“Suddenly, greatly to my surprise, I found myself in a delightful little square. Flowers and flowers were there—cut flowers, blooming plants in pots, and a fine array of foliage plants. Around the square were magnificent buildings. I stood transfixed, and wished so much that L. had come with me. I learned the name of this little square—Grand Place, and also learned the names of the sumptuous looking buildings that were all about me. The Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) — a gilded edifice of the fifteenth century, half covered with marble statuary and canopies — has a splendid high tower. The Maison du Roi, Maisons des Corporations and Maisons de la Grand Place are all very showy structures with much rich gilding. The beauty of this charming spot is greatly enhanced by the flowers. It is really a flower market. The lovely blossoms were for sale. I have been told since that this is thought to be the most beautiful medieval square in Europe.”
— from “Fourteen Months Abroad” 1911 by Julia Potwin
TO MARKET, TO MARKET Grand-Place is known as Grote Markt in Flemish because this space originally served as an open-air market.
Wealthy and powerful trade guilds of Bruxelles built their headquarters around Grand-Place. Today these guildhalls house restaurants or cafes at the street level. The buildings are quite ornate and rich in detail, some of it related to the trade guild that once owned the building.
On the west side of Grand-Place, Numbers 13 to 19, seven guild houses have been unified into one grand façade known as Maison des Ducs de Brabant (see photo #1). The name comes from the array of busts of a series of dukes of Brabant that decorate the facade. The houses were completed in 1698 and renovated in 1882.
The 17th-century building known as Roi d’Espagne (see photo #2) was once the headquarters of the Guild of Bakers. Its name comes from the bust of Charles II on the façade. Standing at the roof’s edge are allegorical figures of Energy, Fire, Water, Wind, Wheat and Prudence; these represent the elements needed to bake a good loaf of bread. On the ground floor you will find the most popular bar on the square, Roy d’Espagne. The gold dome is topped by Fame, sounding her trumpet.
La Maison de la Brouette (see photo #3, center), to the left of Roi d’Espagne, was the Guild of Tallow Makers. The figure in the niche at the top is St Gilles, the guild’s patron saint.
And to the left of La Maison de la Brouette is a guildhouse built for carpenters and coopers (see photo #3, far left); it escaped the French bombardment of 1695.
Maison des Brasseurs, with a guiled equestrian sculpture of Charles, Duke of Lorraine at the top (see photo #4), is still owned by the Brewers’ Guild. A small Musée de la Brasserie can be found here on the ground floor; it is opened daily from 10 am to 5pm.
Maison du Cygne (see photo #4, center) is named for the swan (see photo #5) on the facade. It once housed a bar where Karl Marx met regularly with Friedrich Engels during his three years of exile in Belgium. It was in Brussels, in 1848, that they wrote the Communist Manifesto. Fittingly, the Belgian Workers’ Party was founded here in 1885. And contrary to its socialist connections, the building houses one of Brussels’ most exclusive restaurants.
The Grand Place is a large central square that is surrounded by wonderful civic architecture with the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall), the King’s House (now a museum), and many guild houses. It is on most people’s must-see list when they come to Brussels. Day or night, it is bustling with people meeting up or taking photos. To really enjoy the Grand Place, you should come twice – first in the day time to enjoy the architecture, and then come back at night when it is all lit up. Very nice!
The Hotel de Ville is the largest building in the Grand Place. It is the town hall and its neo-classical and neo-Gothic architecture with 315 ft. tower almost gives a church-like appearance. As you look at the building, you’ll notice that it was built off center and is not symmetrical – the right side is shorter than the left. At the top of the spire is a statue of St. Michael. The original building was built in the 1400s, but most of the town hall was destroyed in the French bombardment at the end of the 1600s. The current building is the one that was rebuilt after that time.
Directly across the square from the Hotel de Ville is the Maison du Roi or King’s House. This was the home of the Spanish monarchs at one time, but was rebuilt in the 1800s based on etchings from the earlier building. It currently contains the Museum of the City of Brussels, which includes historical artifacts, scale models, and paintings of Brussels along with the 815 outfits for Mannekin Pis that have been given to the city. Of note, the building to the left of the King’s House (as you are looking at the building) was at one time King Leopold’s “pleasure house” and was full of mirrors.
