Grand Place

Grand Place (3)

The Grand Place of Brussels is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best place to start your trip around the Belgian capital, as it is the historical and commercial heart of the city. The site was initially a medieval market until, in 1444, the first stone of the Town Hall, or Hôtel de Ville, was laid here. From that time onwards, it became the centre of the city, which it still is today. In fact, the different merchants’ guilds decided to build their headquarters around this square and did so, moreover, in a very competitive way: all the facades are therefore ostentatiously decorated and predominated by gold, sculptures and fantasy.

However, in 1695, the square was heavily bombarded by the French army and destroyed, thus making it a famous victim of the dynastic conflicts between France and Spain. Although only the Town Hall building and the occasional house escaped the cannon fire, fortunately the different guilds grouped together quickly and began to reconstruct the site.

This is how the harmonious group of buildings, which today you can see in this indispensable cobbled square, came to be constructed. We suggest you visit in the morning as a small, colourful flower market is held here from Monday to Saturday. On Sunday, however, the stallholders take a short rest and in their place you can see a poultry market. Bear in mind, also, that on some days in August in even-numbered years, the cobbles disappear to give way to a beautiful 1,860-m² carpet of begonias, which is known as the Tapis des Fleurs.  

At this time of year, moreover, the terrace bars of different cafés and restaurants also invade the square and make it an ideal place to sit down and have a drink. It is a fact that most people in Brussels have a favourite café from among those that surround the Grand Place. One of the most popular is the impressive Roi d’Espagne. This small architectural jewel was originally built by the guild of bakers, and is remarkable for its octagonal copper dome, which is crowned by a dancer. Above the door on its facade, moreover, you will find a bust that represents Saint Aubert, the patron saint of bakers, and, on the third floor, you will see a sculpture of Charles II of Spain, flanked by both an Arab and an Indian prisoner. 

You can also enjoy a beer at The Golden Sloop or “La Chaloupe d’Or”, the former headquarters of the tailors’ guild and now a welcoming tavern. Make your way, also, to the highly-appraised restaurant called La Maison du Cygne, located in what used to be the building of the butchers’ guild and also the site where Marx and Engels wrote their famous “Communist Manifesto” in 1848. Next to this building you will also find La Maison des Brasseurs, which currently houses the Brewers’ Museum. The decoration on its facade is based on sheaves of wheat and other harvest-time symbols.

Pay attention also to Le Pigeon, the building where the French novelist Victor Hugo lived while he was exiled in Belgium, and to Le Cornet, the headquarters of the boatsmen’s guild, famous for its frigate-shaped construction. 

What is more, if you are visiting in the Christmas period, you will notice that this is the site of both the giant fir tree and the delightful living crib. 

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