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Grand Place, Brussels

01 Mar, 2009

Grand Place, Brussels

Belgium has one of the most breathtaking town-squares in the world—the Grand Place. Many tourists will attest that this central market square, found in the capital city of Brussels, is among the finest tourism spots in Europe. The Grand Place, also called Grote Markt in Dutch, is undoubtedly among the most significant tourism destinations and most remarkable landmarks in the city, aside from Manneken Pis and Atomium.
The Grand Place is distinctly surrounded by gothic and baroque guild houses, the Bread House and the Town Hall. It is homogenous with its private and public buildings, which mostly date back to the 17th century. The distinct architecture brings about vivid illustration of Brussels’ cultural and social strata throughout the years. The central market shows the exceptional evolution of a very successful mercantile city in all of northern Europe, especially at the height of the region’s prosperity. Moreover, and logically, the venue has become an important commercial and political center in Belgium.
The city square has always been a major tourism spot. It is listed as among the important UNESCO World Heritage sites because of its beauty. The center was originally built in the 13th century as a merchants’ market. Through the centuries, the Grand Place had served not just as a city center, but also as a good place for enjoying warm Belgian hospitality, which radiates more especially at the numerous terrace cafés. Many tourists also know Grand Place as a popular venue for different concerts and events particularly during summer months, when the daily flower market mesmerizes.
If Grand Place is currently one of the most popular tourism sites in Europe, many famous people also had admired the beauty of the place through the years. The daughter of Spain’s Filip II, Archduchess Isabella, was turned into an instant fan of Grand Place after her visit to Brussels in 1599. She described the central market as an ‘exquisite and beautiful city square where the town hall towers up to the sky.’ Writers Baudelaire and Victor Hugo were also openly struck by Grand Place’s unique charm.

History

The origin of the central market was humble. Originally, the site formed a sand-bank standing between two brooks that ran downhill towards river Senne. It was first laid out two centuries following the establishment of the Town Hall, which was constructed in the start of the 13th century. The place turned to be a center of the commercial district. The original town square was a medley of structures built within the 15th and 17th centuries.
In 1695, the original square was bombed and destroyed by Field Marchal De Villeroy. He ruined the place by order from France’s Louis XIV as part of reprisal of the Battle in Namur (located south of Belgium). By 1695, guilds rebuilt the ruined houses. The damaged Town Hall was also completely reconstructed. Thus, the area is distinct with 17th century architecture.
By the 18th century to the 19th century, many of the houses in the area became privately held. Brussels mayor Karel Buls then ordered the preservation of the houses’ original style. The action came after many home owners around Grand Place tried to modernize their dwellings’ façades. The mayor feared of a possible mutilation of style unity. He thought the houses had to retain their original style so that culture and architecture could live beyond their generation. Now, we can see that the efforts were worth it.

Tourism highlights

Throughout the year, Grand Place is flocked by thousands of tourists from all over the world who aim to luxuriously spend time strolling and wandering around. Most tourists come back to further admire the splendid buildings. They love hanging out at the numerous terraces where they could consume the best-tasting Belgian beer to their hearts’ content. The city seized this opportunity to organize and hold happenings in the area, like the biennial Flower Carpet and the annual Ommegang (a historic procession taking place every first week of July).
The first edifice anyone could notice upon entering the central market place is the Town Hall, also called by some as Hotel de Ville. It is a gothic-style building that, as mentioned, dates back to the 1400s. The beautiful façade boasts of a needle-like crooked spire, about 315 feet tall and topped by a statue of St. Michael archangel. Tourists could take access to the insides of the hall, where various old art pieces and 15th century tapestries could be found.
When December comes, the Grand Place instantly transforms into a wonderland. Shoppers could find and buy holiday delights and be awed by a mighty and giant Christmas tree. There are also sound and light shows. The nearby Place Sainte Catherine also contains a European Christmas Market that is as attractive because of its wooden cottages that flood with regional food specialties, handicrafts and many other Christmas goodies.
As mentioned, the first week of July makes Grand Place busy, especially because of the staging of the yearly Ommegang Festival. The lavish procession is a commemoration of a tribute (which started on 1549) for Emperor Charles V. Tourists come and sit at tiered stands. Be mesmerized by the horses, richly-colored costumes, stilts and embroidered banners. By the middle of August, Grand Place stages the Flower Carpet, which is held every two years. Tourists are attracted to the luxurious display of begonias and other attractive flowers.
Some hundreds of regular tourists in Grand Place come as part of their fanaticism of the BBC hit television series in 1978 the Secret Army. Such special ‘pilgrimages’ make the show’s fans hang out around the building where the show was shot, now known as the site of Maxim’s restaurant.

When to go

As mentioned, tourism peaks from July to August, in time for the Ommegang and the Flower Carpet, which happens every two years. Moreover, tourism is heavy all throughout late spring to beginning of autumn (May to September). This is because during the period, the sun is out to make the weather ideal for outdoor strolling around Grand Place. In other months, the climate may fickle and turn very chilly. Some tourists do not mind cold temperature. Grand Place is still beautiful and accommodating all year round.

Grand Place, Brussels

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