Le Pigeon was the home of author Victor Hugo, who was exiled from France. It can be seen in the row of houses to the right of the town hall.
The rest of the buildings are guild houses – Brussels was an active merchant town and the merchants joined guilds for their trade (a type of early union) where the work was standardized and rules enforced. The guilds formed a sort of hierarchy, with the bigger, well-financed guilds having more power in the city. Thus, they had the bigger, more elaborate houses, which acted as their administrative centers. The real estate tax for the buildings was by the number of windows you had – so the wealthy guilds would flaunt their wealth by having many windows to show the town they could afford the tax! The buildings are both elaborate and elegant.
The Maison de Brasseurs is a large gilded guild house to the left of the Town Hall. This is the beer makers guild, which is obviously an important guild in a city famous for its beer. There was a time in history when there was a serious fire at the Royal Library and the fire was literally extinguished with beer.
There are shops and restaurants all around the Grand Place. You can come for a short visit, stay for a meal, or simply walk through the square on your way to someplace else. No matter how you get here or how long you stay, the Grand Place needs to be on your must-see list for Brussels.
Grote-Markt as this square is called in flamandian, is the greatest square of Bruxelles. At the origin of the city there was a bottom market which was the center of activity of a developing small town. After centuries, everyone become richer than a building, testifying that the city becomes the second capital of Brabant. The present form - almost correct rectangular, the Great Square is obliged to Lui XIV.
Marshal Vilrod in 1695 fired at Bruxelles within three days incendiary shells. As a result all the center of Bruxelles was destroyed, but the Town hall and walls of houses of craft corporations were resisted only. In some years the square was built up in such a manner that buildings began to represent harmonious ensemble.
You can watch my 2 min 50 sec Video Brussels part 2 out of my Youtube channel.
The Grand-Place is the central square of Brussels. Through the nature and quality of its architecture and of its outstanding quality as a public open space, it illustrates in an exceptional way the evolution and achievements of a highly successful mercantile city of northern Europe at the height of its prosperity.
The earliest written reference to the Nedermarckt (Lower Market), as it was originally known, dates from 1174. The present name came into use in the last quarter of the 18th century.
It is located on former marshland on the right bank of the River Senne, to the east of the castellum, a defensive outwork of the castle built around 977 by Charles of France, Duke of Lower Lotharingia. The marsh was drained in the 12th century. The present rectangular outline of the Grand'Place has developed over the centuries as a result of successive enlargements and other modifications, and did not take up its definitive form until after 1695. It has, however, always had seven streets running into it. In the 13th and 14th centuries the market-place was surrounded by haphazardly disposed steenen (the stone-built Cloth, Bread, and Meat Halls or Markets) and timber-framed houses, separated by yards, gardens, or ambiti (passages serving as fire-breaks). During the 15th century the houses on the south side were replaced by the east and west wings of the City Hall (1401-44) and its bell tower (1449). A new Bread Hall was built on the north side in 1405.
The Bread Hall was demolished in 1512-13 and replaced by a large building that was given the name 'the King's House' (La Maison du Roi). During the course of the 16th century many of the houses were rebuilt with new facades in Renaissance or Baroque style. On 14 August 1695 Louis XIV of France ordered Marshal Villeroy to bombard the city as a reprisal following the destruction of French coastal towns and ports by Dutch and English warships. Despite the severity of the bombardment, reconstruction was rapid, thanks to the action taken by the City authorities and the generous support of other towns and provinces. In a remarkable ordinance promulgated in 1697 by the City Magistrate, all proposals for the reconstruction of facades had to be submitted to the authorities for approval, so as to preserve the harmony of the square. In four years the Grand-Place had been completely restored to its original layout and appearance..
The Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), which covers most of the south side of the Grand'Place, consists of a group of buildings around a rectangular internal courtyard. The part facing on to the square is from the 15th century, consisting of two L-shaped buildings. The entire facade is decorated with statues dating from the 19th century. The southern part of the complex is a restrained classical building that closes the U-shaped plan of the Gothic structures, built in the 18th century. Facing the City Hall across the square is its other main feature, the Maison du Roi (King's House), now used as the City Museum. In 1873 the City Council decided that its state of conservation was so bad that it should be demolished and rebuilt. The reconstruction was based on the original. The result is a three-storey brick building with an arcaded facade, saddleback roof and centrally placed tower with lantern.
