Brussel’s spectacular rectangular market square- ‘La Grand Square’ boasts an exemplary blend of architectural & the artistic trends of Western culture which were prevalent during the medieval period. The central square which is also called as ‘Grote Market’ in Dutch, is surrounded by magnificent guildhalls & other public & private buildings. The square is renowned around the world for its spectacular aesthetic wealth that vividly demonstrates the affluence & prowess of this important political & commercial hub in Europe.
The Grand Place stands as the symbol of resurrection of Brussels, which survived through a devastating invasion by the legions of Louis XIV in 1695. Flattened within three days, Brussels underwent a massive restoration to fix the sabotage in order to restore the old glory of the city. Today, the ‘Grand Place’ stands as the witness of the undying spirit of the Brussels’ Denizen & their love for the city. This majestic square is a true architectural jewel & is often regarded as the pride of Brussels.
The ‘Grand Place’ was honored by UNESCO in 1998 by inscribing it in the list of ‘World Heritage sites’. The square has now become the most important tourist destination in the city.
HISTORY IN BRIEF:
The earliest written reference of the square dates back to the 12th century, although the 14th century marked the rise of the ‘Grand Place’. In its early days, the ‘Grand Place’ was roughly laid out & was surrounded by indoor markets & the buildings bearing irregular additions.
The Brussels City Hall, which became the headquarters of the municipal powers, was built in stages between 1401 & 1455 on the south side of the square. The Ducal of Brabant built a massive building right across the city hall to demonstrate the power of Ducal in order to challenge the municipal prowess. The building became known as the Maison du Roi (King’s House), although no king has ever stayed here. The remaining area around the square was, later on, occupied by the houses of wealthy merchants & powerful guilds of Brussels.
Brussels was attacked by the French army led by Marshal Francois de Neufville on 13th August 1695. Massive bombardment by the French artillery demolished the majority of the buildings around the ‘Grand Place’ & a vast area of the city, leaving behind only the deserted remnants of the buildings. However, the ‘City Hall’ surprisingly survived the assault, even though it was the chief target of the invaders.
The ‘Grand Place’ & the city went through a massive revamp in the following four years. City’s guilds took the responsibility of the reconstructions under the supervision of the City council & a harmonious layout was designed that carried a graceful blending of Gothic & Baroque styled architecture. The guilds did a stupendous job by adorning all the buildings with gilded statues. The old glory of this thriving city was thus restored to its original form.
The buildings around the ‘Grand Place’ once again went through the restoration regime undertaken by mayor Charles Buls in the 19th century, during which, the facades were painted & some of the parts were reconstructed without disturbing the classical architecture.
The buildings surrounding the ‘Grand Place’ boast remarkable blend of the architectural & artistic styles which were emblematic to the culture & society of this prosperous city. The present day appearance of the ‘Grand Place’ is the result of successive restorations & developments. The massive buildings flanking the square were built in different periods & retain most of their exterior even today, however, their interiors have gone through multitudes of makeovers & now feature strikingly different look than the original appearances!
Brussels City Hall: The Gothic styled ‘City Hall’ is located on the southern side of the square. The central tower that stands 96 meters (315 ft) high is the premium attraction of this hall. The tower is crowned by a 4 meter (12 ft) tall monument depicting ‘Saint Michael’ slaying a devil. A part of ‘City Hall’ is now being used as the ‘Hotel de Ville’.
Maison du Roi: Another grand attraction of the square- ‘Maison du Roi’ (King’s House) is located right opposite to the ‘City Hall’. The building is now serving as the ‘Museum of the city of Brussels’. ‘Maison du Roi’ was constructed in 16th century & was refurbished in 1873. This three-storey brick building features an arcaded facade, gabled roof & a central tower capped with a lantern.
Guildhalls: Highly ornate ‘Guildhalls’ demonstrate the brilliance of the merchant guild architects. The ‘Guildhalls’ are adorned with the gilded statues, grand colonnades & delicate gilded artwork. The base floor of the ‘Guildhalls’ is now occupied by shops, restaurants & cafes.
Apart from this, the cobbled lanes that originate from the square are no less than a paradise for the Shopaholics as myriad close-packed shops flank the lanes. The 1847 ‘Galeries St. Hubert’, which is located in the northeast of the ‘Grand Place’, is a must-visit place since it was Europe’s first shopping complex.
This exuberant historic square is a genuine treat for the eyes & no trip to Belgium is complete without visiting this spectacular place in Brussels!