a cinema.
This jewel box of the square is arguably Europe's most ornate and most theatrical. It's a vital part of the city-everyone passes there at some point. At night the burnished facades of the guild houses and their gilded statuary look especially dramatic: from April to September, the square is floodlit after sundown with waves of changing colors, accompanied by music. Try to be here for the Ommegang, a magnificent historical pageant re-creating Emperor Charles V’s reception in the city in 1549. You'll find here a flower market, frequent jazz and classical concerts, and in December, under the majestic Christmas tree, a life-size creche with sheep grazing around it.
Built in ornate baroque style soon after the 1695 bombardment, the square's guild houses have a striking architectural coherence. Among the buildings on the north side of the square, numbers 1-2, Le Roy d’Espagne, belonged to the acres guild. A figure of fame perches on its cupola. Le Sac, number four, commissioned by the guild of joiners and clobbers, and number 6, Le Cornet, built for the boatmen, were both designed by Antoon Pastorana, a gifted furniture maker. Le Renard, number 7, was designed for the guild of haberdashers and peddlers; a sculpture of St. Christopher, their patron, stands on top of the gable.
Le Cygne, number 9, was formerly a butcher's guild. Today, it is an elegant restaurant, but before that it was popular as a tavern often frequented by Karl Marx.
Hotel de Ville: the Gothic Town Hall, which dates from the early 15th century, dominates the Grand Place. It's nearly 300 years older than the surrounding guild houses, as it survived the devastating fires of 1695. The left wing was begun in 1402 but was soon found to be too small. Charles the Bold laid the first down payment for the extension in 1444, and it was completed four years later. The extension left the slender belfry off-center; it has now been fully restored. The belfry is topped by a bronze statue of St. Michael crashing the devil beneath his feet. Over the Gateway are statues of the prophets, female figures representing lofty virtues, and effigies of long-gone dukes and duchesses. Inside the building are a number of excellent Brussels and Mechelan tapestries, some of them in the Gothic Hall, where recitals and chamber-music concerts are frequently held.
Maison de la Brasserie: on the same side of the Grand Place as the Hotel de Ville, this was once the brewers’ guild. The building, also known as the Golden Tree, now houses a modest brewery museum, appropriate enough in a country that produces 400 different beers. There are audio guides in English.
Maison du Roi: no ruler ever lived in this house of the King; rather, it housed Charles V’s administrative offices. It was built on the site of Brussels’ 13th-century covered market in the 16th century, but was rebuilt in neo-Gothic style towards the end of the 19th century. Today, it houses the Musee Communal, a municipal museum that has some fine tapestries, altarpieces, and paintings, notably the Marriage Procession, by Peter Bruegel the Elder. On the top floor you can see the extravagant wardrobe of costumes donated to clothe the little statue of Manneken Pis on a festive occasions. It's a good idea to book your visit well in advance.
Mannekin Pis: this cocky emblem of Brussels has drawn six years for centuries-but after all the hype, you may be underwhelmed by the small statue of a teen boy, an image that launched a thousand tchotchkes. The first mention of the Mannekin dates from 1377, and he said to symbolize what Belgians think of the authorities, especially those of occupying forces. The present version that was commissioned from sculptor Jerome Duquesnoy in 1619. It is a copies; the original was seized by French soldiers in 1747. In restitution, King Louis XV of France was the first to present Mannekin Pis with the gold-embroidered suit. The statue now has 517 other costumes for ceremonial occasions, and ever-increasing collection whose recent benefactors include John Malkovich and Dennis Hopper, and his own personal dresser. On one or two days of the year, he spouts wine or beer, rather than water.
Musee du Caocao du Chocalate: this modest museum devoted to cocoa and chocolate gives an inside look at one of Belgium's prized products. It explains how cocoa beans are grown and processed, taking you through all the stages of chocolate production. There is information available in English, and a small tasting.
Musee du Costume et de la Dentale: the costume and lace Museum pays tribute to Brussels textile-making past. Houston for 17th-Sentry houses and a warehouse, and Museum is something of a 17th-2/18-century fashion show, with accessories, and perjury and close on display, many featuring the delicate lace for which the city became famous.
Musee Jije: comic-strip artists Joseph Gillian, known as Jije, may not be as internationally famous as Herge, but he created a wider, more versatile cast of characters. He produced the first cartoon Western in Europe with his cowboy, Jerry Spring, in the 1950s. A pair of power characters, 10 guy and leverage your, were 1970s icons in France and Belgium. This Museum, opened in 2003 in a former print works, has hundreds of rare plates in its permanent collection, as well as constantly changing temporary exhibitions on other European cartoon artists. There's no information available English.
