1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Brussels

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BRUSSELS (Fr. Bruxelles, Flem. Brussel), the capital of the kingdom of Belgium, and of the province of Brabant, situated in 50° 51′ N., 4° 22′ E., about 70 m. from the sea at Ostend. It occupies the plain or valley of the Senne, and the sides and crest of the hill lying to the east and south-east of that valley. It is now extending over the hills west of the valley, and to the north is the town or commune of Laeken, which is practically part of the city.

Brussels suffered severely in 1695 from the bombardment of the French under Villeroi, who fired into the town with red-hot shot. Sixteen churches and 4000 houses were burnt down, and the historic buildings on the Grand Place were seriously injured, the houses of the Nine Nations on the eastern side being completely destroyed. In 1731 the famous palace of the Netherlands was destroyed by fire, and the only remains of this edifice are some ruined arches and walls in a remote comer of the grounds of the king’s palace. The Porte de Hal is the only one of the eight gates in the old wall left standing. It dates from 1381, and is well worth more careful examination than it receives. In the latter half of the 18th century it served as a kind of bastille for political prisoners, and is now used as a museum in which a rather nondescript collection of articles, some from Mexico, has been allowed to accumulate. With regard to the fine boulevards of the Upper Town, it may be mentioned that about 1765 they were planted with the double row of lime trees which still constitute their chief ornament by Prince Charles of Lorraine while governing the Netherlands for his sister-in-law, the empress Maria Theresa. The residence of this prince was the palace of William the Silent, before he declared against Spain, and it is now used partly for the royal library, which contains the famous librairie de Bourgogne, and partly for the museum of modern pictures. The only other “hotel” or palace in Brussels is that of the duke d’Arenberg. In the 16th century this was the residence of Count Egmont, but very little of the building of his day remains. In the same street, the rue des Petits Carmes, was the Hôtel Culembourg in which the famous oath of the beggars was taken. It has long been demolished and the new barracks of the Grenadier regiment have been erected on the site.

The only other buildings of importance dating from medieval times are the three churches of Ste Gudule (often erroneously called the cathedral), Notre-Dame des Victoires or Church of the Sablon, and Notre-Dame de la Chapelle, or simply la Chapelle, and the hotel de ville and the Maison du Roi on the Grand Place. The church of Ste Gudule, also dedicated to St Michael, is built on the side of the hill originally called St Michael’s Mount, and now covered by the fashionable quarters which are included under the comprehensive description, of the Upper Town. It was begun about the year 1220, and is considered one of the finest specimens left of pointed Gothic. It is said to have been completed in 1273, with the exception of the two towers which were added in the 14th or 15th century. Some of the stained glass is very rich, dating from the 13th to the 15th century. In many of the windows there are figures of leading members of the houses of Burgundy and Habsburg. The curious oak pulpit representing Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden came originally from the Jesuit church at Louvain, and is considered the masterpiece of Verbruggen. The church of the Sablon is said to have been founded in 1304 by the gild of Crossbowmen to celebrate the battle of Woeringen. In a side chapel is a fine monument to the princely family of Thurn and Taxis, which had the monopoly of the postal service in the old empire. La Chapelle is still older, dating nominally from 1210, the choir and transept being considered to date from about fifty years later. There are some fine monuments, especially one to the duke de Croy who died in 1624. The two churches last named have undergone much renovation both outside and inside.

