For other places with the same name, see Brussels (disambiguation).
City of Brussels
Brussels skyline seen from the Kunstberg or Mont des Arts
Brussels skyline seen from the Kunstberg or Mont des Arts
Official flag of City of Brussels
Official seal of City of Brussels
Flag Seal
Nickname: "The Capital Of Europe, Comic City

City of a 100 Museums[citation needed]"

Map showing the location of Brussels in Belgium
Map showing the location of Brussels in Belgium
Coordinates: 50°50′37″N, 4°21′27″E
Country Belgium
Region Brussels-Capital Region
Founded 979
Founded (Region) June 18, 1989
Mayor (Municipality) Freddy Thielemans
 - City 162 (Region) km²  (62.5 sq mi)
Elevation 13 m  (43 ft)
 - City (2005) 140,000 (Municipality)
 - Density 200/km² (656/sq mi)
 - Metro 1,975,000
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 - Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Brussels City Hall
Brussels City Hall

Brussels (French: Bruxelles, pronounced [bʁysɛl], and sometimes [bʁyksɛl] by non-Belgian speakers of French; Dutch: Brussel, pronounced [ˈbrɵsəɫ]; German: Brüssel, pronounced [brʏsəl]) is the capital of Belgium, of the French Community of Belgium, of the Flemish Community, and is the headquarters of the European Union's institutions (and thus often considered 'The Capital of Europe').

Brussels is the capital city, in the centre of Belgium, and also the largest municipality of the Brussels-Capital Region. This municipality inside Brussels is correctly named The City of Brussels (French: Bruxelles-Ville or Ville de Bruxelles, Dutch: Stad Brussel), which is one of 19 municipalities that make up the Brussels-Capital Region (see also: Municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region), with a total population of 1,018,804 inhabitants (1 January 2006). The municipality has a population of about 140,000. The Metropolitan area has about 2,090,000 inhabitants. [1]

Brussels is also the political seat of NATO, the Western European Union (WEU) and EUROCONTROL, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (see: Political center, below).



Political centre

The Brussels-Capital Region is one of the three federated regions of Belgium, alongside Wallonia and the Flemish Region. Geographically and linguistically, it is a (bilingual) enclave in the (unilingual) Flemish Region. Regions are one component of Belgium's complex institutions, the three communities being the other component: the Brussels inhabitants must deal with either the French (speaking) community or the Flemish Community for matters such as culture and education.

Brussels is also the capital of both the French Community of Belgium (Communauté française Wallonie-Bruxelles in French) and of Flanders (Vlaanderen); all Flemish capital institutions are established here: Flemish Parliament, Flemish government and its administration.

Two of the main institutions of the European Union - the European Commission and the Council of the European Union - have their headquarters in Brussels: the Commission in the Berlaymont building, and the Council in the Justus Lipsius building facing it. The third institution, the European Parliament, also has a parliamentary chamber in Brussels in which its committees meet and some of its plenary sessions are held (the other plenary sessions are held in Strasbourg, and its administrative headquarters are in Luxembourg).

Brussels is also the political seat of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the Western European Union (WEU) and EUROCONTROL, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation. Due to this, some countries have three ambassadors present in Brussels: the normal bi-lateral ambassador, the EU-ambassador, and finally the NATO-ambassador.

The "language border" divides Belgium into a northern, Dutch-speaking region, and a southern, French-speaking region. Although the real language border and the official one are largely identical, there are bilingual pockets on both sides with, in certain cases, no specific linguistic rights for the population speaking the other language. The Brussels-Capital Region is officially bilingual, while the majority of its residents speak French (see the linguistic history of Brussels in this article: linguistic situation section).

The highest building in Brussels is the South Tower (150 m); the most famous probably the Atomium, which is a remnant from the 1958 World Exposition.



The name Brussels comes from the old Dutch Bruocsella, Brucsella or Broekzele, which means "marsh (bruoc, bruc or broek) home (sella or zele)" or "home consisting of one room, in the marsh". "Broekzele" was spelt "Bruxelles" in French. In Belgian French pronunciation as well as in Dutch, the "k" eventually disappeared and "z" became "s", as reflected in the current Dutch spelling (French: /bʀy.ˈsel/; Dutch: /ˈbry.s(ɘ)l/ or /ˈbrɘ.s(ɘ)l/). The names of all other municipalities in the Brussels-Capital Region are also of Dutch origin, except for Evere, which is of Celtic origin.



