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The capital of Belgium, Brussels is a city full of contrasts. More like a person with multiple split personalities, the city is wacky and dreary, traditional and the hip and is surrounded by both the Flemish and the French. The city is also home to the headquarters of several European organizations, which makes it seem like the capital of the European Union. Brussels is the city which has the popular café culture of Europe, finest food and beautiful architecture. The city is also the meeting point of the Germanic and the Romanic cultures.
History of Brussels
The city was originally established as a fortress by one of Charlemagne’s descendants in the 10th century AD. However, some believe that in the 690s , a bishop named St Géry built a chapel there. By 1100, the city became an important center for trade and administration, and had its own fortified wall. The city was ruled by the dukes of Brabant between the 1220s and 1482, when the first charter of Brussels was published.
After that, the Habsburgs came into power and the city flourished under the rule of Charles V, who used the city as his capital. Most part of the Grand Palace and thousands of houses were destroyed when Louis XIV’s army bombarded the city in 1695. But Brussels was back on its feet and regained its past glory in less than 5 years.
Urban development of the city was initiated in the 18th century, when a number of architectural marvels were constructed. The French revolution inspired the Belgians to push out the Austrian rulers and Brussels became an independent state in 1830, and expanded over the next century. Development of the city continued through the 19th century when Brussels became the center of NATO and then of the European Union,
Sights and Attractions
The Grand Palace and the 300 year old buildings that surround it can be placed on top of the tourist attractions list in the city. While it may not be as monumental as the palace, the Manneken Pis, which is a small statue made of bronze and known as the ‘irreverent spirit’ of Brussels, is also worth a visit. The Atomium, the Royal Palace, the Law Courts building, Mini Europe and the Basilica Koekelberg, which is the world’s 5th largest church, are other attractions in the city.
Brussels is also home to several museums including the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, the Musées d’Extrême-Orient near the Atomium, and the Musical Instruments Museum. The Bozar, which has seven artistic departments, is another monument that you should visit.
Food and Drink
Belgian chocolate is perhaps the first thing you should try when in Brussels. Chocolates are everywhere you go but the best Belgian chocolate can be obtained from Place du Grand Sablon-Grote Zavel Plein. If you are adventurous, try local delicacies like the anguilles au vert/paling in ‘t groen, the turbot waterzooi and the stoemp. End your meal with the Belgian waffles for desert. And end your day at a pub with a pitcher of chilled Belgian beer. After all, a trip to Brussels is not over until you have beer at a local pub and taste the half-en-half, which is found only there.