Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Grand Place, Brussels

The Grand Place (or Grote Markt in Dutch) is the heart of Brussels. It has been an open air market since the 11th century. The town hall (called the Hotel de Ville) was built in the 1400s and soon guild halls sprang up around it. The area was almost completely obliterated by the French in 1695 after three days of cannon fire. The Belgians quickly rebuilt the area in glorious Flemish Baroque style, creating one of the most ornate town squares on the Earth.

Hotel de Ville, Grand Place, Brussels

Admiring the tower

Doorway to the Hotel de Ville courtyard

The Hotel de Ville did survive the bombardment, leaving the 1449 spire intact. The statue of Saint Michael the Archangel at the spire's top must have been working overtime. The building is still used for government offices but tours of the historic rooms are also available. We saw a couple coming out of a side door after getting married.

To the left of Hotel de Ville is a group of buildings including the L'Etoile, the smallest building on the square (on the right in the picture below). Next to it is The Swan or Le Cygne, where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels met to work on The Communist Manifesto. Next to that is a much more important building, L'Arbre d'Or or the Brewers' Guild, which includes the Musee de la Brasserie (Brewery Museum). Sadly, it was not open when we visited the square either time.

South corner, including L'Arbre d'Or, Le Cygne, and L'Etoile

Continuing left around the square (if you can indeed 'round a square), La Maison des Ducs de Brabant is a set of six guild halls designed by Guillaume de Bruyn to look like an Italian palazzo. Several of the dukes of Brabant appear as busts on the facade, thus the name.

La Maison des Ducs de Brabant

Detailed bas relief on Brabant

Further left is a set of guild halls including Le Pigeon, which was home to exiled novelist Victor Hugo in 1852. It had been the painters' guild hall but by the 1800s was a private residence.

More guild halls, including Le Pigeon (building with the long red awning)

Next to Le Pigeon is a La Chalope d'Or (The Golden Sloop) which was the Tailors' guild house. Above the door is an ornate bust of Saint Barbara, patron of tailors.

Bust of St. Barbara in La Chalope d'Or

To the left of that group of buildings (and across the square from the Hotel de Ville) is the Maison du Roi. Originally built in 1536, it was home to the Spanish monarchs. There was some redesign in 1873 and now it houses the Musee de la Ville de Bruxelles, which has many works of art and the many tiny outfits for the Manneken Pis.

Maison du Roi

Better photo except for the truck!

Detail of the corner of Maison du Roi

In the square's northeast corner (to the left of the Maison du Roi) is another block of buildings. Nothing too significant to report here.

Northeast Corner

To the left is another row of guild halls. On the right end it the Roi d'Espagne, formerly the home of the powerful bakers' guild (if any guild should wield power besides the brewers', it should be the bakers'). It includes a bust of Saint Aubert, patron of bakers, and a bust of Charles II of Spain, for whom the building takes its current name. Other guilds include the haberdashers' in Le Renard on the left end and the Boatmen's right next to it in Le Cornet.

Le Renard, Le Cornet, and Le Roi d'Espagne

We came to the Grand Place several times, first just to see everything and then to go to the museums. We never ate a meal there, fearing the high tourist prices. But we did see a jazz band one Saturday morning.

L rides in style

Marching jazz band!

Our next post will be the visit to the Musee de la Ville, so come back tomorrow (or click through/scroll back to the next post!).

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