Saint Michael and Gudula's Cathedral
Saint Michael and Gudula's Cathedral

In 977 AD, the Holy Roman emperor Otto II gave the duchy of Lower Lotharingia on the empire's western frontier to Charles, the banished son of King Louis IV of France. Mention was already made of Brussels at the time: Bishop Saint-Gery of Cambrai-Arras settled a chapel on a small island (695). A century later Saint Vindicianus, also a monk of Cambrai-Arras, lived on that island. However, the founding of Brussels is usually said to be when a small castle was built by Charles around 979 on Saint-Géry island in the Zenne or Senne river. The donation by Emperor Otto II the Great is recorded. Duke Charles had a shrine built for the relics of Saint Gudula in the Saint Gery chapel.

In 1041 the county of Brussels was taken over by Lambert I of Leuven, one of the Counts of Leuven who ruled the surrounding county, later the Duchy of Brabant. Under Lambert II of Leuven, a new castrum and the first city walls were built. In the 12th century the small town became an important stop on the trade route from Brugge and Ghent to Cologne. The village benefited from this favourable position and, as it grew to a population of around 30,000, the surrounding marshes were drained to allow for further expansion. The Counts of Leuven became Dukes of Brabant at about this time (1183/1184).

From 1357 to 1379, a new city wall was constructed as the former one was already proving to be too small: the inner ring or 'pentagon' now follows its course.

In the 15th century, by means of the wedding of heiress Margaret III of Flanders with Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, a new Duke of Brabant emerged from the House of Valois (namely Antoine, their son), with another line of descent from the Habsburgs (Maximilian of Austria, later Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, married Mary of Burgundy, who was born in Brussels).

Brabant had lost its independence, but Brussels became the Princely Capital of the prosperous Low Countries, and flourished.

Charles V, heir of the Low Countries since 1506, though (as he was only 6 years old) governed by his aunt Margaret of Austria until 1515, was declared King of the unified Spain, in 1516, in the Cathedral of Saint Gudule in Brussels. Upon the death of his grandfather, Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1519, Charles became also the new archduke of the Austrian Empire and thus the Holy Roman Emperor of the Empire "in which the sun does not set". It was in the Palace complex at the Brussels' Coudenberg, that Charles V abdicated in 1555. This impressive palace, famous all over Europe, had expanded a lot since it was first the seat of the dukes of Brabant, but was sadly destroyed in 1731 in a huge fire (all that now remains is an archaeological site).

In 1695 Brussels was attacked by general Villeroy of King Louis XIV of France. A bombardment destroyed the city's heart: more than 4,000 houses were set on fire, including the medieval buildings on the Grote Markt or Grand Place.

In 1830, the Belgian revolution took place in Brussels after a performance of Auber's opera La Muette de Portici at De Munt or La Monnaie theatre. On July 21, 1831, Leopold I, the first King of the Belgians, ascended the throne, undertaking the destruction of the city walls and the construction of many buildings. Under Léopold II, the city underwent many more changes: the Zenne was culverted (as it brought diseases), the North-South Junction was built, and the Tervuren Avenue was laid out.

From May 10, 1940, Brussels was bombed by the German army; however, most of the war damage to the city was done in 1944-1945. The Heysel Stadium disaster took place in Brussels on May 29, 1985. The Brussels Capital Region was founded on June 18, 1989.

Brussels is famous for celebrating its history, as well as history in general. This is most evident in the fact that Brussels has well over 100 museums.


Brussels as capital of Belgium

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Although some misbelieve that the capital of Belgium is Brussels at large, article 194 of the Belgian Constitution lays down that the capital of Belgium is the City of Brussels municipality. Arguments that article 194's use of lower case for "ville de Bruxelles" and "stad Brussel" makes a subtle difference and means that Brussels at large is the capital cannot be legally defended. However, although the City of Brussels is the official capital, the funds allowed by the federation and region for the representative role of the capital are divided among the 19 municipalities, and some national institutions are sited in the other 18 municipalities. Thus, while de jure only the City of Brussels is entitled to the title of capital city of Belgium, de facto the entire Region plays this role.


Places of interest

Old houses on Brussels' Grand' Place or Grote Markt
Old houses on Brussels' Grand' Place or Grote Markt
The royal palace in Brussels
The royal palace in Brussels
The most famous statue: Manneken Pis
The most famous statue: Manneken Pis


Brussels’ identity owes much to its rich folklore and traditions, among the liveliest in the country:


Linguistic situation

Brussels Capital Region is officially bilingual French-Dutch, although French, mother tongue of the majority of the population, is the lingua franca and is most widely used. Every public institution in Brussels, however, has to be bilingual.

