The oldest parts of Brussels Town Hall date to 1402, although it has been much rebuilt and added to over the centuries since. The 96-meter-high spire is topped by a gilt statue of St. Michael, the city's patron saint, killing a dragon.
Brussels – Been There

Spending an hour on Brussels' Grand Place

Photo by Ruben Drenth

Brussels – Been There Spending an hour on Brussels' Grand Place

The Grand Place in Brussels is a meeting place lined with chocolate shops, terraces restaurants and bars. I rest my tired feet on one of the terraces to further my research into cold Belgian beer. Looking at the prices on the menu, I realize a beer is all I can afford.

Sergi Reboredo
Sergi Reboredo Travel Photographer

As I sip my beer slowly, I read the words of Victor Hugo who looked at the same view I'm looking at now in 1837: the town hall. He said: “The Town Hall of Brussels is a jewel, a dazzling fantasy dreamed up by a poet, and realized by an architect. And the square around it is a miracle.”

On the Grand Place, I watch groups of tourists from various nations follow flags and raised umbrellas to explore the glorious architecture of this Unesco World Heritage Site. The town hall, the Hôtel de Ville, dates to 1405 and I enjoy a guided tour to admire the rich paintings, sculptures and tapestries that adorn the magnificent interior. This Gothic masterpiece has an off-center belfry and legend has it that its architect, Jan van Ruysbroeck, threw himself off the top when he noticed the lack of symmetry. It is a good story but, as my guide points out, hardly true as the imbalance actually came from a need to preserve a side street when a second wing was added in 1449.

The Grand Place is also the place to find the original Manneken Pis as the one most people see is a copy. The original rests in the former Maison du Roi or King’s House, now the city’s museum, along with 800 of its costumes from all cultures and nations, ranging from football strips and a cosmonaut, to a bullfighter and even a glittery Elvis outfit. The statue dates to at least 1452 so the costumes are a relatively new addition, with the first being presented in 1698 by the Elector of Beieren.

My favorite is the medieval crossbowmen’s uniform, a replica of those worn by the Guild of the Grand Serment Royal et de Saint-Georges. Founded in 1381, these crossbowmen still train every week in their guildhall near Place Royale where they welcome visitors who wish to experience firing this powerful weapon. They are also a highlight of the Ommegang, the colorful medieval pageant that fills the Grand Place with flag throwers and mounted knights every July.

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The Grand Place and several nearby streets are pedestrianized, and there are plans to extend the car-free zone even further. In the 1960s, the rush to prioritize cars and raze historic buildings gave rise to the term "brusselization" as shorthand for bad urban planning. Photo by Kieran Meeke

Kieran Meeke

Kieran Meeke

Sony A99

Aperture
ƒ/13
Exposure
1/200
ISO
200
Focal
28 mm

The Grand Place and several nearby streets are pedestrianized, and there are plans to extend the car-free zone even further. In the 1960s, the rush to prioritize cars and raze historic buildings gave rise to the term "brusselization" as shorthand for bad urban planning.

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