The Grand Place is by its associations one of the most interesting public squares in Europe. On its flags were fought out many feuds between rival gilds; Egmont and Horn, and many other gallant men whose names have been forgotten, were executed here under the shadow of its ancient buildings, and in more recent times Dumouriez proclaimed the French Republic where the dukes of Brabant and Burgundy were wont to hold their jousts. Apart from its associations the Grand Place contains two of the finest and most ornate buildings not merely in the capital but in Belgium. Of these the hôtel de ville, which is far the larger of the two, occupies the greater part of the south side of the square. Its facade has the disadvantage of having had one half begun about half a century before the other. The older, which is the richer in design, forms the left side of the building and dates from 1410, while the right, less rich and shorter, was begun in 1443. The fine tower, 360 ft. in height, is crowned by the golden copper figure of St Michael, 16 ft. in height, erected here as early as 1454. This tower lies behind the extremity of the left wing of the building. Opposite the town-hall is the smaller but extremely ornate Maison du Roi. This was never a royal residence as the name would seem to imply, but its description appears to have been derived from the fact that it was usually in this building that the royal address was read to the states-general. As this building was almost destroyed by Villeroi’s bombardment it possesses no claim to antiquity, indeed the existing building was only completed in 1877. Egmont and Horn were sentenced in the hôtel de ville, and passed their last night in the Maison du Roi.

Among the principal buildings erected in the city during the 18th century are the king’s palace and the house of parliament or Palais de la Nation, which face the south and north sides of the park respectively. The palace occupies part of the site covered by the old palace burnt down in 1731, and it was built in the reign of the empress Maria Theresa. It originally consisted of two detached buildings, but in 1826–1827 King William I. of the Netherlands caused them to be connected. The palace contains two fine rooms used for court ceremonies, and a considerable number of pictures. In 1904 a bill was passed in the chambers for the enlargement and embellishment of the palace. The adjacent buildings, viz. the department of the civil list, formerly the residence of the marquis d’Assche, and the Hôtel de Bellevue, held under a kind of perpetual lease granted by the empress Maria Theresa, were absorbed in the palace, and a new façade was constructed which occupies the entire length of the Place du Palais. At the same time a piece was cut off the park to prevent the undue contraction of the Place by the necessary bringing forward of the palace, and the pits which played a certain part in the revolution of 1830 when the Dutch defended the park for a few days against the Belgians were filled up. The Palais de la Nation was constructed between 1779 and 1783, also during the Austrian period. It was intended for the states-general and government offices. During the French occupation the law courts sat there, and from 1817 to 1830 it was assigned for the sittings of the states-general. It is now divided between the senate and the chamber of representatives. In 1833 the part assigned to the latter was burnt out, and has since been reconstructed. The buildings flanking the chambers and nearer the park are government offices with residences for the ministers attached.

The improvements effected in Brussels during the 19th century were enormous, and completely transformed the city. The removal of the old wall was followed by the creation of the quartier Léopold, and at a later period of the quartier Louis in the Upper Town. In the lower, under the energetic direction of two burgomasters, De Brouckere and Anspach, not less sweeping changes were effected. The Senne was bricked in, and the fine boulevards du Nord, Anspach, Hainaut and Midi took the place of slums. The Bourse and the post-office are two fine modern buildings in this quarter of the city. The Column of the Congress—i.e. of the Belgian representatives who founded the kingdom of Belgium—surmounted by a statue of King Leopold I., was erected in 1859, and in 1866 the foundation-stone was laid of the Palais de Justice, which was not finished till 1883, at a cost of sixty million francs. This edifice, the design of the architect Poelaert, is in the style of Karnak and Nineveh, but surmounted with a dome, and impresses by its grandiose proportions (see Architecture, Plate XI. fig. 121). It is well placed on the brow of the hill at the southern extremity of the rue de la Régence (the prolongation of the rue Royale), and can be seen from great distances. In the rue de la Régence are the new picture gallery, a fine building with an exceedingly good collection of pictures, the palace of the count of Flanders, and the garden of the Petit Sablon, which contains statues of Egmont and Horn, and a large number of statuettes representing the various gilds and handicrafts. Immediately above this garden is the Palais d’Arenberg. Perhaps the memorial that attracts the greatest amount of public interest in Brussels is that to the Belgians who were killed during the fighting with the Dutch in September 1830. This has been erected in a little square called the Place des Martyrs, not far from the Monnaie theatre. Outside Brussels at Evere is the chief cemetery, with fine monuments to the British officers killed at Waterloo (removed from the church in that village), to the French soldiers who died on Belgian soil in 1870–71, and another to the Prussians.