Place des Martyrs: the square holds a monument to the 445 patriots who died in the brief but successful 1830 war of independence against the Dutch. The square itself is a neoclassical architectural ensemble built in 1795 in the cool style favored by the Austrian Habsburgs.
Place Saint Catherine: if you find the grand Place overrun by tourists, come to the square, a favorite of locals. It's a working market every weekday from 75, where people come to shop for necessities and banter with fishmongers. There's a stall where you can down a few oysters, accompanied by glass of ice-cold muscadet. In the evening the action moves to the old biz net, which branches off from the a police dead Saint Catherine. The canal used to run three here; it's now reduced to a couple of elongated ponds, but both sides are lined with seafood restaurants, some excellent, many overpriced. In good weather, there's outdoor waterslide dining.
Porte de Hal: built in 1381, this gate is unique remnant of Brussels city walls, and in 1847 became one of the first museums in Europe. Having lost collections to the Cinquintenaire complex in 1870s, and now focuses on the history of Brussels. There are guided tours available. If you visit, trying catch the nearby morning market, which is particularly good flour and organic food stalls.
Quartier de l’ilot Sacre: flimflam artists and jewelry vendors mingle with the crowds in the narrow rue des Bouchers and even narrower petite rue des Bouchers. While many streets in central Brussels were widened as part of the preparations for the 1958 world's fair, these tiny routes escaped being demolished after locals complained. The area was given special protection in 1959 and there are strict rules governing what changes can be made to it’s historic buildings. As long as you watch out for pick-pockets, it's all good-natured fun in the liveliest area in Brussels, where restaurants and cafés spill out onto the sidewalks. The restaurants make strenuous efforts to pull you in with huge displays of seafood and game. The quality, alas, is a different matter, as there have been arrests in recent years for large-scale credit card fraud in these restaurants.
Rue Antoine Daensert: this is the flagship street of Brussels’ fashionable quarter, which extends south Past St. Gerrie and St. Catherine. An avante-garde boutique store sells Belgian-designed men's and women's fashions along with more familiar designer labels. There are also inexpensive restaurants, cozy bars and cafés, edgy galleries, and stylish furniture shops.
Theatre de la Monnaei: it was here during a performance of Auber’s la Muette de Portici on August 25, 1830, some members of the audience became so inflamed by the duet that they stormed out and started a riot that led to independence. The graceful hall, on the Place de la Monnaei, is among Europe's leading opera stages. Tickets are relatively cheap, so it's worth checking out a performance. There are guided tours on Saturdays at noon.
Theatre Toone: an old public theater, now run by the youthful Nicholas Gill-and eight-generation member of the Toone family, who’s thus know as Toone VIII-this theater has a repertory of 33 plays, including some by Shakespeare. You will understand a word, as performances are given in local dialect, but it's fun anyway. There's a puppet museum and the great, old-fashioned bar.
Upper Town: Royal Brussels
Uptown Brussels bears the hallmarks of two rulers, Austria and Charles of Lorraine and Leopold II, Belgium's Empire builder. The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, which distributed bits of Europe like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, saw to it that Belgium was to be taken over by Austria. Fortunately for the Belgians, the man Austria sent here as governor was a tolerant visionary who oversaw the construction of a new palace, the neoclassical Place Royale, and other buildings that transformed the Upper Town.
The next large-scale rebuilding of Brussels was initiated by Leopold II, the second king of independent Belgium, and the latter part of the 19th century. Cousin of Queen Victoria and the Kaiser, he asked the Congo for Belgium and applied some of the profits to grand urban projects. Present-day Brussels is indebted to him for his wide avenues and thoroughfares.
A group of arts institutions in this area has formed an alliance called the Mont des Arts. It includes the Musee d’Art Ancien, the Musee d’ art Moderne, the Musee des instruments de Musique, the Musee de la Dynastie, and the Palais des Beaux Arts. On Saturdays and Sundays you can buy a special pass which gives you intrigue to all the participating institutions, including the occasional concerts.
Another good value passes in the “Brussels Card”, which gives you three days of free public transport and free entry to 30 museums, including those on the Mont des Arts. You can buy it at Brussels public transport offices and stations such as Gare du Midi.
