Brussels (Bruxelles, pronounced ; Brussel, pronounced ), officially the Brussels Capital-Region, is the de facto capital city of the European Union (EU) and the largest urban area in Belgium. It should not be confused with the much smaller City of Brussels (founded circa 580) within it, which is the capital of Belgium (and Flanders) by law.
Brussels has grown from a 10th-century fortress town founded by Charlemagne's grandson into a metropolis of more than one million inhabitants. After the end of World War II, Brussels has been an important centre for international politics. It hosts the main institutions of the European Union, and the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Thus, Brussels is the polyglot home of many international organisations, diplomats and civil servants. Brussels is the EU's third-richest city in terms of per capita income.
Although historically Dutch-speaking, Brussels has become increasingly francophone. Today most inhabitants are native French-speakers, although both languages have official status. This process has led to a longstanding conflict between the French and Dutch speaking community, reflecting the situation in Belgium at large. Brussels is the capital of Flanders and of the French Community of Belgium.
The official founding of Brussels is usually situated around 979, because Duke Charles transferred the relics of Saint Gudula from Moorsel to the Saint Gaugericus chapel in Brussels, located on what would be called Saint Gaugericus Island. The Holy Roman Emperor Otto II gave the duchy of Lower Lotharingia to Charles, the banished son of King Louis IV of France in 977, who would construct the first permanent fortification in the city, doing so on that same island.
Because of its location on the shores of the Senne on an important trade route between Bruges and Ghent, and Cologne, Brussels grew quite quickly; it became a commercial centre that rapidly extended towards the upper town (St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral, Coudenberg, Zavel area...), where there was a smaller risk of floods. As it grew to a population of around 30,000, the surrounding marshes were drained to allow for further expansion. The Counts of Leuven became Dukes of Brabant at about this time (1183/1184). In the 11th century, the city got its first walls.
After the construction of the first walls of Brussels in the early 13th century, Brussels grew significantly. In order to let the city expand, a second set of walls was erected between 1356 and 1383. Today, traces of it can still be seen, mostly because the "small ring", a series of roadways in downtown Brussels bounding the historic city centre, follows its former course.
In the 15th century, by means of the wedding of heiress Margaret III of Flanders with Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, a new Duke of Brabant emerged from the House of Valois (namely Antoine, their son), with another line of descent from the Habsburgs (Maximilian of Austria, later Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, married Mary of Burgundy, who was born in Brussels).
Brabant had lost its independence, but Brussels became the Princely Capital of the prosperous Low Countries, and flourished.
Charles V, heir of the Low Countries since 1506, though (as he was only 6 years old) governed by his aunt Margaret of Austria until 1515, was declared King of Spain, in 1516, in the Cathedral of Saint Gudule in Brussels.
Upon the death of his grandfather, Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor in 1519, Charles V became the new archduke of the Austrian Empire and thus the Holy Roman Emperor of the Empire "on which the sun does not set". It was in the Palace complex at Coudenberg that Charles V abdicated in 1555. This impressive palace, famous all over Europe, had greatly expanded since it had first become the seat of the Dukes of Brabant, but it was destroyed by fire in 1731. All that remains is an archaeological site.
In 1695, French troops sent by King Louis XIV bombarded Brussels with artillery. Together with the resulting fire, it was most destructive event in the entire history of Brussels. The Grand Place was destroyed, along with 4000 buildings, a third of those in the city. The reconstruction of the city centre, effected during subsequent years, profoundly changed the appearance of the city and left numerous traces still visible today.
In 1830, the Belgian revolution took place in Brussels after a performance of Auber's opera La Muette de Portici at De Munt or La Monnaie theatre. On July 21, 1831, Leopold I, the first King of the Belgians, ascended the throne, undertaking the destruction of the city walls and the construction of many buildings. Following independence, the city underwent many more changes. The Senne had become a serious health hazard, and from 1867 to 1871 its entire urban area was completely covered over. This allowed urban renewal and the construction of modern buildings and boulevards which are characteristic of downtown Brussels today.
Beginning on May 10, 1940, Brussels was bombed by the German army; however, most of the war damage to the city took place in 1944–1945. The North-South Junction was built, completed in 1952. The first Brussels premetro was finished in 1969, and the first line of the Brussels Metro was opened in 1976. The Heysel Stadium disaster took place in Brussels on May 29, 1985. The Brussels Capital Region was founded on June 18, 1989 after a constitutional reform in 1970.
