The soft temperament of strict Brussels

Text: Piia Õunpuu Photos: Unsplash, Published: 5 / September / 2018

EVEN THOUGH Brussels today is shaped by the European Commission and its numerous international officials, it remains a city with an exciting history. Brussels has been a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Habsburg Dynasty and under Napoleon's rule, before it became the capital of the independent Kingdom of Belgium in 1830. The Belgian capital has a lot to offer to tourists who crave a refreshing city break, want to explore architecture and art, and appreciate good cuisine.

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The historic old town of Brussels owes its existence to medieval textile traders. Even today, you can still see reminders of this on the medieval city wall – for example, the Tour de l'Angle and the Tour Noire, which were part of the inner city wall built in the 13th century. A larger, distinctive pentagonal outer wall can be seen at the Porte de Hal fortified city gate.

The face of Brussels' old town was shaped at the turn of the 18th century, as it was rebuilt again after the nine-year-long war with France. The Renaissance town hall building and the old town's network of merchant houses are from that time. The colossal stock exchange building and the Palace of Justice, which was the largest building in the world during its construction, mark the beginning of Belgian independence in the middle of the 19th century.

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For city views, you should go to the town square in front of the Palace of Justice – Place Poelaertile – just before the sunset. An equally beautiful city view opens up from Mont des Arts, built by King Leopold II at the end of the 19th century, and later designed as a park.

In mid-August, in particular 16th–19th August of this year, one of the most important events of the summer in Brussels, the Flower Carpet, will take place, when a flower carpet made from hundreds of thousands of flowers will be created in the town hall square. It is best to enjoy the view from the balcony of the town hall, which you can access with the event ticket.

Brussels, with its 1.2 million inhabitants, still has plenty of green areas, where it is easy to walk, have a lunch break, or just enjoy a spring morning jog in the city. The city's most prestigious park is Parc Royal, also known as Parc de Bruxelles, surrounded by the Royal Palace, the Palace of the Nation (which houses the Belgian parliament) and the Embassy of the United States. Free concerts are held here almost every weekend during the summer. Parc du Cinquantenaire, which is a little further away from the city centre, is a spacious park with a gorgeous aristocratic triumphal arch at one end, founded in 1880 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of an independent Belgium. Currently, the Museum of War History, the Museum of Art and History, and the Autoworld Museum operate in the building

One of the most famous museums in Brussels is Musée Oldmasters, which has a remarkable collection of 15th–18th-century works of art from the Netherlands. For example, Hans Memling and Hieronymus Bosch represent the earlier period, and the highlight of the 16th century is the art of Pieter Bruegel. Later art is represented by Rubens and Rembrandt. The museum's collection was started at the time of the French Revolution, when Napoleon had a lot of artworks confiscated from churches and monasteries, with plans to bring them to the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The Magritte Museum opened in 2009 and is a place for fans of 20th-century art. A five-storey museum at Place Royale holds over 200 works by surrealist René Magritte, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, and experimental cinematography.

The Bozar Fine Arts Centre brings together exhibitions of art from 20th-century and contemporary artists, as well as concerts and films. Until June 2018, French cubist Fernand Léger's works are exhibited there, and until the end of May you can view the works of renowned Spanish artists. Contemporary Belgian artists are represented at the art centres of Wiels and Argos, and in the first half of 2018, the works of Estonian artist Paul Kuimet are also featured at Wiels.



Just a 45-minute train ride from Brussels is the lively bohemian city of Antwerp, offering plenty for art and architecture lovers. In the heart of the old town, you can find a Gothic cathedral, the interior of which is decorated with the paintings of the Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens. The 16th century diamond and silver traders, who lived and worked in the harbour city and exhibited their wealth with real estate, have shaped the old town.

The beauty already begins in the train station. The building, which is even often called the train station cathedral, opened in 1905 and is among the most beautiful railway stations in the world. Straight away it gives you a hint of what a magnificent city Antwerp is. The jewel in the crown of the old town is the city hall, built in 1564. Here it is good to take some time out and enjoy the charms of the Renaissance architecture with a warm Belgian waffle in your hand. The city square is lined with elegant town houses and if you go exploring the old town of Antwerp you might get lost as you meander your way around the beautiful streets.



Antwerp was put on the world's fashion map in the early 1980s, when the famous Antwerp Six, including Dries van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester, graduated from the Royal Academy of Arts. Martin Margiela had graduated from the academy the previous year, and together they headed the triumph of 80s avant-garde fashion.

Antwerp is an ideal place for shopping. The pedestrian street Meir, which connects the railway station and the old town, is the busiest shopping street in Belgium, and among other things, is also the street with the highest rents in Belgium – the price per square meter is 1 700 euros per year. Needless to say, Antwerp also offers the world's most luxurious brands. The Schuttershofstraat runs parallel with Meir, and is worth exploring if your wardrobe is short of a Chanel dress or Burberry raincoat.

Article was published in Nordica´s in-flight magazine Time Flies (spring-summer 2018)