What to See
Place Royale: there's a strong dash of Vienna in this light, symmetrical square; it was built in the neoclassical style by Austrian overlords. Elegantly proportioned, is the centerpiece of the Overtown, which became the center of power during the 18th century. The equestrian statue in the center, representing Godifroid de Bouillon, Belgian crusader and King of Jerusalem, is a romantic afterthought. The buildings are being restored one by one, leaving the facades intact. Place Royale was built on the ruins of the palace of the Dukes of Brabant, which had burned down. The site has been excavated, and it is possible to see the underground takes and the Main Hall, Aula Magna, where Charles V was crowned holy Emperor and where, 37 years later, he abdicated to retire to a monastery. The church on the square, St. Jaques Coudenburg, was originally designed to look like a Greek temple. After the French Revolution reached Belgium, it briefly served as a temple of reason. The RW building on the northwest corner is the former only one department store.
On or near Place Royale are the Hotels Ravenstien, built in the 15th century and the only surviving aristocratic house from that period; and the Palais de Beaux-Arts., and Art Deco concert hall, designed in the 1920s by Victor Horta had remarkable more for the ingenuity with which he overcame his tricky location than for its aesthetic appeal.
Kermesse du Midi: from mid-July until the end of August, all of Belgium's Carnival barkers and showmen and their carousels, ghost trains, Ferris wheels, shooting galleries, rides, swings, and merry-go-rounds congregate along the Boulevard du Midi for this giant and hugely popular fun-fair. It extends for blocks and blocks.
Les Morolles: if the Grand Place stands for old money, the Morolles neighborhood stands for old-and current-poverty. This was home to the workers who produced the luxury goods for which Brussels was famous. There may not be many left to still speak the old Brussels dialect, mixing French and Flemish with a bit of Spanish thrown in, but the area still has raffish charm, although gentrification is in progress. The Morolles has welcomed many waves of immigrants, the most recent from Spain, North Africa, and Turkey. Many come to the daily fleamarket at the place du Jeu de Balle, where old clothes are sold along with every kind of bric-a-brac, plain junk, and the occasional gem. For more browsing, hit the smattering of antiques shops on rue Haute and rue Blaes. This area can be sketchy at night, so you may want to leave by sunset, particularly if you're alone.
Musee Belvue: the the Museum in the lovely, historic and hotel was renovated in 2005, and it’s displays given a much needed revamp. It was built in 1776 by the French architect Barnabe Guimard for wine merchant Phillipe de Profte and later became a hotel. Many famous people have passed through its doors- Honore de Balzac, Franz Lizst, and Sarah Bernhardt slept here, and the Duke of Wellington stayed just before the Battle of Waterloo. The Museum chirps Belgium's history from 1830 revolution to the present day, using film, photographs, documents and objects. There's a decent café with outdoor seating in the summer.
Musee de Art Ancien: in the first of the interconnected art museums, the Ancient Art Museum pays special attention to the great, so-called Flemish primitives of the 15th century, who revolutionized the art of painting with oil. The Spanish and the Austrians pilfered some of the finest works, but there's plenty left by the likes of Memling, Petrus Christus, Roger van der Weyden, and Hieronymous Bosch. The collection of works by Peter Bruegel the Elder is outstanding; it includes The Fall of Icarus, in which the figure of the mythological hero disappearing in the sea is but one detail of a scene in which people continue to go about their business. Bruegel the Younger’s Wonderful Fight between Carnival and Lent is also here. A century later Rubens, Van Dyck, and Jordaans dominated the art scene; their works are on the floor above. Look for Ruben’s outstanding The Martyr of St. Livinus. The 18th century collection on the ground floor includes the melodramatic Death of Marat, by Jacques-Louis David, who, like many other French artists and writers, spent years in exile in Belgium. You can forge ahead into the 19th and 20th centuries by using the underground passages that connects this Museum to the adjacent Musee de Art Moderne. There are English language brochures and guided tours available.
Musee d’Art Moderne: rather like New York's Guggenheim Museum in reverse, the modern art museum tours underground, circling downward a forest. You can reach it by an underground passage or you can enter it from the house on Place Royale where Alexander Dumas once lived and wrote. The collection is strong on Belgian and French art of the past 100 years, including such Belgian artists as the Expressionist James Ensor and the surrealists Paul Delvaux and Renee Magritte, as well as Pieree Alichensky and sculptor Pol Bury. Highlights include Magritte’s The Empire of Light and Delvaux’s Pygmalion, and Ensor’s Skeletons Fighting for a Smoked Herring. Notable works by non-Belgian artists include Francis Bacon's Pope with Owls. There are English language or explanatory pressures and tours will. Note that lunch hours at this and other museum are staggered so as not to inconvenience visitors.