Each of the houses around the Grand'Place, which vary considerably in size, has its own name: Les Ducs de Brabant, Le Roi de l'Espagne, Le Cornet, Le Cygne, the Maison des Brasseurs, Le Cerf, La Maison des Tailleurs. The degree of conservation of original features inside the houses around the Grand'Place is somewhat variable. In some cases almost no changes have been made since the early 18th century, whereas in others there has been radical conversion and modernization. In a number of cases the ground floors have been converted for use as shops, restaurants, or cafes.
Nowadays, the Grand-Place is the main tourist attraction of the City of Brussels. You can hear from visitors very often, " It's the best single place to get a feeling of Old Europe," but the tourists are not alone in their admiration:
Archduchess Isabella, daughter of Filip of Spain wrote about the square during her visit to Brussels: " Never have I seen something so beautiful and exquisite as the town square ....."
The most "striking" building with innumerable sculptures like the prophets is the richly decorated, seven storey high gothic Town Hall.
The neo gothic house of bakers guild being created from bluish granite with the bust of Roman emperor Charles II on the facade faces exactly and is a reconstruction of the Gothic building of predecessors.
At the southeast side falls the view of the front of the Maison of The Dukes of Brabant arranged uniformly by flat wall columns. This building of splendour reminding of an Italian Palazzo is actually a group of 7 houses, each with a different name.
The houses on the northeast side are beautiful examples of the Flemish architecture of 17th Century.
In the Middle Ages the houses have not got numbers, but names which are often indicated by a little statue or some part of the decoration. For example the house of bakers guild is named the King of Spain because of the bust of emperor Charles on the facade.
The millers had The Windmill, where the writer of the "Hunchback of Notre-Dame“ and of "Les miserable", Victor Hugo lived in emigration, now the house is home to the Old Brussels Lace Shop.
The Swan - This is where German philosopher Marx spent much of his time in exile. Today gourmets can be spoiled in the restaurant, over whose entrance the stone swan spreads proudly its wings.
The guildhalls now mostly house restaurants, cafés, hotels, and shops. Worth noting are the famous chocolatier: exquisite Godiva at Grand Place 22. and the traditional Belgian restaurant liked very much by both tourists and locals, 't Kelderke, in the cellar at Grand Place 15.
I turned the corner not expecting to see the Grand Place and as soon as I did my jaw dropped. It was beautiful. We came in November so they were getting the Square ready for Christmas. A huge Christmas tree was getting rolled in and there were cranes and other equipment out there but it didnt take away from the beauty here.
It is surrounded by guildhalls, the city's Town Hall, and the Breadhouse. There are also a few chocolate houses here like Godiva. The Brussels City Hall is on the south side of the square and was built between 1401 and 1455. It's 315 ft high, and on top is a 12 ft statue of Saint Michael slaying a demon. There are also a few guilded houses here that are beautiful and the architecture is very interesting. There is so much detail. We stood around the square and just took pictures and admired the detail of the buildings. There is a very gothic feel to it.
When you see pix's of Brussels, more than likely you see this great square. Surrounded by beautiful buildings, the Grand Place is Grand indeed .... tons and tons of people hang out here and in the summer, various restaurants set up tables and chairs outside for the enjoyment of everyone. Unfortantely it's still winter in Europe so, I wasn't able to sit and have drinks in the sqaure, but in the summer this place must be packed. Be forwarned some shaddy people walk around here, so be carfeul of pickpockets and your stuff. Otherwise one of the great squares of Europe !!!!!
The Grande Place is the central square of Brussels, and is the site of the extravagantly gothic Town Hall, and various guildhalls. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was described by Victor Hugo as the most beautiful square in the world, and it's easy to see why he said that. It lies at the heart of the Lower Town, and is a good place to start to get your bearings for a good wander around this area.
...it still has to be done!
Yep, no visit to Brussels is complete without stopping off at the Grand' Place for a beer. Even though this is the most expensive area of the city the extra couple of Euros that the beer will cost is worth every cent to sit and take in the magnificence of the architecture.
The square was rebuilt virtually from scratch in the four years following the 1695 French bombardment, the funding being provided by the city's guilds. No expense was spared and the construction overseen by the Governor and City Council to create the space as it now stands. In 1998 the Grand' Place was accorded World Heritage Site status by UNESCO (which is when they put the beer prices up!).
