Brussels (brŭ´səlz), Fr. Bruxelles, Du. Brussel, city and region (1995 pop. 948,122), 63 sq mi (162 sq km), capital of Belgium, central Belgium, on the Senne River and at the junction of the Charleroi-Brussels and Willebroek canals. The city lies within, but is not part of, Flemish Brabant. It is officially bilingual (French and Dutch), although French is more widely spoken. Brussels is an important administrative, financial, cultural, commercial, and industrial center and a major rail junction. Much of the administration of the European Union takes place in Brussels, and it is the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Among its varied manufactures are pharmaceuticals, electronics equipment, machine tools, paper, processed food, and lace.
Points of Interest
The historical nucleus of the city, the medieval and Renaissance Grand' Place, a large square, is the site of the Gothic city hall (15th cent.); the Renaissance-style Maison du Roi or Broodhuis (13th cent.), meeting place of the old States-General of the Netherlands; and a number of rebuilt Gothic guildhalls. Near the Grand' Place is the famous fountain of a small boy urinating, Mannekin-Pis (1619). Other noteworthy buildings include the Collegiate Church of St. Michael and St. Gudule (founded in the 11th cent. and rebuilt in the 13th–15th cent.), which contains many noted Flemish paintings; the Palais de la Nation (parliament building); the Palais de Justice; and the Palais du Roi (royal palace). Brussels is the seat of a university (founded 1834), which in 1970 was divided into two separate institutions, one French-speaking and the other Dutch. There are also excellent art museums and a botanical garden. The rest of Brussels is mostly modern, with contemporary office buildings and broad boulevards that circle the city along its former ramparts.
The city was inhabited by the Romans and later (7th cent. AD) by the Franks; an oratory was founded there (c.600) by the bishop of Cambrai on an island in the Senne. The city was fortified (c.1100) and became (late 12th cent.) a commercial center on the trade route from Bruges and Ghent to the Rhineland. It developed into a center of the wool industry in the 13th cent.
In the 15th cent. the arts flourished and many stately mansions (some still standing) were built. Brussels became (1430) the seat of the dukes of Burgundy and later (1477) of the governors of the Spanish (after 1714, Austrian) Netherlands and was renowned for the luxury and gaiety of its life. In 1561 the Willebroek Canal, connecting Brussels with the Scheldt River, was completed. In the late 16th cent. the city was the center of the duque de Alba's reign of terror.
The city suffered heavily in the wars fought in the Low Countries in the 16th to 18th cent. Brussels changed hands several times in the French Revolutionary Wars; later, during the Waterloo campaign (1815), it was Wellington's headquarters. From 1815 to 1830 it was, with The Hague, the alternate meeting place of the Netherlands parliament. In 1830 it became the capital of independent Belgium. Brussels was occupied by the Germans in World Wars I and II. In 1958 it was the site of a World's Fair. Following constitutional reforms in 1989 and 1993, Brussels became a separate region within a federalized Belgium.