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Brussels (Dutch: Brussel, French: Bruxelles, German: Brüssel) is the capital of Belgium and is considered by many to be the de facto capital of the European Union, as two of its three main institutions have their headquarters in the city.

Brussels is first of all a city located in the middle of Belgium and its capital, but it sometimes also refers to the largest municipality of the Brussels-Capital Region. This municipality inside Brussels is correctly named The City of Brussels (French: Bruxelles-Ville or Ville de Bruxelles, Dutch: de Stad Brussel), which is one of 19 municipalities that make up the Brussels-Capital Region (see also: Municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region). The municipality has a population of about 140,000 while the Brussels-Capital Region has almost a million inhabitants.

The Brussels-Capital Region is a region of Belgium in its own right, alongside the Flemish Region and Wallonia. Geographically, it is an enclave of the Flemish Region. Regions are one component of Belgium's complex institutions, the three communities being "the" other component: the Brussels inhabitants must deal with the either the French (speaking) community or the Flemish Community for matters such as culture and education.

Brussels is also the capital of the French Community of Belgium (Communauté française Wallonie-Bruxelles in French) and of Flanders; all Flemish capital institutions are established there: Flemish Parliament, Flemish government and its administration.

Two of the three main institutions of the European Union, the European Commission and the Council of the European Union, have their headquarters in Brussels -- the Commission in the Berlaymont building and the Council in the Justus Lipsius building facing it. The third main institution of the European Union, the European Parliament, also has a parliamentary chamber in Brussels in which its committee meetings and some of its plenary sessions are held (the other plenary sessions are held in Strasbourg, and its administrative headquarters are in Luxembourg).

Brussels is also the political seat of NATO, i.e. the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and the Western European Union (WEU).

The "language frontier" divides Belgium into a northern, Dutch-speaking, region and a southern, French-speaking, region. The Brussels-Capital Region is officially bilingual, while the majority of its residents speaks French (see the linguistic history of Brussels in this article's history section).

The highest building in Brussels is the South Tower (150m), the most famous probably the Atomium, which is a remnant from Expo '58.



The name Brussels comes Bruocsella, Brucsella or Broekzele, which means "marsh (bruoc, bruc or broek) home (sella or zele)" or "home in the marsh". "Broekzele" was spelt "Bruxelles" in French. In Belgian French pronunciation as well as in Dutch, the "k" eventually disappeared and "z" became "s", as reflected in the current Dutch spelling.


In 977, the German emperor Otto II gave Lower Lorraine to Charles, son of King Louis IV of France. Mention was already made of Brussels at the time. However, the founding of Brussels is usually known to happen when a small castle was built by Charles around 979 on an island (called Saint-Gery island) encompassed by the Senne river. At the end of the tenth century, with the death of Charles, Lower Lorraine is taken over by Lambert I of Leuven . Under Lambert II of Leuven , a new castrum and the first city walls are built. The small town became in the 12th century an important stop on the commercial road from Bruges to Cologne. At the same time, the counts of Leuven changed their name to Dukes of Brabant. From 1357 to 1379, a new enclosure is built as the former one was already too small. It is now known as the inner ring or pentagon. In the 15th century, by means of the wedding of heiress Margaret III of Flanders with Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, the new Duke of Brabant comes from the House of Valois (namely Antoine, their son). But not for long as Mary of Burgundy marries Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor from the house of Habsburg in 1477. Brussels was thriving under the reign of the houses of Burgundy and Habsburg.

In 1695 Brussels is attacked by King Louis XIV of France and the battle made a lot of damage (more than 4000 houses as well as buildings of the Grand Place were all destroyed, except the famous city hall). In 1830, the Belgian revolution took place in Brussels after a representation of La Muette de Portici at La Monnaie theatre. On July 21, 1831, Leopold I, the first King of Belgium, ascends the throne. He undertook the destruction of the city walls and the construction of many buildings. Under Leopold II of Belgium, the city underwent many changes : the Senne was arched (as it brought diseases), becoming sewers, the North-South Junction was undertaken, the Tervueren avenue was traced, etc.

