Grand Place - Grote Markt, Brussels
As the traditional Christmas tree has been replaced by a metallic structure with lights a petition with already 20.000 signatures was launched to protest against what is considered by a majority as an esthetic horror but also an aggression towards our Christmas traditions. The Christmas market is not called Marché de Noël anymore but "Plaisirs d'Hiver" = winter pleasures.
In this petition and on forums - the matter has been widely discussed in the media - anger went so far that the Brussels' authorities were accused of "christianophobia"! For details type "Brussels bans christmas tree" on Google.
All this might sound strange for the tourists but it is an expression of an increasing cultural and identity dissatisfaction from the "autochthones".
This being said about this internal Brussels' socio-political question the metallic structure is annoying for the tourists because situated between the Gothic Hôtel de Ville and the Maison du Roi it prevents taking photos from the entire Hôtel de Ville.
What I found especially sad on my recent visit on a Sunday evening was the absence of lighting of the Hotel de Ville and other buildings on the Grand Place. It was all dark except the cafés and shops; a pity for the many tourists.
My Grand Place was so disappointing that I didn't take any photo except that of the café "Au Roi d'Espagne", formerly the "Maison des Boulangers" the corporate house of the bakers, where I used to go when I was a student. Presently it is very cosy and touristic.
NEW. That thing costing 40000 € is so ugly that it will be dismounted already on 28th December!
According to the Brussels' authorities the negative reactions result from the islamophobia of the inhabitants!
After that St-Michael on top of the Hotel de Ville, Manneken Pis, Everard t' Serclaes, the 25% Muslims and the 75% Non-Muslims living in the Brussels agglomeration wonder what that esthetic disaster has to do with religion?!
Every second year there is an astonishing Flower carpet created on the Grand Place, covering nearly the whole open area as the size of the carpet is 77x24 metres.
+/- 700.000 flowers are used, mostly begonias, 300 per square meter, to build up the pattern.
The first one was created in 1971 by a landscape architect named E. Stautemans.
From 1986 on the carpet is created years ending with an even digit.
The very best well known building in the whole of Belgium, the impressing Hotel de Ville was begun in 1402 and completed in 1448, built in Gothic style. The tower is 96 metres high. We can not climb it, but taking a guided tour we can see parts of the magnificent rooms.
If you visit Brussels as a tourist this is probably your starting point. Grand Place/Grote Markt was historically the commercial heart of Brussels and still is with so numerous stores around. The Tourist Information is also here to provide you with the useful maps, advises etc
So, what can you do here on this lovely cobblestone square? There are some places to visit like the City Museum (interesting if you have some extra time) but above all to check the architecture, there are some beautiful buildings that overlook the square, the most impressive is Hotel de vile (pic 1) which is the Town Hall of Brussels. It was built completed in 1455 represending Brussels as a major trading centre of that era. It occupies the entire southwest side of the square with an impressive spire that goes up to 96 meters. But don’t miss the beautiful details everywhere around the building (pic 2) and on the spire too. There are tours if you want to see the interior, it houses a museum that is open tuesday to Sunday 10.00-17.00.
It was the same period when the traders started to build separated guildhouses (until then the square was famous for its open air market). As everywhere in Lower Town the area was also damaged by the French bombardment in 1695 so most of the facades just destroyed. Everything was rebuild in the same style so today we can enjoy all these Flemish baroque structures. There are some expensive café/restaurants on the square (pic 3) where you can watch the people passing by but we preferred to walk around the square and check every building trying to find small details (pic 4).
Le Renard (1699) was the guildhouse of haberdashers standing side by side with Le Cornet (1697 boatmen’s guildhouse) and Le Roi d’Espagne that houses the café/pub that we preferred to skip. Maison du Roi was built in 1536 and houses the Musee de la Ville(the city museum), Le Pigeon next to Maisom du Roi was Victor Hugo’s home, La Maison des Dus de Brabat(pic 5) is a group of 6 guildhouses.
The square every 2 years turn into a huge flower carpet (!) with thousands of flower placed on the square and creating an amazing carpet, we weren’t lucky enough just saw this on pictures. So, we just kept taking pictures from different angles, there are so many photo opportunites here and then we visited the City Museum. Leaving the square don’t miss monument Everard t Serclaes that was made by Julien Dillens (1849-1904) in 1092. It’s a brass relief that meant to black as originally designed but the polychromy of the monument has changed with time due to various types of damage. It suppose to bring luck for those who touch it :)
French poet and playwright Jean Cocteau declared the Brussels Grand Place to be "the most beautiful theatre in the world ( le plus beau théâtre du monde"). I think I'm inclined to agree that it is certainly one of the most beautiful.
Naturally the UNESCO- listed square is usually full of coach loads of tourists but this doesn't necessarily diminish the effect of the square. There is usually something going on here. During my last visit they were just preparing the ground to lay the famous flower carpet in front of the Town Hall. Obviously I timed my visit wrong as the flowers didn't go in to place until the day after I returned home.
The square is lined with guild houses that remind us that this place started life as a marketplace (along with the names of the surrounding streets (Rue au Buerre - Butter Street, Rue Char et Pain - Street of Meat and Bread). Most of the buildings around the square were the homes of the powerful guilds, such as the Bakers at numbers 1 and 2 (now called the Roi d'Espagne (King of Spain) in honour of Charles II whose bust adorns the upper facade), the Tallow merchants at no 3, Joiners and Coopers at no 4, Archers at no 5 etc etc etc.
Other important buildings on the square are the Town Hall (Hôtel de Ville) and the Maison du Roi (Broodhuis in Flemish, Kings House in English).
