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Brussels History

Brussels has many claims to fame but one of the least known is that it was founded by a saint. In AD695, Saint Gery built a chapel on the banks of the Senne River at a point now called Place Saint Gery. But the city of Brussels didn’t officially become a city until 979 when Charles, Duke of Low Lotharingia set down Brussels’ first city charter.

Thanks to its riverside setting, it swiftly became a trading centre and almost as quickly, acquired two sets of city walls. Years later they would come to need them.

But in the 12th century, all was peaceful, and Brussels became the capital city and ducal seat of the Duchy of Brabant. During this period, Brussels exported luxury items such as fabrics and tapestries to Paris and Venice to decorate the homes of royals and aristocrats.

After temporarily falling out of favour in the 15th century, its fortunes were restored in 1519 when Charles V became Holy Roman Emperor. But with increasing importance came rising strife and in 1695, the bombardment of Brussels by King Louis XIV of France left the Grand Place in ruins and a third of the city’s buildings reduced to rubble.

French troops took over once again between 1746 and 1748. The Brabant Revolt followed in 1788 before Brussels was overrun during the Napoleonic era.

Brussels, which had been capital of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, finally got its independence along with the rest of Belgium in 1830.

Under King Leopold I, Brussels was reshaped with the old walls destroyed and replaced with wide boulevards. With more space, the population exploded and by the turn of the century, the city was home to more than 200,000 inhabitants.

But once again, Brussels was to be thrown into turmoil when the Germans invaded twice within 20 years. Nevertheless, the hard times were to change its fate forever and in the post-war world, Brussels has become central to a new project – the grand European dream.

Did you know?
• Brussels is home to Europe’s oldest shopping arcade, Galerie St Hubert, which dates back to 1847.
• The earliest buildings in Brussels date back to AD 679.
• Though the Mirror Room in the Royal Palace of Brussels was first installed under Leopold II of Belgium (1865-1909), the million or so jewel beetle carapaces that adorn the ceiling weren’t added until 2002.

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24 hours in: Brussels

On the lookout for great food, culture and plenty of art? Then Brussels is the city for you: cheaper than Paris and more off-beat than you'd think, travel to this charming capital to uncover what lies beyond the beer and chocolate.

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Featured Hotels


The Dominican

Part of the Carlton hotel group, The Dominican is the place to come if you want to be pampered while on a break in Brussels. It takes its name from the Dominican abbey which was originally built on this site in the 1400s. Its design is first rate, taking on the hushed feel of the abbey’s cloisters. Rooms are huge, the beds vast and the breakfast top notch.

Hotel Metropole Brussels

The 19th-century Hotel Metropole, with its grand art nouveau interior, is the first choice for those wishing to combine a lust for nostalgia with a need for modern comfort. A stone's throw from the Grand-Place, this palatial hotel offers a truly grand entrance hall and an Italian baroque style restaurant, L'Alban Chambon. There are 283 comfortable rooms and 15 suites, many decorated with drapes, swags and chandeliers.

Hotel Amigo Brussels

Although within short walking distance of the bustling Grand-Place, the Rocco Forte Hotel Amigo is a haven of calm and comfort. The building served as a prison in the 16th century and opened as a luxury hotel in 1957. Furnished with rich tapestries and antiques, it offers a friendly welcome and has a restaurant and cocktail bar, meeting rooms and a banqueting suite. The décor of the 176 rooms and suites blends contemporary elegance with dashes of colour and humour - Hergé characters and Magritte graphics appear here and there.

Odette En Ville

This design-led boutique hotel, in the beautiful Chatelain quarter, nods towards classic film noir sets with luxurious decor that isn’t stuffy and sleek, cosy rooms. There are even art and photography books for sale here. Guests can score a massage or treatment at Serendip Spa round the corner at a discounted rate.

Made In Louise

Located just outside the city centre, Made In Louise has earned a reputation as Brussels’ hottest boutique hotel. Family run, the attention to detail runs deep, from the individually designed bedrooms through to the excellent tips on local bars and restaurants. The breakfast is spectacular, so be sure to get up early enough for it.