Many as were the changes in Brussels during the 19th century, those in progress at its close and at the beginning of the 20th have effected a marked alteration in the town. These have been rendered possible only by the excellent system of electric tramways which have brought districts formerly classed as pure country within reach of the citizens. The construction of the fine Avenue de Louise (11/2 m. long) from the Boulevard de Waterloo to the Bois de la Cambre was the first of these efforts to bring the remote suburbs within easy reach, at the same time furnishing an approach to the “bois” of Brussels that might in some degree be compared with the Champs Élysées in Paris. Another avenue of later construction (61/2 m. in length) connects the park of the Cinquantenaire with Tervueren. This route is extremely picturesque, traverses part of the forest of Soignies, and is lined by many fashionable villas and country houses. Other improvements projected in 1908 on the slope of the hill immediately below the Place Royale included the removal of the old tortuous and steep street called the “Montagne de la Cour” to give place to a Mont des Arts. A little lower down and not far from the university (which occupies the house of the famous cardinal Granvelle of the 16th century) a central railway terminus was designed on a vast scale. These improvements connote the obliteration of the insanitary and overcrowded courts and alleys which were to be found between all the main streets, few in number, connecting the upper and the lower towns. The ridge on the west and north-west of the Senne valley never formed part of the town, and it was from it that Villeroi bombarded the city. The suburbs on this ridge, from south to north, are Anderlecht, Molenbeek and Koekelberg, and Laeken with its royal château and park forms the northern part of the Brussels conglomeration. Brussels has been growing at such a rapid rate that the inclusion of this ridge, and more particularly at Koekelberg, within the town limits, was contemplated in 1908.

The completion of the harbour works, making Brussels a seaport by giving sea-going vessels access thereto, was taken in hand in 1897. The completed work provides for a waterway for steamers drawing 24 ft. by the Willibroek Canal into the Ruppel and the Scheldt. There are steamers plying direct from Brussels to London, and 372 vessels of a total tonnage of 76,000 entered and left the port in 1905. The Willibroek Canal was made in the 16th century, and William I. of the Netherlands is entitled to the credit of having first thought of converting it into a ship canal from Brussels to the Scheldt. Nothing was done, however, in his time to carry out the scheme. The distance from Brussels to the Ruppel is only 20 m., and thus Brussels is only about 33 m. farther from the sea than Antwerp.

In addition to the advantages it enjoys from being the seat of the court and the government, Brussels is the centre of many prosperous industries. The manufactures of lace, carpets and curtains, furniture and carriages may be particularly mentioned, but it is chiefly as a place of residence for the well-to-do that the city has increased in size and population. Schools of all kinds are abundant. At the École Militaire youths are trained nominally for the army, but many go there who intend to enter one of the professions or the public service. This school used to occupy part of the old abbey of the Cambre, situated in a hollow near the bois and the avenue Louise, but owing to its insanitary position it has been removed to a new building near the Cinquantenaire. There is a university, to which admission is easy and where the fees are moderate, and the Conservatoire provides as good musical teaching as can be found in Europe. Music can be enjoyed every day in the year either out of doors or under cover. During the winter and spring the opera continues without a break at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, which may be called the national theatre. Concerts are held frequently, as the Belgians are a musical people. Of late years sport has taken a prominent part in Belgian life. There are athletic institutions, and football is quite a popular game. Horse-racing has also come into vogue, and Boitsfort, in the bois, and Groenendael, farther off in the Forêt de Soignies, are fashionable places of reunion for society.

