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Brussels Town Hall is an intricate Gothic marvel that forms the focal point of Brussels' iconic Grand Place and is easily one of the city's most lavish civic buildings. The Town Hall was chiefly designed by two architects: the left wing by Jacques van Thienen in 1402, and the right wing by Jean van Ruysbroeck in 1445-1450. The two rear wings were added much later in 1712 but were designed in harmony with the architectural style of the original, L-shaped building. The exterior walls of the Town Hall feature numerous statues that depict saints, nobles, and other figures, each a vivid image of the people they represent. Uniting these efforts is the striking and exquisite Gothic tower at the center topped by a statue of St. Michael, the patron saint of Brussels. Inside, the elegant rooms are decorated with tapestries and paintings from the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries. Brussels Town Hall is an arresting sight, especially when lit up at night.
Belgium's iconic Grand Place stands as a testament to the city's glorious cultural and economic legacy. Recognized as one of the most splendid market squares in Europe, its arcade is completely enclosed by tall, gabled Flemish Renaissance buildings decorated with intricate ornamentation and carved statues. Of the buildings that surround the square, the Town Hall with its Brabantine Gothic tower and the Neo-Gothic Brussels City Museum are especially remarkable. Impressive as it is by day, the square is even more stunning at night under the golden glow of street lights. During spring and summer evenings there is a light show that brings to life the city's musical and cultural heritage.
The Church of Our Blessed Lady of Sablon adorns the historic heart of Brussels with its striking late Gothic architecture, featuring a Brabantine Gothic facade and interior Baroque chapels. Built as a remarkable cross-shaped structure with a 26-meter (85.30 feet) high ceiling, the church also features lovely stained glass paintings that were completed in the 19th Century. The construction of the church commenced in 1304, a year after the Noble Serment of Crossbowmen were recognized as a guild and granted a small plot in Sablon. The church grew to the miraculous entity it is today when one Beatrijs Soetkens brought the idol of Virgin Mary from Antwerp and placed it in the church. Since then, the church is associated with the religious procession of Ommegang, where the statue of Mary is carried through the streets of Brussels once a year.
The Royal Palace of Laeken is the official residence of the Belgian royal family. although it is technically not the official Royal Palace of Brussels. This massive palace was built between 1782-1784 for the Hapsburgs of Austria. Once Belgium gained its independence, the palace became the residence of King Leopold I, and has remained as the residence since then. The palace is situated on the grounds of the large private Royal Domain of Laeken park. The palace itself is not open to the public, although it is still quite impressive to behold. Every spring the palace greenhouses are opened for three weeks, during which visitors can tour the grounds and marvel at the magnificent architecture.
Egmont Palace was constructed in the 16th-century and completely renovated in the 18th-century by the wealthy Arenberg family. The Belgian government welcomes the international heads of government here and organizes high-level international meetings. For most of us, this building is well-known for its beautiful architecture. The Palace is not accessible to the public, only the gardens and the neighboring Egmont Parc can be visited.
Built at the behest of Leopold I and designed by the noted architect, Joseph Poelaert, the Palace of Justice is reputed to be one of the largest buildings constructed in the 19th Century. An ambitious project of monumental proportions, the Palace of Justice was completed in 1883, 17 years after construction first began. The architectural style is eclectic, blending neo-baroque elements with classical and ancient styles. Eight courtyards ensure ample supply of fresh air and natural light, while its fluted columns, high ceilings and grand stairways highlight the awe-inspiring proportions of its design. The Palace of Justice continues to serve as the city's main judicial center and is also known as the Law Courts of Brussels.
With its stately facade, opulent interiors and lush, formal gardens, the Royal Palace is a fitting abode for the offices of the King and Queen of Belgium. The individual rooms are lavishly adorned with crystal chandeliers, gilded details, antique furniture, exquisite artwork, and detailed carvings. Of special note is the artwork that adorns the ceiling of the Mirror Room, composed of over a million beetle carapaces inlaid to form intricate designs. Each Summer, the palace is opened to the public; a time-honored tradition that grants access to this symbol of Belgium's thriving monarchy.
The Column of Congress was designed in 1850 by architect Joseph Poelaert, who later also built the Palais de Justice. The column is 47 meters (154 feet) high, and on top there is a 25 meter (82 feet) high statue of Léopold I, the country's first king. This column was erected in commemoration of the National Congress who established the Belgian constitution in 1831. At the foot of the column is the eternal flame, in remembrance of the victims of the two World Wars. In the column itself is the grave of the Unknown Soldier. Every November 11th (Remembrance Day) there is a ceremony here in the presence of the Royal Family.
Built in the 12 Century, Groot-Bijgaarden Castle has a beautiful Flemish Renaissance style with pink bricks and a slate roof. Cross the impressive moat on a five-arch bridge and admire the castle's heavy fortification. As you explore this historic site, take a moment to explore the 30 meter (98 feet) high tower that was built around 1347 and was the caste's dungeon, complete with 2 meter (6.5) thick walls.
The Villers Abbey was founded in the 12th Century for the Cistercian Order and although the abbey is now in ruins you can still discover how the monks lived by going on a walk or tour through the ruins. After you have explored Villers Abbey make sure you visit the gardens. The grounds are based upon how gardens were normally set up for a abbey in the Middle Ages where it was used for medical herbs as well as to create a tranquil space. Take a scenic stroll around the well-designed Square Garden then cross the trellised walkway to the more natural Wild Garden. The Villers Abbey also hosts events, such as plays, exhibitions, and concerts.
This imposing cathedral is the location for Belgium's royal weddings and funerals. It started its construction in the 13th-century and it was completed two centuries later. Various chapels were added during the 16th and 17th-centuries. A striking figure of precision and symmetry, the cathedral serves as a monumental example of Brabant-Gothic architecture. Outside, two awe-inspiring towers attract attention, while inside it is hard not to admire the intricate stained-glass windows. The remnants of the 10th-century Romanesque church, on top of which the cathedral was built evoke considerable awe as well. Concerts featuring religious or classical music are also regularly held here.
The Halle Gate is the last remaining piece of the old wall that encircled the city until the 19th century, when the wall was taken down to make way for a much-needed road. The remnant of the ancient wall, which was built in the 14th century, now houses a museum of the city's history and traditions.