For most centuries of its history, Dutch, (Brabantian variant), or more precisely the linguistic predecessor of it, was the common vernacular. French was only used by upper classes (less than 5% of the population). Research in the city's archives indicates that Dutch was by far the most widely used of the two as a vernacular and in its local administration, until the French occupation in 1793, even though French had been the language of the governors since the Burgundian era (probably some governors also spoke Dutch). [3]

During the 19th and the 20th century, Belgium was completely dominated by the French-speaking bourgeoisie. Although the majority (about 60%) of the Belgian population spoke Dutch, it was French that became the official language. Civil administration, justice, education and even socio-economic business were for a long time conducted in French, even in the Dutch-speaking areas of the country. Brussels, naturally, attracted far more French-speaking immigrants than any other part of the country since it was there that the apparatus of the central government of the French-only speaking state was installed. In the capital Brussels, it was even more obvious that French rather than Dutch was the language of chances and prestige and more useful, as higher education and the better jobs all required French. Moreover, the Belgian state (founded in 1830) recognised Dutch, the language of the majority of its population, as an official language only in 1878.

Since Brussels is completely surrounded by Flemish territory, the number of Dutch speakers is quite large during working hours and in cultural consumption time. In a survey conducted by the Université Catholique de Louvain in Louvain-La-Neuve and published in June 2006, 51% of respondents from Brussels claimed to be bilingual.[2] [3]

It should be noted that due to the growth of the city of Brussels, the periphery, which is institutionally part of Dutch-speaking Flanders, attracts an important French-speaking population. In some of the municipalities immediately bordering the Brussels Capital Region, the majority of the population has become French-speaking, in a few cases numbering over 70%.

The often minimal knowledge of Dutch of the vast majority of French speakers living in the Flemish suburbs (and the perceived feeling by some Flemish that they do not want to integrate), because they feel more part of the neighboring (overwhelming French-speaking) Brussels Region than of Flanders, although the periphery belongs to the Flemish Region (not Brussels), along with the increasingly nationalistic agenda of some Flemish politicians, have led to friction between the two communities in Vlaams Brabant (Flemish Brabant, which is the area surrounding Brussels).

One way of quickly identifying whether you are in Brussels or in Flanders is by looking at the colors on the pillars of the traffic lights: they are red and white in Brussels, and yellow and black in Flanders.

A curiosity is the "Marollien" dialect, which used to be spoken mostly in a central section of the city. Today, the Brussels dialects are on the verge of extinction, although some try to revive them (see links).

A further curiosity is the occasional imprecision of linguistic pairing. Whilst some ancient streets have only their original Flemish name (e.g. Coudenberg), others were originally named in French and have had their later Flemish names revised. For instance till approximately 2004 the Rue du Beau Site in Ixelles/Elsene bore two bilingual nameplates, the older giving, as the Flemish version, the hastily translated Schoon Zicht Straat and the more recent the more idiomatic Welgelegenstraat.


Universities and colleges

Brussels has several universities, the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), the Facultés Universitaires Saint Louis (FUSL), the Katholieke Universiteit Brussel (KUB) and the Royal Military Academy (RMA). A satellite campus of the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) is also located in Brussels: it is called "Louvain-en-Woluwe" or "UCL-Brussels", and hosts the faculty of Medicine of the university.

The Koninklijk Conservatorium is a drama school in the city attended by many of the top actors and actresses to come out of Belgium.



Brussels metro (actually here premetro), de Brouckère station
Brussels metro (actually here premetro), de Brouckère station
Platforms at Brussels North station
Platforms at Brussels North station


Brussels is served by Brussels Airport, located in the nearby Flemish municipality of Zaventem, and by Brussels South Airport, located near Charleroi (Wallonia), some 50km from Brussels. Brussels' major train stations link the city to the United Kingdom by Eurostar, and to other major European cities by high speed rail links (such as the Thalys).


Public transport

The Brussels metro dates back to 1976 (but underground lines known as premetro have been serviced by tramways since 1968). A comprehensive bus and tram network also covers the city. Brussels also has its own port on the Willebroek canal located in the northwest of the city.

There are four companies managing public transport inside Brussels:

An interticketing system means that a STIB/MIVB ticket holder can use the train or long-distance buses inside the city. The commuter services operated by De Lijn, TEC and SNCB/NMBS will in the next few years be augmented by a [metropolian [RER]] rail network around Brussels.

Since 2003 Brussels has had a car-sharing service operated by the Bremen company Cambio in partnership with STIB/MIVB and local ridesharing company taxistop. In 2006 shared bicycles were also introduced.