Musee des Instruments de Musique: if you've ever been curious to know what came land or Tibetan temple bell sounds like, here your chance. In addition to seeing the more than 1500 instruments on display, you can listen to them via infrared headphones; you can hear musical extracts from almost every instrument as you stand in front of it. The more than 200 extracts range from ancient Greek tunes to mid-20th-century pieces. Paintings and ancient vases depicting the Germans being played through history complete the experience. The four-story Museum features a complete the 17th century Orchestra, a precious 1619 spent-harpsichord, and harmonica, a rare tektite, and about a hundred Indian instruments given to King Leopold II of by the Russia Surrey and throw moment ago or. There's a rich selection of European folk instruments, as well as creations by the amazingly prolific Adolphe Sacks. The Belgian inventor was best known for the saxophone dreamed up dozens of wind instruments. In the basement, the garden of Orpheus is set up for children's discover musical instruments. The site combines one of the city's most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings-the former old England department store, designed by architect Paul Saintenoy in 1889-with the adjoining neoclassical 1913 Barre-Guimard building. A third building in the adjoining rue Villa Hermosa houses the 7,000 instrument reserve. In addition, the museums 200-seat concert Hall hosts regular performances that feature harpsichords, virginal, and pianos from the collection. The tea room and restaurant on the sixth floor offers panoramic views of Brussels.
Musee Juif Belgique: this Museum traces the history of the Jewish faith, and the fate of its followers in Belgium. The extensive collection includes religious objects dating from the 16th century, documents, and books. In addition to objects that illustrate Jewish customs throughout Europe are a number of pieces, including textiles and silver, made in Belgium. There are excellent regular temporary exhibitions on aspects of Jewish life.
Palais de Charles de Lorraine: Charles of Lorraine, who governed for the Austrian Netherlands in the 18th century, filled the 1757 building with ornate stonework, beautiful for arts and other delights. Now used as the Museum of the 18th century and the Royal Belgian library, it is dominated by a vast staircase leading to a rotunda that is paved with 20 types of Belgian marble, a small sample of Charles collection of minerals. You can look around the five lavish rooms where the prince entertain guests and see decorative and scientific objects of the time.
Palais de Charles V: under the place for allies the remains of a massive palace first constructed in the 11th century, and upgraded over hundreds of years in line with the power and prestige of Brussels successive rulers. Destroy by great fire in 1731, the palace was never reconstructed. Parts of the palace, and one or two of the streets that surrounded it, have been excavated and the underground site is a fascinating glimpse into Brussels past. You can see the remains of palace rooms and walk up the steep cobbled rue Isabelle, once the busiest street in the city. Access is through Musee Belvue.
Palais de Justice: many a nasty comment-“ the ugliest building in Europe,” for instance-has been made about Leopold II’s giant late-19th-century law courts on the site of the Old Gallows Hill. Ugly the building may be, but the panoramic views from the balustrade facing the city center are great. Much of the Marolles District was pulled down to make way for the monstrosity, leaving thousands homeless. Visitors are only allowed into the entrance hall, where you can see the shrine to the young girls killed by notorious pedophile Marc Dutroux in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The mishandling of that case shook the country to its core and led to the resignation of several government officials, as well as an overhaul of the police department.
Parc du Bruxelles: this was once again Park, but in the late 18th century it was tamed into rigid symmetry and laid out in the design of May sonic symbols. On warm days, joggers and stroller circle Park. The Palais du Roi occupies the entire south side of the park. It was built by Leopold II in the early 20th century on a scale corresponding to this megalomaniacal ambitions. In the palace, you can proceed into the vast from room, led by 11 chandeliers. Don't miss the ebony-and-Jewel-encrusted piano in the Louis XV music soul and a dazzling mirror room, where four-to-ceiling mirrors are interspersed with marble columns. The present monarch, King Albert the second, comes here for state occasions, although he lives at the more private palace and Laeken.
Place de Grand Sablon: “Sand Square” is where the people of Brussels come to see and be seen. Once, as the name implies, it was nothing more than a sandy hill. Today, it is an elegant square, surrounded by numerous restaurants, cafés, and antiques shops, some with intriguing alleys and staircases. Every weekend morning a lively antiques market of more than a hundred stalls takes over the upper end of the square. It isn't for bargain hunters, however. Downhill from the square stands the Eglise de la Chapelle, dating from 1134. Inside, there's a memorial to Pieter Bruegel the Elder. At the eastern end of the square stands the Eglise Notre-Dame du Sablon, a flamboyant Gothic church founded in 1304 by the Guild of crossbowmen and rebuilt in the 15th century. One of Brussels most beautiful churches, it's cream exterior is undergoing restoration to finish in 2008, and at night the stained-glass windows are eliminated from within.
