Written by: Angela Arnold
For my latest blog post, I have decided to revisit one of my previous writings on cultural and historical encounters. This specific cultural and historical center is named The Grand-Place, located in Brussels, Belgium. For context, this square became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 and is now the most popular location for tourists to visit in all of Belgium. It was once used as a trading square and marketplace, which is why all streets leading to The Grand-Place are named after foods and spices. The architecture surrounding the square has been influenced by the Baroque, Gothic, and Louis XIV eras. The square is surrounded on all sides by guild houses, the City Hall, and the Maison du Roi. In terms of historical events, one of the most famous historical references to this square is from 1523 when the Inquisition publicly burned two Protestant martyrs, Hendrik Voes and Jan Van Essen in front of a large crowd. In recent years, the square holds events throughout all seasons. A Christmas tree goes up in the square every December, the Flower carpet (a literal ‘carpet’ of more than 500.000 begonias) is held every 2 years in mid-August, along with farmers markets and countless concerts throughout the year. The original landscape architect of the first carpet in 1971 was E. Stautemans who hoped to promote begonias which have been intensively cultivated in and near Ghent since 1860. In terms of what to do once you are in the square, there are countless options since The Grand-Place is pretty much in the middle of the city. There is a Starbucks, a CBD shop, a 16th century themed tavern, a beer museum displaying antique equipment, a statue of 14th century Brussels hero Everard ‘T Serclaes, the current day Brussels Town Hall and a row of period-guild maisons. How to choose?
The Grand-Place is said to be the most beautiful squares in all of Europe. Its beauty was even quoted by Archduchess Isabella, daughter of Philip II of Spain who wrote about the square during her visit to Brussels on September 5, 1599 saying “Never have I seen something so beautiful and exquisite as the town square of the city where the town hall rises up into the sky. The decoration of the houses is most remarkable.” Some of the earliest remarks made on the square dated prior to the 11th century when the site was a sand bank which ran downhill toward the Senne river. When the sandbank was reclaimed the land transformed into a lower market. By the time of the 12th century it had become a commercial hub between France and Cologne. Later on during the Middle Ages, rich families started building stone mansions, turning the market into the main administrative and commercial center of the city. The three most well known maisons are the Town Hall, the Bread House and the House of the Dukes of Brabant. It is estimated that the Town Hall was constructed between 1402 and 1455 and at the top of its highest tower stands a statue of St. Michaels, the patron of Brussels. The Bread House is opposite the Town Hall and currently houses the City Museum. This site originally housed a wooden structure where bakers sold their bread. Then in 1405 the wooden structure was replaced by a stone building and was used for administrative purposes by the Duke of Brabant. The House of the Dukes of Brabant was actually a group of seven houses, each with its own respective name: The Fame, The Hermit, The Fortune, The Windmill, The Tin Pot, The Hill and The Beurs. Even though this row of maisons is called the House of the Dukes of Brabant, no duke or king ever actually lived in any of these homes. Now the square is adored by all who visit!