Brussels may not be Europe’s biggest capital city, nor its most glamorous, but it has a treasure trove of wonders waiting to be discovered by visitors. One of these is the Grand Place, perhaps the most floral square in the whole of Europe. This may sound like an extravagant claim, but head there in spring or summer and the blooms really are a sight to behold. They bring colour and life to a square already immensely rich in history and heritage.
Indeed, the square is a UNESCO World Heritage site, having been designated in 1998 for its architectural wonders, with these representing three different eras and styles – Baroque, Gothic and Louis XIV. The square emerged in the 12th century, as a centre of political and mercantile power in Brussels, as well as a symbol of the importance of the city itself. Its eclectic mix of grand architecture also testifies to times of turbulence and upheaval. This included the three-day bombardment by the forces of Louis XIV in 1695 that wrecked the medieval city, which was followed by a huge rebuilding programme. Notably, this saw buildings being constructed according to the older architectural styles of the structures that had been destroyed, rather than a contemporary look. Fine buildings include the Brabant Gothic Hotel De Ville / City Hall with its spectacular bell tower, while other gothic splendours include the KIng’s House, which houses the City Museum.
Unusually, there are no places of worship around the square, reflecting its emphasis on financial and political power, but there are plenty of art galleries, such as the Galleries Royales Saint Hubert and Gallerie Bortier. These buildings, like the Brussels Stock Exchange, are all fine examples of 19th century architecture around the square. As might be expected, the square hosts many big events, such as the Ommegang Royal Pageant, a summer event that takes place in June or July and involves a huge parade in period dress from the 16th century. Alternatively, visitors in September can enjoy Belgian Beer Weekend, a great chance to taste the finest ales in a country famous for its brewing. It is an eclecticism that matches the square – and marks it out as a must-see feature of the city.