The town of Brussels has a separate administration, which is directed by a burgomaster and sheriffs at the head of a town council, whose headquarters are in the hôtel de ville. In the Brussels agglomeration are nine suburbs or communes, each self-governing with burgomaster and sheriffs located in a Maison Communale. These suburbs (beginning on the north and following the circumference eastward) are Schaerbeek, St Josse-ten-Noode, Etterbeek, Ixelles, St Gilles, Cureghem, Anderlecht, Molenbeek and Koekelberg. Laeken, which is really a tenth suburb, is classified as a town. In 1856 the population of Brussels alone was 152,828, and by 1880 it had only increased to 162,498. In 1890 the figures were 176,138; in 1900, 183,686; and in December 1904, 194,196. The great increase has been in the suburbs, amounting to nearly 80% in twenty-five years. In 1880 the population of the ten suburbs including Laeken was 248,079. In 1904 the total was 436,453, thus giving for the whole of Brussels a grand total of 630,649.

History.—The name Brussel seems to have been derived from Broeksele, the village on the marsh or brook, and probably it was the most used point for crossing the Senne on the main Roman and Frank road between Tournai and Cologne. The Senne, a small tributary of the Scheldt, flows through the lower town, but since 1868 it has been covered in, and some of the finest boulevards in the lower town have been constructed over the course of the little river. The name Broeksele is mentioned by the chroniclers in the 8th century, and in the 10th the church of Ste Gudule is said to have been endowed by the emperor Otto I. In the next two centuries Brussels grew in size and importance, and its trade gilds were formed on lines similar to those of Ghent. In 1312 Duke John II. of Brabant granted the citizens their charter, distinguished from others as that of Cortenberg. In 1356 Duke Wenceslas confirmed this charter and also the Golden Bull of the emperor Charles IV. of 1349 by his famous “Joyous Entry” into Louvain, the capital of the duchy. These three deeds or enactments constituted the early constitution of the South Netherlands, which, with one important modification in the time of Charles V., remained intact till the Brabant revolution in the reign of Joseph II. In 1357 Wenceslas ordered a new wall embracing a greater area than the earlier one to be constructed round Brussels, and this was practically intact until after the Belgian revolution in 1830–1831. It took twelve, or, according to others, twenty-two years to build. In 1383 the dukes of Brabant transferred their capital from Louvain to Brussels, although for some time they did not trust themselves out of the strong castle which they had erected at Vilvorde, half-way between the two turbulent cities. During this period the population of Brussels is supposed to have been 50,000, or one-fifth of that of Ghent. In 1420 the gilds of Brussels obtained a further charter recognizing their status as the Nine Nations, a division still existing. Having fixed their seat of government at Brussels the dukes of Brabant proceeded to build a castle and place of residence on the Caudenberg hill, which is practically the site of the Place Royale and the king’s palace to-day. This ducal residence, enlarged and embellished by its subsequent occupants, became eventually the famous palace of the Netherlands which witnessed the abdication of Charles V. in 1555, and was destroyed by fire in 1731. In 1430 died Philip, last duke of Brabant as a separate ruler, and the duchy was merged in the possessions of the duke of Burgundy.

In the 17th century Brussels was described (Comte de Ségur, quoting the memoirs of M. de la Serre) as “one of the finest, largest and best-situated cities not only of Brabant but of the whole of Europe. The old quarters which preserve in our time an aspect so singularly picturesque with their sloping and tortuous streets, the fine hotels of darkened stone sculptured in the Spanish fashion, and the magnificence of the Place of the hôtel de ville were buried behind an enceinte of walls pierced by eight lofty gates flanked with one hundred and twenty-seven round towers at almost equal distance from each other like the balls of a crown. At a distance of less than a mile was the forest of Soignies with great numbers of stags, red and roe deer, that were hunted on horseback even under the ramparts of the town. On the promenade of the court there circulated in a long file ceaselessly during fashionable hours five or six hundred carriages, the servants in showy liveries. In the numerous churches the music was renowned, the archduke Leopold being passionately given to the art, maintaining at his own cost forty or fifty musicians, the best of Italy and Germany. Under the windows of the palace stretched the same park that we admire to-day, open all the year to privileged persons and twice a year to the public, a park filled with trees of rare essences and the most delicious flowers so artistically disposed, and so refreshing to the eyes, that M. de la Serre declared that if he had seen there an apple tree he would assuredly have taken it for an earthly Paradise.”  (D. C. B.)