The Brussels Capital-Region is one of the three regions of Belgium, while the French Community of Belgium and the Flemish Community do exercise, each for their part, their cultural competencies on the territory of the region. French and Dutch are the official languages; most public services are bilingual (exceptions being education and a couple of others). The Capital Region is predominantly French-speaking - about 85-90% of the population are French-speakers (including migrants), and about 10-15% are Dutch-speakers. In January 2006, of its registered inhabitants, 73.1% are Belgian nationals, 4.1% French nationals, 12.0% other EU nationals (usually expressing themselves in either French or English), 4.0% Moroccan nationals, and 6.8% other non-EU nationals.
The region, with a regional parliament of 89 members (72 French-speaking, 17 Dutch-speaking, parties are organised on a linguistic basis), plus a regional government, consisting of an officially linguistically neutral, but in practice French-speaking minister-president, two French-speaking and two Dutch-speaking ministers, one Dutch-speaking secretary of state and two French-speaking secretaries of state. This parliament can enact ordinances (Dutch: ordonnanties, French: ordonnances), which have equal status as a national legislative act.
Also the federal state, the French Community and the Flemish Community exercise competencies on the territory of the region. 19 of the 72 French-speaking members of the Brussels Parliament are also members of the Parliament of the French Community of Belgium, and until 2004 this was also the case for six Dutch-speaking members, who were at the same time members of the Flemish Parliament. Now, people voting for a Flemish party have to vote separately for 6 directly elected members of the Flemish Parliament.
Due to the multiple capacities of single members of parliament, there are parliamentarians who are at the same member of the Brussels Parliament, member of the Assembly of the Common Community Commission, member of the Assembly of the French Community Commission, member of the Parliament of the French Community of Belgium and "community senator" in the Belgian Senate. At the moment, this is the case for Mr. François Roelants du Vivier (for the Mouvement Réformateur), Mrs. Amina Derbaki Sbaï (since June 2004 for the Parti Socialiste, but beforehand, since 2003, for the Mouvement Réformateur) and Mrs Sfia Bouarfa (since 2001 for the Parti Socialiste).
|The 19 municipalities of the Brussels Capital-Region|
In 1831, Belgium was divided into 2,739 municipalities, including the 19 in the Brussels Capital-Region. Unlike most of the municipalities in Belgium, the ones located in the Brussels Capital-Region were not merged with others during mergers occurring in 1964, 1970, and 1975. However, several municipalities outside of the Brussels Capital-Region have been merged with the City of Brussels throughout its history including Laken, Haren, and Neder-Over-Heembeek, which were merged into the City of Brussels in 1921.
The largest and most populous of the municipalities is the City of Brussels, covering with 145,917 inhabitants. The least populous is Koekelberg with 18,541 inhabitants, while the smallest in area is Saint-Josse-ten-Noode which is only . Despite being the smallest municipality, Saint-Josse-ten-Noode has the highest population density of the 19 with 20,822 inhabitants per km².
Despite what its name suggests, the Brussels Capital-Region is not the capital of Belgium in itself. Article 194 of the Belgian Constitution lays down that the capital of Belgium is the City of Brussels, a smaller municipality within the capital region that once was the city's core.
However, although the City of Brussels is the official capital, the funds allowed by the federation and region for the representative role of the capital are divided among the 19 municipalities, and some national institutions are sited in the other 18 municipalities. Thus, while only the City of Brussels itself officially carries the title of capital of Belgium, in practice the entire capital region plays this role.
The national institutions of the Belgian state are spread loosely around the region. For example the Belgian Federal Parliament and the legislative chambers of the Walloon Region and the Flemish Region.
Brussels is also the capital of both the French Community of Belgium (Communauté française de Belgique in French) and of Flanders (Vlaanderen); all Flemish capital institutions are established here: Flemish Parliament, Flemish government and its administration.
Brussels serves as capital of the European Union, hosting the major political institutions of the Union. The EU has not declared a capital formally, though the Treaty of Amsterdam formally gives Brussels the seat of the European Commission (the executive branch) and the Council of the European Union (a legislative and executive body, the main institution). It locates the formal seat of European Parliament in the French city of Strasbourg, where votes take place, however meetings of political groups and committee groups (where most work takes place) are formally given to Brussels along with a set number of plenary sessions. Three quarters of Parliament now takes place at its Brussels hemicycle. Between 2002 and 2004, the European Council also fixed its seat in the city.