From May 10, 1940, Brussels was bombed by the German army. A lot of damage was done with bombs mainly in 1943-1944. The Heysel Stadium disaster took place in Brussels on May 29, 1985. The Brussels Capital Region was founded on June 18, 1989.

Linguistic history

The Brussels Capital Region is currently home for both French- and Dutch-speakers, the former accounting for about 80% of its population. Dutch, or more precisely its "linguistic predecessors", was however the language of the city from its foundation. In those first 6 centuries, French was only used in the relations with the then "Romance-speaking" (linguistic predecessors of French) areas around Nivelles. During the Austrian period, 'Dutch' remained the popular language in Brussels, and French was for several centuries only spoken by the haute-bourgeoisie and the nobility. It started becoming only a somewhat popular language under the French regime, and especially after 1830, by the immigration of many French (revolutionaries and others) and many Walloons, attracted by the new Belgian authorities. As in 1830, only the haute-bourgeoisie and the nobility (1% of the population) had voting rights, these groups wanted to fashion the new state along their personal preferences. As a result, they had to attract many French-speaking Walloons to staff the public services.

The area, which is geographically situated in the south of Flanders, was still mostly Dutch-speaking until the middle of the 20th century. During the 19th and 20th century, more and more French-speaking civil servants coming from Wallonia settled in Brussels and persistent social, administrative, cultural and political pressure made many Flemings switch their vernacular to French.

The royal palace in Brussels
The royal palace in Brussels

The Brussels-Capital region nowadays is officially French-Dutch bilingual and some municipalities in Flanders around Brussels have special linguistic facilities to protect the right of the French-speaking minorities.

On 4 September 1998 the Council of Europe published a resolution entitled "Situation of the French-speaking population living in the Brussels periphery" [1] which focussed on a linguistic conflict affecting six communes in Flanders, and made recommendations to both the Flemish government and the French-speaking inhabitants.

The International Labour Organization, a UN agency, reported ([2]) the results of an experiment involving two testers applying for jobs in Belgium, where the Moroccan job applicant was discriminated against in favour of the Belgian.

 Old houses on Brussels' Grand Place
Old houses on Brussels' Grand Place

On the one hand, many Flemings complain about strong pressure from French-speakers against the bilingual status within the Brussels-Capital region. The Belgian judiciary has never engaged in any official investigation; all such complaints are still pending. In the early 90's, an official declaration from the regional government explicitly acknowledged that social housing was de facto reserved entirely for those applying in French. As late as 2003, Rudy Demotte, the federal Minister of Public Health and a French-speaking socialist, has publicly acknowledged that urgent medical services discriminated against Dutch speakers, in the sense that it was often difficult for Dutch speakers to use their own language [3].

On the other hand, there are reports and claims of discrimination against French-speakers in the outskirts of Brussels regarding access to health care, using their own language, and social housing [4] [5] [6].

Though no official census has been made for a long time, the French-speaking population in Brussels accounts for about 80% of the population. In recent years, the Flemish region is taking measures to decrease this percentage (by offering STIB subscription to Flemish students in Brussels and by giving the proceeds to Flemish people settling in the city).


Brussels has several universities, two of them being the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). A satellite campus of the Université catholique de Louvain (UCL) is also located in Brussels: it is called "Louvain-en-Woluwe" or "UCL-Brussels", and hosts the faculty of Medicine of the university.


Brussels is served by Brussels National Airport, located in the municipality of Zaventem, and by Brussels South Airport, located near Charleroi, some 80km from Brussels. Brussels' major train stations link the city to the United Kingdom by Eurostar, and to major European cities by high speed rail links (such as the Thalys).

The Brussels metro dates back to 1976 (but underground lines known as premetro have been serviced by tramways since 1968). A comprehensive bus and tram network also covers the city. Brussels also has its own port on the Willebroek canal located in the North-East.