Place du Petit Sablon: opposite the Grand Sablon, this pretty square is surrounded by a magnificent wrought-iron fence, topped by 48 small bronze statues representing the city's guilds. Inside the peaceful garden stands a double statue of the Father’s Patriots: Counts Egmont and Hoorne on their way to the Spaniards’ scaffold in 1568.
Place Louise: there is a certain type of young Belgian matron-tall, blonde, bejeweled, and freshly tanned whatever the season-his natural urban habitat is around Place Louise. The most expensive shops are along Boulevard to Waterloo. Prices are somewhat lower on the other side of the street, on avenue de la Toison d’Or, which means the Golden Fleece. Additional shops and boutiques line both sides of Avenue Louise and the Galerie Louise, which burrows through to link the two avenues. This is an area for browsing, window-shopping, movie-going, and café-sitting, but don't go expecting a bargain.
Cinquantenaire & Schuman Museums & the EU
The center at the end of rue de la Loi, Rond-Point Robert Schuman is the focus of the buildings that housed the European institutions. During the week, the area holds the suited politicians, lobbyists, and journalists from all over the continent, but on weekends is left nearly empty. The generally gray, massive buildings can make the area seem somewhat glowering. A number of vast museums and an attractive park surrounds Brussels’ version of the Arc de Triomphe, known as the Cinquantenaire Arch, planned by Leopold II for the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence in 1880. People's inability to coax funding from a reluctant government meant it was not completed until 25 years later.
What to See
Autoworld: vintage-auto fiends will find something close to paradise here. More than 450 antique cars, one of the best such collections in the world, are parked under the high-gloss roof of this hall. Cars used by former US Presidents John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt stand wheel-to-wheel with the open-topped vehicles that the Belgian royal family has been waving from for decades. Other rarities include the Minerva and other specimens from the days when Belgium had a car industry. An English-language brochure is available.
European Institutions: Brussels residents have an easy relationship with the European institutions. The European Union project brought jobs and investments to the city, but in the process entire neighborhoods were razed to make room for unbendingly modern, steel-and-glass buildings, and as more countries join the EU, more massive complexes are being built. The remains of the old bogs has seen an influx of ethnic restaurants catering to the tastes of lower-metal Eurocrats; the grandees eat in splendid isolation in their own dining rooms. The landmark, Star-shaped Berlaymont, reopened in 2005 after asbestos removal, is the home of the European commission, the executive arm of the EU. The European Council of ministers Kirkus representatives of the EU national governments and occupies the pink-marble Justus Lipsius building. The European Parliament building, which got caught up in controversy as France still insists on regular prevalent meetings in Strasburg, is named Les Caprices des dieux, or Folly of Gods. Its central element, around glass summit, looms behind the Gare du Quartier Leopold. In 2007, a museum tracing the history of Europe will open.
Koninklijk Museum voor Midden Afrika/Musee Royal de l’Afrique Centrale: stellar holdings, contemporary concerns, and a history of the jaundiced colonial mind-set makes for a fascinating mix at the Rural Museum of Central Africa. Part of King Leopold II’s legacy to Belgium, it holds an incredible collection of 250,000 objects, including masks, sculpture, paintings, and zoological specimens. There is also a wealth of memorabilia from the central African explorations commissioned by Leopold, most notably by Henry Morton Stanley, whose archive is kept here. Some sections of the museum, such as the entrance hall, are virtually time capsules from the early 20th century, while others have been updated. The attached research Center has a living science exhibition opened to the public, focusing on its studies of African flora and fauna. While many parts of the museum's collection are invaluable from a scholarly point of view, they came at an incalculable costs, rooted in Leopold's brutal colonial rule. The museum has been undergoing a period of soul-searching, and is in the process of updating its exhibitions to more accurately reflect the horrific nature of Belgian's time in the Congo. The renovations are due to be completed in April 2010, the museums’ 100th anniversary. There's descriptive information available in English. Save some time for a walk through the museum’s beautifully landscaped park. To get here from Place Montgomery, take tram 44 to Turverun
Maison Cauchie: Art Noveau architect Paul Cauchie built this house for himself in 1905, using the decade as a virtual shop window for his sgraffito expertise. Sgraffito work begins with a light-color base layer; a darker color is added on top, and then, while the paint is still wet, etched with a design that allows the lighter color underneath to show through. Here, he covered the front with graceful, curving images of women playing lyres. The homes interior, only open to the public once a month, is a wonderful example of the Art Noveau aesthetic.