Brussels, along with Luxembourg and Strasbourg, began to host institutions in 1957, soon becoming the centre of activities as the Commission and Council based their activities in what has become the "European Quarter". Early building in Brussels was sporadic and uncontrolled with little planning, the current major buildings are the Berlaymont building of the Commission, symbolic of the quarter as a whole, the Justus Lipsius building of the Council and the Espace Léopold of Parliament. Today the presence has increased considerably with the Commission alone occupying 865,000m² within the "European Quarter" in the east of the city (a quarter of the total office space in Brussels). The concentration and density has caused concern that the presence of the institutions has caused a "ghetto effect" in that part of the city. However the presence has contributed significantly to the importance of Brussels as an international centre.
|Population by national origin, 1 March 1991|
(last census ever organised in Belgium)
|Belgians born in Belgium (to Belgian parents)||607,446||63.7%|
| Belgians born abroad (to Belgian parents) |
Congo, Rwanda and Burundi (former Belgian overseas territories)
| 2,2% |
| Naturalised migrants (not born in Belgium, not to Belgian parents) |
| 36,938 |
| 3.9% |
| Naturalised 1st and 2nd generations (born in Belgium, not to Belgian parents) |
| 17,045 |
| 1.8% |
| Non-naturalised 1st and 2nd generations |
| 87,987 |
| 9.2% |
| Old migrants |
(born abroad, foreign nationals, living in Belgium in 1986)
| 123,411 |
| 12.9% |
| Recent migrants |
(born abroad, foreign nationals, arrived in Belgium after 1986)
| 60,185 |
| 6.3% |
|Total Brussels Capital-Region||954,040||100%|
At the last Belgian census in 1991, there were 63.7% inhabitants in Brussels Capital-Region who answered they were Belgian citizens, born as such in Belgium. However, there have been numerous individual or familial migrations towards Brussels since the end of the 18th century, including political refugees (Karl Marx, Victor Hugo, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Léon Daudet e.g.) from neighbouring or more distanced countries as well as labour migrants, former foreign students or expatriots, and many Belgian families in Brussels can tell at least a foreign grandparent. And even among the Belgians, many became Belgian only recently.
The original Dutch dialect of Brussels (Brussels) is a form of Brabantic (the variant of Dutch spoken in the ancient Duchy of Brabant) with a significant number of loanwords from French, and still survives among a minority of inhabitants called Brusseleers, many of them quite bi- and multilingual, or educated in French and not writing the Dutch language. Brussels and its suburbs evolved from a Dutch-dialect speaking town to a mainly French speaking town. The ethnic and national self-identification of the inhabitants is quite different along ethnic lines. For their French-speaking Bruxellois, it can vary from Belgian, Francophone Belgian, Bruxellois (like the Memeller in interwar ethnic censuses in Memel), Walloon (for people who migrated from the Wallonia Region at an adult age); for immigrants from Flanders it is mainly either Flemish or Brusselaar (Dutch for an inhabitant); for the Brusseleers, most of them simply consider themselves as belonging to Brussels. For the many rather recent migrants from other countries, the identification also includes all the national origins: people tend to call themselves Moroccans or Turks rather than an American-style hyphenated version.
Recent immigration has brought its population of foreign origin to 56%. The two largest foreign groups come from two francophone countries: France and Morocco. The first language of roughly half of the inhabitants is not an official one of the Capital Region. Nevertheless, about three out of four residents have the Belgian nationality. In general the population of Brussels is younger and the gap between rich and poor is wider. Brussels also has a large concentration of Muslims, mostly of Turkish and Moroccan ancestry, and mainly French-speaking black Africans. However, Belgium does not collect statistics by ethnic background, so exact figures are unknown.
Both immigration and its status as head of the European Commission made Brussels a really cosmopolitan city. The migrant communities, as well as rapidly growing communities of EU-nationals from other EU-member states, speak Moroccan dialectal Arabic, French, Turkish, Spanish (most Spaniards came from the Asturias, a minority from Andalusia and some from Catalonia and the Basque country), Italian, Polish, Rif Berber, English and other languages, including those of every EU-member state in the expat communities. The degree of linguistic integration varies widely within each migrant group.
Among all major migrants groups from outside the EU, a majority of the permanent residents have acquired the Belgian nationality.
Although historically (since the Counter-Reformation persecution and expulsion of Protestants by the Spaniards in the 16th century) Roman Catholic, most people in Brussels are non-practising. About 10% of the population regularly attends church services. Among the religions, historically dominant Roman Catholicism prevailing mostly in a relaxed way, one finds large minorities of Muslims, atheists, agnosticists, and of the philosophical school of humanism, the latter mainly as vrijzinnig-laïcité (an approximate translation would be secularists or free thinkers) or practicing Humanism as a life stance - Brussels houses several key organisations for both kinds. Other (recognised) religions (Protestantism, Anglicanism, Orthodoxy and Judaism) are practised by much smaller groups in Brussels. Recognised religions and Laïcité enjoy public funding and school courses: every pupil in an official school from 6 years old to 18 must choose 2 hours per week of compulsory religion- or Laïcité-inspired morals.