There are four companies managing public transport inside Brussels :

  • STIB/MIVB (metro, bus, tram)
  • SNCB/NMBS (train)
  • TEC (bus)
  • De Lijn (bus)

The first two work together as a STIB/MIVB ticket holder can use the train freely inside the city. The last two are especially used by respectively Walloons and Flemish as it is expensive (in regard with the number of lines) for people living in Brussels (assuming they mostly use STIB/MIVB network). Those companies goal (in Brussels) is to permit people living in the suburbs to join the capital city. This purpose is shared by SNCB/NMBS as they will soon install a RER network around Brussels.

Railway stations

The major stations in Brussels are on the North-South Junction:

  • Brussels North (French: Gare du Nord, Dutch: Brussel-Noord)
  • Brussels Central (French: Gare Centrale, Dutch: Brussel-Centraal)
  • Brussels South (French: Gare du Midi or Bruxelles-Midi, Dutch: Brussel-Zuid) (the Eurostar, Thalys, TGV and ICE international terminal)

Two more stations serve the EU district in Brussels. Trains towards Namur and Luxembourg call here :

  • Brussels Luxembourg
  • Brussels Schuman

The last two stations located in the municipality of Brussels (they also are on the North-South Junction) are :

  • Brussels Congress (French: Bruxelles-Congrès, Dutch:Brussel-Congres)
  • Brussels Chapel (French: Bruxelles-Chapelle, Dutch: Brussel-Kapellekerk)

Other railway stations in other Brussels municipalities include :

  • Schaerbeek (Dutch: Schaarbeek)
  • Etterbeek
  • Uccle Stalle (Dutch: Ukkel Stalle)
  • Uccle Calevoet (Dutch: Ukkel Kalevoet)
  • Jette
  • Mérode
  • Delta
  • Saint-Job (Dutch : Sint-Job)
  • Forest Est (Dutch: Vorst Oost)
  • Forest Midi (Dutch: Vorst Zuid)
  • Berchem Sainte-Agathe (Dutch: Sint-Agatha Berchem)
  • Saint-Gilles (Dutch: Sint-Gillis)
  • Watermael (Dutch: Watermaal)
  • Boitsfort (Dutch: Bosvoorde)
  • Boondael
  • Meiser

Road network

Brussels has an orbital motorway, the R0. It is commonly referred to as the "ring".

The city centre, sometimes known as "the pentagon" is surrounded by the "inner ring" (Dutch: kleine ring, French: petite ceinture), which follows much of the same route as the metro line 2, both of which were built upon the site of the old city walls following their demolition.

Finally, the "outer ring" (Dutch: grote ring, French: grande ceinture) is formed by great boulevards and is located between the "inner ring" and the R0 ring. Some premetro stations (see Brussels metro) were built on that route.

Conferences and world fairs

Brussels hosted the third Congrès international d'architecture moderne in 1930.

Two world fairs took place in Brussels, the Exposition universelle et internationale (1935) and the Expo '58 in 1958. The Atomium, a 103 metre representation of an iron crystal was built for the Expo '58, and is still there.

Throughout 2003, Brussels celebrated native son Jacques Brel on the 25th anniversary of his death.

See also

Places of interest

Notable parks

  • Parc de Bruxelles (Dutch: Park van Brussel), wrongly called Parc Royal (Dutch: Koninklijk Park)
  • Bois de la Cambre (Dutch: Ter Kamerenbos)
  • Cinquantenaire (Dutch: Jubelpark)
  • Parc de Laeken
  • Parc de Woluwé (Dutch: Park van Woluwe)
  • Parc Josaphat
  • Parc Roi Baudouin
  • Kauberg
  • Jardin botanique
  • Parc Léopold
  • Jardins du Maelbeek
  • Parc Duden
  • Parc Astrid

Notable people from Brussels

Sports clubs

Concert halls

  • Ancienne Belgique
  • Beurschouwburg
  • Botanique
  • Cirque Royal
  • Espace Senghor
  • Flagey
  • Forest National (Dutch: Vorst Nationaal)
  • Vaartkapoen



External links

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