While Europe is known for comprising of several clearly distinct nations and cultures, Brussels is one European country where all those identities meld together. Known as a crossroads for the entire European Union, Brussels, Belgium is a political and cultural center in the region. Europe’s third richest city is widely known for its heritage, its history and – believe it or not – its comics.
Brussels is Born
The city’s name comes from the Old Dutch expression for ‘marsh home’ or ‘settlement in the marsh,’ referring to the marshes that are abundant along the Senne, particularly as the river approaches Belgium.
While the first settlement began when Saint Gaugericus built his chapel along the Senne in the late 6th century, the county wasn’t officially founded until 979, when Duke Charles of Lorraine had some religious relics placed in Saint Gaugericus’ chapel.
Brussels grew quickly from that point, thanks in no small part to its location. It became a popular stop along the Senne for ships plying the busy trade route between Bruges, Ghent and Cologne. And with a series of marriages in the 15th century, Brussels became a haven for royalty, putting it into even greater prominence.
Renovations and reconstructions are a big part of the city’s history. Most of the city, including the iconic Grand Place, had to be rebuilt when the French bombed it in 1695. It also received a major facelift after the Belgian Revolution in the 19th century. Under the mayoralty of Jules Anspach, the city undertook the historic Covering of the Senne in the late 19th century. As a result, the architecture in Brussels today is a unique mix of European styles through the ages.
Being in Brussels
No trip to Brussels would be complete without a tour of the local buildings. The Grand Place, named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988, is the most popular stop. The Atomium in Heysel Park is worth a visit; the futuristic structure, showing the structure of an iron crystal 165 billion times magnified, was built for the 1958 Brussel World’s Fair.
Another one for the photo album is the Manneken Pis, the iconic statue of a little boy urinating into a fountain basin.
Going around Brussels is any comic collector’s dream, especially for fans of the famous reporter Tintin. Brussels was the setting for no fewer than ten of Tintin’s adventures and tourists often take what’s known as ‘the Tintin tour’ around the city. Huge murals by comic artists are also a common sight in Brussels, especially around the Bd Emile Jacqmain.
A Year in Brussels
Summer is the best time to visit Brussels because that’s when festivals and events are held on an almost weekly basis. There’s the Beer Festival of Mons and the Festival of Wallonia in June, the Ommegang Pageant in July and even a hilarious Bathtub Regatta in mid-August – among others. Residents also flock to the Grand Place in August for the blooming of the flower carpet.
Brussels is the perfect stop for the visitor who wants to see a multitude of cultures in one go. This European melting pot has all the color, life and vibrancy of the surrounding regions – it’s Europe in a city.
Some attractions and monuments: