December 16, 2007

Places of interests in Brussels – Part 1

Brussels has a variety of things to see and do – more than 75 museums, impressive public buildings, leafy parks and interesting squares. The first stop is definitely the Grand-Place. Strolling from one of its fairly ordinary side streets into the historic Grand-Place is a unique experience in Brussels. A UNESCO World Heritage site of ornamental gables, medieval banners, gilded facades and rooftop sculptures, the Grand-Place is considered the most beautiful square in the world. This splendid esplanade is surrounded by Flemish Renaissance-baroque guild houses from the 17th century, the 19th century neo-Gothic Maison du Roi (King's House), and the 15th century Gothic Hotel de Ville (Town Hall). The 91m (300-ft.) tower of the Town Hall bears a spire, on which perches the Archangel Michael, patron saint of the city. The building is still the seat of the civic government, and its wedding room is a popular place to tie the knot. The Maison du Roi, despite its name, has never housed a king. It has served as a covered bread market as well as a prison and now houses the Musée de la Ville (City Museum), displaying a varied collection focused on the art and history of Brussels.

Maison du Roi & Hotel de Ville

Grand Place - unfortunately my photos do not do justice to the place. It really is a lot more impressive than it appers in these photos.

To the left of the Town Hall is the statue of Everard 't Serclaes, a hero of 14th-century Brussels who freed the city from the clutches of the counts of Flanders, and who later died from wounds received while resisting another would-be conqueror. Rubbing the bronze statue is said to bring you luck. A fountain in the shape a urinating child, the Manneken-Pis is a famous small bronze sculpture two blocks south of the Grand-Place. It is Brussels' favorite character, gleefully doing what a little boy's gotta do. No one knows when this child first came into being. Among the speculations are that he was the son of a Brussels nobleman who got lost and was found while answering nature's call, and also that he was a patriotic Belgian kid who sprinkled a hated Spanish sentry passing beneath his window. Yet another theory is that he saved the Town Hall from a sputtering bomb by extinguishing it with the first thing handy. The statue itself is a lot more ordinary than the hype surrounding it. Minutes away from the Grand-Place is the ornately decorated Bourse (Stock Exchange), an example of the French Second Empire architectural style, dating back from 1873.

Everard 't Serclaes & Mannekin-Pis

On the way to the Cathédrale des Sts-Michel-et-Gudule (Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula) is the Galeries Royales St-Hubert (St. Hubert Royal Galleries), the world's first shopping mall. The Italian neo-Renaissance style gallery with three connected wings opened in 1847, is a light and airy place with boutiques, bookshops, cafes, restaurants, a theater and cinema. The famous chocolatier, Neuhaus is located here. Cathédrale des Sts-Michel-et-Gudule is dedicated to the city's patron St. Michael, and to St. Gudula. Begun in 1226, it was officially consecrated as a cathedral only in 1961. The 16th-century Habsburg Emperor Charles V donated the superb stained-glass windows. The sparse interior decoration focuses attention on its soaring columns and arches while the bright exterior stonework is beautiful sight.

Galeries Royales St-Hubert

The beautiful stained glass windows of Cathédrale des Sts-Michel-et-Gudule

Belgians are crazy for cartoons. Called the CéBéBéDé for short, Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée (Belgian Center for Comic-Strip Art) on a side street not far from the Grand-Place, is dedicated to comic strips. Situated in a restored Art Nouveau department store building from 1903, the library of 30,000 books and its permanent and special exhibitions feature popular cartoon characters such as Tintin, Lucky Luke, the Smurfs, Charlie Brown, and Suske and Wiske, yet does not neglect the likes of Superman and Batman.

A nation obsessed with cartoons...even the buildings are painted with cartoon characters

(to be continued…)

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