Railway stations

The major stations in Brussels are on the North-South Junction:

Two more stations serve the EU district in Brussels. Trains towards Namur and Luxembourg call at:

The last two stations located in the centre of Brussels (they also are on the North-South Junction and operate only in rush hours) are:

Other railway stations in other Brussels municipalities include:


Road network

In mediaeval times Brussels stood at the intersection of routes running north-south (the modern Hoogstraat/Rue Haute) and east-west (Gentsesteenweg/Chaussée de Gand-Grasmarkt/Rue du Marché aux Herbes-Naamsestraat/Rue de Namur). The ancient pattern of streets radiating from the Grote Markt/Grand'Place in large part remains, but has been overlaid by boulevards built over the River Zenne/Senne, the city walls and the railway junction between the North and South Stations.

As one expects of a capital city, Brussels is the hub of the fan of old national roads, the principal ones being clockwise the N1 (N to Breda), N2 (E to Maastricht), N3 (E to Aachen), N4 (SE to Luxembourg) N5 (S to Rheims), N6 (SW to Maubeuge), N8 (W to Koksijde) and N9 (NW to Ostend) [4]. Usually named steenwegen/chaussées, these highways normally run straight as a die, but on occasion lose themselves in a labyrinth of narrow shopping streets.

As for motorways, the town is skirted by the European route E19 (N-S) and the E40 (E-W), while the E411 leads away to the SE. Brussels has an orbital motorway, numbered R0 (R-zero) and commonly referred to as the "ring" (French: ring Dutch: grote ring). It is pear-shaped as the southern side was never built as originally conceived, owing to residents' objections.

The city centre, sometimes known as "the pentagon", is surrounded by the "small ring" (Dutch: kleine ring, French: petite ceinture), a sequence of boulevards formally numbered R20. These were built upon the site of the second set of city walls following their demolition. Metro line 2 runs under much of these.

On the eastern side of the city, the R21 (French: grande ceinture, no particular name in Dutch) is formed by a string of boulevards that curves round from Laken (Laeken) to Ukkel (Uccle). Some premetro stations (see Brussels metro) were built on that route. A little further out, a stretch numbered R22 leads from Zaventem to Sint-Job.


Conferences and world fairs

Photograph of the fifth conference in 1927.
Photograph of the fifth conference in 1927.

Brussels hosted the famous fifth Solvay Conference in 1927, where physicists like Albert Einstein, Planck, Curie, Lorentz, Dirac, De Broglie, Borh, Schrödinger, Pauli and Heisenberg discussed about the path of the modern physics, specifically the new Quantum Theory. Einstein, disenchanted with Heisenberg's "Uncertainty Principle", remarked "God does not play dice". Bohr replied, "Einstein, stop telling God what to do." (See Bohr-Einstein debates). Seventeen of the twenty-nine attendees were or became Nobel Prize laureates.

Brussels hosted the third Congrès international d'architecture moderne (Dutch:Internationaal Congres voor Moderne Architectuur) in 1930.

Two world fairs took place in Brussels, the Exposition universelle et internationale (1935) and the World Expo '58 in 1958. The Atomium, a 103 metre representation of an iron crystal was built for the Expo '58, and is still there, now renovated.


See also


Notable parks

The Floral Carpet on the Grand Place in 2004
The Floral Carpet on the Grand Place in 2004
The Egmontpaleis or Palais d'Egmont, seat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a site for European diplomacy
The Egmontpaleis or Palais d'Egmont, seat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a site for European diplomacy

Notable people from Brussels

See also: Notable people from Brussels


Sports clubs






Twin cities



  1. Earth Info, webpage: [1].
  2. * Report of study by Université Catholique de Louvain (in French)]
  3. *Article at summarising report (in Dutch)
  4. Belgian N roads

External links

Flag of the Brussels Capital Region
Municipalities in the Brussels-Capital Region of Belgium
Flag of Belgium
Anderlecht | Auderghem / Oudergem | Berchem-Sainte-Agathe / Sint-Agatha-Berchem | Bruxelles-Ville / Stad Brussel | Ixelles / Elsene | Etterbeek | Evere | Forest / Vorst | Ganshoren | Jette | Koekelberg | Molenbeek-Saint-Jean / Sint-Jans-Molenbeek | Saint-Gilles / Sint-Gillis | Saint-Josse-ten-Node / Sint-Joost-ten-Noode | Schaerbeek / Schaarbeek | Woluwe-Saint-Lambert / Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe | Woluwe-Saint-Pierre / Sint-Pieters-Woluwe | Uccle / Ukkel | Watermael-Boitsfort / Watermaal-Bosvoorde
Minister-President of the Brussels-Capital Region | Brussels Parliament | Governor of Brussels-Capital
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