The medieval marketplace dated back to the 12th century, but on 13th August 1695 the Duke of Villeroy, on the orders of French King Louis XIV, fired an unrelenting canon and mortar bombardment against the city in retribution for the attack on the French controlled city of Namur. At the end of this attack only fragments of a few of the guildhouses remained and the Maison du Roi was a burnt out shell. Amazingly the Hôtel de Ville facade remained more or less intact! The Grand Place that is seen today was rebuilt from the ruins of that conflict.
The square is flanked by the fifteenth-century Gothic town hall and surrounded by picturesque houses with gables and gold, which were built by fraternities shopkeepers. The first paving of the square is placed in the twelfth century, when used as a market square. The streets in the area still bear the names of herbs, cheese, chickens and other products. During the construction boom in the 1960s, the owners came together to form the free commune, in order to preserve the characteristic architecture of its streets under threat of demolition. Nearby are traditional wooden cafes, beautiful glass shopping centers and many of the landmarks of the city.5c*
La plaza está flanqueada por el ayuntamiento gótico del siglo xv y rodeado de casas con gabletes y pintorescos dorados, que fueron construidos por cofradías comercianes. Los primeros adoquines de la plaza se pusieron en el siglo XII, cuando se utilizaba como plaza del mercado. Las calles de la zona aún llevan nombres de hierbas, quesos, gallinas y otros productos. Durante el auge de la construcción en la decada de 1960, los propietarios se unieron para formar la comuna libre, con el fin de preservar la caracteristica arquitectura de su callejuelas ante la amenaza de demolición. En los alrededores se encuentran tradicionales cafés de madera, preciosas galerias comerciales acristaladas y muchos de los lugares emblemáticos de la ciudad
On the first Thursday of July each year, the Ommegang takes place in Brussels. This is a procession which makes its way through Brussels and is a re-enactment of a historical meeting.
The parade and Town Hall square entertainment is hosted by the mayor of the city of Brussels. The parade starts from the Grand Place du Sablon and winds its way through the city to the Grand Place where there are podiums and seating areas where ticket-paying patrons can sit and watch the evening's entertainment. For others, it is possible to watch the events from any of the corners next to the seating areas for free.
Entertainment is of a historical nature with the story telling of the reason behind Ommegang in Flemish and French.
“Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.”
— Rene Magritte (1898-1967) Belgian Surrealist artist
The fascinating details of the guildhall buildings that surround Grand-Place deserve close attention for their symbolism, art, and history. Here are five examples.
Photo #1 — Charles, Duke of Lorraine rides his horse on the top Maison des Brasseurs, which 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.
Photo #2 — Built in 1697, the Boatmen’s Guild sports a medallion with a profile portrait of Charles II of Spain, flanked by allegories of the four winds and two sailors.
Photo #3 — La Brouette (The Wheelbarrow), at #2 & 3 of Grand-Place, belonged to the Guild of Grease Makers, stood up relatively well to the 1695 French bombardment and was rebuilt by Jean Cosyn, a sculptor. It is in the Flemish style, heavily influenced by the Italian style. The figure of Saint Gilles, in the niche at the top, was put added in 1912. Nation Saint-Gilles, which is made up of several guilds, used the house for its meetings.
Photo #4 — In the triangular pediment of Archers’ Guild’s headquarters, Maison de la Louve, a muscular archer is shown. It is one of the few buildings that survived the 1695 French shelling of the city. Circular medallions beneath the pediment bare the likenesses of four Roman Emperors, set above allegorical motifs indicating their attributes: Trajan, above the Sun, a symbol of Truth; Tiberius, above a net and cage, representing Falsehood; Augustus, above the globe of Peace, and Julius Caesar, above a bleeding heart representing Disunity.
Photo #5 — Maison des Tailleurs, Tailors’ Guild, now houses a popular café/restaurant, The Golden Carnaval (La Chaloupe d’Or Tavern, in French and Den Gulden Boot in Dutch). Built by G. De Bruyn, Saint Homobonus, patron saint of business people and tailors, stands at the top with an outstretched arm; he once held a pair of scissors in his hand. The current building is a reconstruction from 1697 after the 1695 bombardment of Brussels ordered by Lois XIV.
“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.
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.
If you visit Brussels you will, of course, come to the main square. But the sight you will experience there .... no words can express it! For those who enjoy the old architecture like many other European capitals have - they will find this square definitely the most beautiful square in Europe. Take the time there and enjoy the 360 degree view - there are also a number of cafes and restaurants. A really great place!
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.
This has to be the highlight of Brussels, a stunning setting for some real architectural gems. I read that it was described by the Archduchess Isabella, daughter of Filip II of Spain as long ago as 1599 as follows:
"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."
This could so easily have been written today, though the buildings we see now were rebuilt by the guilds between 1695 and 1700 following their destruction in a battle with the French.
Nowadays the square is the focus for tourist activity in the city, and rightly so. Here you can see the most beautiful guild-houses, enjoy a beer (at probably inflated prices) at one of the cafes, or as we did catch a sight of a bride en route to the Town Hall for her wedding. In the summer concerts are organized all through the year on the square while the annual Ommegang, an historical procession, takes place at the beginning of July and the famous flower carpet, when the square is spread with begonias, happens every other year – something I would really love to return to Brussels to see.
Staying in a hotel right on the square meant we were able to soak up its atmosphere as we came and went from our room, a real bonus when we had so little time in the city. We were also able to enjoy our breakfast in the café below the hotel (L’Estaminet du Kelderkes) with a window table and a great view over the square – in warmer weather the hotel offers breakfast on the terrace outside.
Make sure when you visit to look up at the details on the buildings. I particularly liked the Maison du Cynge, not far from our hotel (see my 3rd photo). There’s also a good, though busy, tourist information centre here (on the south side in the Town Hall complex).
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.