Brussels: Outside the Grand Place

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Brussels: Outside the Grand Place

Place Royale  The square was laid out 1772-85 in the Neo-Classical style. (Explain this term.) The designer was Guimard, who was trying to emulate the classical squares of Paris. The square was meant to be an elegant gateway to the huge park next to it (Parc de Bruxelles). In the square stands the statue of Godfrey of Bouillon, one of the great knights who led the First Crusade to the Holy Land. The statue was executed by artist Simonis in 1848. Godfrey is shown raising the standard of the First Crusade.

This site is the former location of the palace of the Dukes of Brabant. The church facing the square is St. Jacques-sur-Coudenberg. On the site stood the chapel of the Dukes of Brabant, adjoining their palace. The church is a Neo-Classical design built 1776-85, at the same time as the square.

Parc de Bruxelles  Laid out (1776-87) by Zinner, in the heyday of the Neo-Classical movement in Europe. Zinner was the Austrian court gardener, who brought much of the landscape techniques of Vienna to Brussels with him. The old ducal palace which used to stand in the Place Royale (hence its name), also covered much of this park. In 1830, there was much fighting and bloodshed in the park, as it was here that Belgian patriots fought off the Dutch forces who were trying to maintain Holland's hold on the country.

Palais du Roi  This is the official residence of the Belgian King Baudoin (French for "Baldwin"). It too occupies the land once covered by the old ducal palace. This palace, also known as Belle Vue, was built 1740-87 in the Neo-Classical style, but modernized in 1904-12, and some sculpture added. Look up on the pediment: the sculpture group represents "Belgium Between Agriculture and Industry" (Vincotte), representing the country's twin economic activities. (Baudoin's wife is Queen Fabiola, of Spanish descent.)

Rue Ducale  As we drive along this street, notice the fine aristocratic mansions, built by well-to-do merchants who thrived in Brussels during the late-18th and 19th centuries. (If you can spot it in time:) House No. 51 was occupied by Lord Byron in 1816, and he is said to have composed the Waterloo stanza of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage here in honor of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo (near Brussels).

At the south end of the street, which you come to first: Palais des Academies (built 1823-29) for the Crown Prince of Orange (Dutch prince); in 1876, it became the seat of Belgium's Royal Academy (association of dignitaries in arts and letters).

The Street is named "Rue Ducale" for the old ducal palace that used to take up much of the park and adjoining area.

Palace de la Nation  Built, 1779 for the dukedom of Brabant by Guimard (who laid out Place Royale), then rebuilt in 1884 by Beyaert after fire ruined most of the original. This is the Belgian Parliament house today. Between 1815 and 1830, when Belgium was annexed to Holland, the Dutch parliament (called, "The States General of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands") met here sometimes, and alternated with The Hague. This was a concession to the Belgians, but it didn't stem the movement for Belgian independence. During this period, the left wing of the building was the residence of the Crown Prince of the Netherlands.

The Trial of Edith Cavell (1915), Belgian heroine in World War I (1865-1915). She helped found a large school for nurses. When the Germans invaded Belgium in World War I, she helped Belgian soldiers escape to Holland (which was neutral). The Germans found out about this, arrested her, and tried her for sabotage here in the Palace de la Nation. She was shot on October 12, 1915. Her last words: "Patriotism is not enough" (i.e. more than sentiment is needed: there must be action). Her nursing school is now the Institut Edith Cavell. A memorial to Cavell and her partner Marie Depage (killed on the Lusitania) is on the southwest corner of the building.

Colonne du Congres (memorial column, on Rue Royale, on your left)  The column is about 150 feet high. The column was built between 1850 and 1859, with a statue of King Leopold I on top. It is called the "Column of Congress" because it honors the National Congress which drafted the Belgian constitution of 1830. The bronze statues at the corners represent Freedom on the Press, of Education, of Association, and of Religion. This is Belgium's Tomb of the Unknown soldier; unknown soldiers of World War I and II are buried at the foot of the column, where the eternal flame burns.

Behind the column is the massive Cite Administratif (government offices), HQs of Belgian bureaucracy.

Place Rogier  Honors Charles Rogier, a leader of the 1830 revolution against Holland. Later, he became a government minister, and helped develop Belgium's railroads. The two high-rise tower blocks are called the Centre Rogier and Centre Manhattan.

Basilique Nationale du Sacre-Coeur  This vast church was begun in 1905; the grandiose design is by Langerock (his original plan consisted of 6 towers, each almost 300 feet high). It was finally completed in 1970 to a more modest plan. The church is the national memorial for Belgians who have given their lives for their country. From its center radiate 10 chapels, for the 9 Belgian provinces and the (former) Belgian Congo.

Atomium  Sometimes called "the plumber's dream." This construction sits in the Parc du Centenaire, where Belgian World's Fair of 1958 was held. Buildings in the park are now used for trade exhibitions. Atomium itself was designed for this fair by Eugene Waterkeyn, and meant to symbolize the scientific progress honored by the fair. Made of aluminum, 350 feet high, representing an atom of iron (not a molecule, as often claimed). The nine spheres are the component electrons. A fast elevator goes to the top and escalators link the different spheres. Inside the spheres are exhibitions illustrating peaceful uses of the atom.

Various sights on the way to (or from) the Atomium:

The Chinese Pavilion  Built for King Leopold II in 1906-10, when the 19th-century rage for Orientalia was still prevalent. It now houses a museum of Oriental porcelain. The Japanese Tower (Tour Japonnaise), opposite, was bought by Leopold II at the Paris Exhibition of 1900 and shipped here to Belgium.

Palais Royale, built 1782-84 for Maria Christina of Austria, restored by Napoleon (1802), who here signed the order for his armies to advance into Russia. Opposite the palace entrance is the public Parc de Laeken, with the Leopold I memorial and the Villa Belvedere, residence of the king's brother, Prince of Liege.

In the major traffic complex between the Chinese Pavilion and Japanese Tower is the Fontaine de Neptune, a replica of the original 16th-century sculpture group which stands in Bologna's Piazza Nettuno.

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