Since the founding of the Kingdom of Belgium in 1830, Brussels has transformed from being almost entirely Dutch-speaking, to being a multilingual city with French as the majority language and lingua franca. This language shift, the Frenchification of Brussels, is rooted in the 18th century but accelerated after Belgium became independent and Brussels expanded past its original boundaries.
Not only is French-speaking immigration responsible for the Frenchification of Brussels, but more importantly the language change over several generations from Dutch to French was performed in Brussels by the Flemish people themselves. The main reason for this was the low social prestige of the Dutch language in Belgium at the time. From 1880 on, more and more Dutch-speaking people became bilingual, resulting in a rise of monolingual French-speakers after 1910. Halfway through the 20th century the number of monolingual French-speakers carried the day over the (mostly) bilingual Flemish inhabitants. Only since the 1960s, after the fixation of the Belgian language border and the socio-economic development of Flanders was in full effect, could Dutch stem the tide of increasing French use. Through immigration, a further number of formerly Dutch-speaking municipalities in surrounding Flanders became majority French-speaking in the second half of the 20th century. This phenomenon is, together with the future of Brussels, one of the most controversial topics in all of Belgian politics.
Given its Dutch-speaking origins and the role that Brussels plays as the capital city in a bilingual country, Flemish political parties demand that the entire Brussels Capital-Region be fully bilingual, including its subdivisions and public services. They also request that the contested Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde arrondissement become separated from the Brussels region. However, the French-speaking population regards the language border as artificial and demands the extension of the bilingual region to at least all six municipalities with language facilities in the surroundings of Brussels. Flemish politicians have strongly rejected these proposals.
Main attractions include the Grand Place, since 1988 a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the Gothic town hall in the old centre, the St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral and the Laken Castle with its large greenhouses. Another famous landmark is the Royal Palace.
The Atomium is a symbolic tall structure that was built for the 1958 World’s Fair. It consists of nine steel spheres connected by tubes, and forms a model of an iron crystal (specifically, a unit cell. The architect A. Waterkeyn devoted the building to science. Next to the Atomium is the Mini-Europe park with 1:25 scale maquettes of famous buildings from across Europe.
The Manneken Pis, a bronze fountain of a small peeing boy is a famous tourist attraction and symbol of the city.
Other landmarks include the Cinquantenaire park with its triumphal arch and nearby museums, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Brussels Stock Exchange, the Palace of Justice and the buildings of EU institutions in the European Quarter.
Cultural facilities include the Brussels Theatre and the La Monnaie Theatre and opera house. There is a wide array of museums, from the Royal Museum of Fine Art to the Museum of the Army and the Comic Museum. Brussels also has a lively music scene, with everything from opera houses and concert halls to music bars and techno clubs.
The city centre is notable for its Flemish town houses. Also particularly striking are the buildings in the Art Nouveau style by the Brussels architect Victor Horta. In the heyday of Art Nouveau new Brussels suburbs were developed, and many buildings are in this style. The architecture of the quarter Schaerbeek, Etterbeek Ixelles, and Saint-Gilles is particularly worth seeing. Another example of Brussels Art Nouveau is the Stoclet Palace, by the Viennese architect Josef Hoffmann. The modern buildings of Espace Leopold complete the picture.
The city has had a renowned artist scene for many years. The famous Belgian surrealist René Magritte, for example, studied in Brussels. The city is also a capital of the comic strip; some treasured Belgian characters are Lucky Luke, Tintin, Cubitus, Gaston Lagaffe and Marsupilami. Throughout the city walls are painted with large motifs of comic book characters, and the interiors of some Metro stations are designed by artists. The Belgian Comics Museum combines two artistic leitmotifs of Brussels, being a museum devoted to Belgian comic strips, housed in the former Waucquez department store, designed by Victor Horta in the Art Nouveau style.
The King Baudouin Stadium is a concert and competition facility with a 50,000 seat capacity, the largest in Belgium. The site was formerly occupied by the Heysel Stadium, which in 1985 saw one of the worst disasters in European football, when 39 deaths and over 400 serious injuries were suffered after English hooligans fell on Italian football fans, sparking a mass panic.