Brussels has a wonderful central market square, also known as Grote Markt (Dutch) or Grand Place (French).
We had our kids with us and did not have any difficulty finding it as we walked from the central train station of Brussels. We had our 3-year old twins in strollers as we navigated our way with a map, passing through nice little stores with "discount sales".
Then, when you see the nice Square you will be in awe because it does look more magnificent when you see it in real life (better than pictures!). I did see this on Samantha Brown's Brussels episode, and she was dead-on in describing the different architectural styles present in this one special Square.
It is surrounded by guild houses, the city's Town Hall and the Bread House (Dutch: Broodhuis, French: Maison du Roi). This collection is the most important tourist destination and most memorable landmark in Brussels next to the Atomium and Manneken Pis.
The Grand Place was named by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1998.
Charles Buls, Mayor of Brussels in office until 1899. He tried to restore and conserve historical monument from the single monument to the group of historic buildings including Grand Place in order to give back to the place its formerly splendour. In 1899, the architects of Brussels who had been involved in this restoration work paid for an Art Nouveau monument in honours of Buls. It has been placed in the rebuilt "L'Etoile/De Ster" house on the Grand Place.
Here, the old markets of Brussels' picturesque city center converge to form this huge public square. The architecture alone makes it worth the trip. L'Hotel de Ville (the City Hall) is a fine example of Flemish architecture. Number 9 Le Cynge (butcher's guild) is where Karl Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto. Victor Hugo (author of Les Miserables) lived at Numbers 26-27 le Pigeon (the painters' guild). This is the best starting point for touring Brussels.
Although I didn`t actually see this, I was recommended to see this by
Music and light show at the Grand Place
Between April and September the town square and its buildings
are illuminated at night to the rhythm of classical music.
There are two sessions of approximately 15 minutes each night
(between 21.30 h and 23.15 h, depending on the sunset).
Just strolling about the Grand' Place, Brussels' main market square, gives a feel of
atmosphere and an idea of how grand things were centuries ago.
I was here in September 2008 on a very foggy day, but still a bonus was a feeling of the
This is the heart of Brussels, where it all started centuries ago.
La Grand-Place in Brussels is a remarkably homogeneous body of public and
private buildings, dating mainly from the late 17th century.
The architecture provides a vivid illustration of the level of social
and cultural life of the period in this important political and commercial centre.
The building with the high sharp tower in the centre is the Hôtel de Ville de Bruxelles
(Brussels' Town Hall). Inside are a host of rooms housing art from the 17th and 18th
centuries. This building is most beautiful by evening, when artificial light adds a nearly
magical dimension to this wonderful town hall.
On the right you can see more amazing gothic facades decorated with statues and
golden ornaments. On the far right, on the corner of the market square and the
Rue au Beurre is Le Roy d'Espagne, a very well-known old pub which has been
around for years, and is an ideal meeting place.
La Maison du Roi (King's House) is across form the Town Hall, and is now the
Museum of Brussels.
The Brewery Museum and a bit further the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate
are also located on the Grand’ Place.
In the Grand’ Place vicinity, you’ll find old bars serving biers brewed in Belgium.
The most famous are the Gueuze and the Kriek.
It always seems to be my luck that, when I visit some sort of massive, open-air monument that requires a good full view to be appreciated, it is under construction or repair. That was the case with Brussels's Grand-Place, which was under repair and renovation, plus there appeared to be preparations for a massive open-air concert and, finally, a lot of people. All of that made it a bit difficult to take in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, called the most beautiful square in the world by Victor Hugo. In truth, it was still quite impressive and its ornate façades and gilt did not fail to impress me. The Grand-Place houses what, at one point, were the most important buildings for the daily life of the city, including the Town Hall, the House of the King and the Guild Halls (I suppose, now, that the most important buildings are those of the EU). This was also the scene of various martyrdoms of Protestants during the Religious Wars that swept Western Europe in the late Middle Ages and the 16th and 17th centuries. In all, however, the Grand-Place appears to be the heart of Brussels, and far from having a sombre historic feeling to it, it is a lively square filled with people, perhaps detracting from its status as a World Heritage Site (somehow you feel that those should be behind glass) but added to the sense of enjoyment.