The gastronomic offer includes approximately 1,800 restaurants, and a number of high quality bars. The Belgian cuisine is known among connoisseurs as one of the best in Europe. In addition to the traditional restaurants, there is a large number of cafés, bistros and the usual range of international fast food chains. The cafés are similar to bars, and offer beer and light dishes, coffee houses in the usual sense are the Salons de Thé. Also widespread are brasseries, which usually offer a large number of beers and typical national dishes.
The Belgian cuisine is characterised by the combination of French cuisine with the more hearty Flemish fare. Notable specialities include Brussels waffles (gaufres) and mussels (usually as "moules frites," served with fries). The city is a stronghold of chocolate and pralines manufacturers with traditional companies like Godiva, Neuhaus and Leonidas. Numerous friteries are spread throughout the city, and in tourist areas, fresh, hot, waffles are also sold on the street.
In addition to the regular selection of Belgian beer, the famous lambic style of beer is only brewed in and around Brussels, and the yeasts have their origin in the Senne valley. In mild contrast to the other versions, Kriek (cherry beer) enjoys outstanding popularity, as it does in the rest of Belgium. Kriek is available in almost every bar or restaurant.
There are several universities in Brussels. The two main universities are the Université Libre de Bruxelles, a French-speaking university with about 20,000 students in three campuses in the city (and two others outside), and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, a Dutch-speaking university with about 10,000 students. Both universities originate from a single ancestor university founded in 1834, namely the Free University of Brussels, which was split in 1970 at about the same time the Flemish and French Communities gained legislative power over the organisation of higher education.
Other universities include the Facultés Universitaires Saint-Louis with 2,000 students, , the Catholic University of Brussels (Katholieke Universiteit Brussel) , the Royal Military Academy, a military college established in 1834 by a French colonel and two drama schools founded in 1982: the Dutch-speaking Koninklijk Conservatorium and the French-speaking Conservatoire Royal.
Still other universities have campuses in Brussels, such as the Université Catholique de Louvain that has had its medical faculty in the city since 1973. In addition the Boston University Brussels campus was established in 1972 and offers masters degrees in business administration and international relations. Due to the post-war international presence in the city, there are also a number of international schools, including the International School of Brussels with 1,450 pupils between 2½ to 18, the British School of Brussels, and the four European Schools serving those working in the EU institutions.
An interticketing system means that a STIB/MIVB ticket holder can use the train or long-distance buses inside the city. The commuter services operated by De Lijn, TEC and SNCB/NMBS will in the next few years be augmented by a metropolitan RER rail network around Brussels.
Since 2003 Brussels has had a car-sharing service operated by the Bremen company Cambio in partnership with STIB/MIVB and local ridesharing company taxi stop. In 2006 shared bicycles were also introduced.
In mediaeval times Brussels stood at the intersection of routes running north-south (the modern Hoogstraat/Rue Haute) and east-west (Gentsesteenweg/Chaussée de Gand-Grasmarkt/Rue du Marché aux Herbes-Naamsestraat/Rue de Namur). The ancient pattern of streets radiating from the Grand Place in large part remains, but has been overlaid by boulevards built over the River Zenne/Senne, over the city walls and over the railway connection between the North and South Stations.
As one expects of a capital city, Brussels is the hub of the fan of old national roads, the principal ones being clockwise the N1 (N to Breda), N2 (E to Maastricht), N3 (E to Aachen), N4 (SE to Luxembourg) N5 (S to Rheims), N6 (SW to Maubeuge), N8 (W to Koksijde) and N9 (NW to Ostend). Usually named steenwegen/chaussées, these highways normally run straight as a die, but on occasion lose themselves in a maze of narrow shopping streets.
As for motorways, the town is skirted by the European route E19 (N-S) and the E40 (E-W), while the E411 leads away to the SE. Brussels has an orbital motorway, numbered R0 (R-zero) and commonly referred to as the "ring" (French: ring Dutch: grote ring). It is pear-shaped as the southern side was never built as originally conceived, owing to residents' objections.
The city centre, sometimes known as "the pentagon", is surrounded by the "Small ring" (Dutch: kleine ring, French: petite ceinture), a sequence of boulevards formally numbered R20. These were built upon the site of the second set of city walls following their demolition. Metro line 2 runs under much of these.
On the eastern side of the city, the R21 (French: grande ceinture, grote ring in Dutch) is formed by a string of boulevards that curves round from Laken (Laeken) to Ukkel (Uccle). Some premetro stations (see Brussels Metro) were built on that route. A little further out, a stretch numbered R22 leads from Zaventem to Sint-Job.
Brussels is twinned with the following 15 cities: