1902 Encyclopedia > Brussels


BRUSSELS (French, Bruxelles ; Flemish, Brüssel; German, Brüssel), capital of Belgium and of the province of South Brabant, is situated on the small River Senne, about 50 miles from the sea, in 50° 51' N. lat., 4° 22' E. long. It lies in the midst of a beautiful and fertile country, and is picturesquely built on the top and sides of a hill, which slopes down to the Senne. The general contour of the old town of Brussels is pentagonal, and is well defined by the boulevards, which occupy the site of the old forti-fications ; but extensive additions have been made, especi-ally to the east and south, and present a very irregular outline
Brussels may be considered to consist of two parts, each presenting characteristics peculiar to itself. The New Town or upper part of the city is dry and healthy, and contains a very large number of handsome buildings, both public and private. The lower part is the more ancient and interesting of the two, but is damp, and in summer unhealthy, from the exhalations of the river and the numerous canals. In the former are situated nearly all the public offices, the royal palace, the chamber of deputies, the residence of the foreign representatives, and the prin-cipal hotels. The latter contains the Hotel de Ville, and some of the best remains of the old Gothic architecture, and is the seat of nearly all the trade and commerce of the town. The facilities for commerce are very consi-derable. Though the Senne is not navigable itself, and is in fact now (1876) in process of being arched over to afford room for a new boulevard, it supplies water to some of the canals that intersect the lower portion of the city. By these canals Brussels communicates with the great Belgian cities, Mechlin, Ghent, Bruges, and Antwerp on the north, and Charleroi on the south. It further enjoys the advantage of railway communication with France and Germany, and the chief towns of the Belgian dominions. The streets are for the most part well paved, well lighted, and abundantly supplied with excellent water. There are in the town innumerable fountains, some of which are handsomely ornamented with sculptures in stone and bronze. Of these the best are Les Fontaines des Fleuves in the Hotel de Ville, La Fontaine de Minerve in one of the great squares, and the Mannekin-pis behind the Hotel de Vide. Some of the streets are macadamized, but the majority of them are causewayed, while the trottoirs are either flagged or paved with flint-stones. In the new town some of the streets are remarkably handsome ; they contain a considerable number of shops and cafés similar to those of Paris, and form the chief .promenades of the inhabi-tants. In the old town they are for the most part narrow and sombre. There are fourteen squares in Brussels, many of which are used as market-places. Of these the largest are the Place du Grand Sablon, the Place Boyale, and the Grande Place before the Hotel de Ville. In the last-named square, surrounded for the most part with houses that date from the time of the Spanish possession, the Counts Egmont and Horn were beheaded in 1568, by order of the duke of Alva, who surveyed the scene from the windows of the Brood-Huys (otherwise Maison du Boi), a remarkable specimen of Gothic architecture still extant. In the Place de la Monnaie are the mint, the exchange, and the great theatre. In the Place des Martyrs, the heroes who fell in the Bevolution of 1830 are interred. In front of the palace is the Public Park, a fashionable summer promenade, which covers an area of about 14 acres. It is beautifully laid out with walks, adorned at moderate dis-tances with groups of sculpture; and as it is planted with trees which shade it from the sun, the grass is always fresh and green. In the lower town is the Allee Verte, an equally fashionable promenade, which runs par-allel with the Mechlin canal, having a triple row of linden trees on each side, and leads towards the village of Lacken, where, since 1815, the king has had a suburban castle.
Of the public buildings of Brussels the most remarkable are the cathedral church of St Michel et Ste Gudule, the Hotel de Ville, and the Palace of Justice, a modern erection. The cathedral was built in 1010, and in it was held the first chapter of the order of the Golden Fleece in 1535. It contains a remarkable pulpit, and some splendid specimens of stained glass. From its towers a fine view of the surrounding country may be obtained. The Hotel de Ville, built in 1400, is profusely ornamented; it has a tower 360 feet in height. The other public buildings of Brussels are for the most part handsome, but are quite uninteresting. The principal hospitals are those of St Peter and. St John, which are both admirably managed, and contain together about 1000 beds. The patients are waited upon by the sisters of charity. As in all the large Belgian towns, there is, besides two other nunneries, a con-vent of Béguins, which formerly numbered 1000 nuns. The mass of the native population are Catholics ; but as the English residents are very numerous, there are several Pro-testant churches. The Jews have a synagogue at Brussels, and hold their grand consistory there.

The number of charities in Brussels is very great ; of these the most important are the Foundling Hospital, the Orphan Asylum, and the Société Philanthropique, whose object is to prevent mendicity. There are besides numerous alms-houses, which annually give relief to about 35,000 persons. Some of these establishments are supported entirely by subscription ; others of them are subsidized by Government. Great attention is paid to the education of poor children. The communal expense for public instruc-tion amounted in 1873 to 858,150 francs. Among the educational establishments are the gymnasium, the poly-technic school, the Boyal Athenaeum, a Lancasterian school, and many public and private academies, besides the Free University, which was founded in 1834 by a company belonging to the liberal party. The number of students at the university amounted in 1874 to nearly 580; while at the Boyal Athenaeum the number in the same year was 772. There is also a well-conducted veterinary and agricultural school.

Some of the societies of Brussels are very celebrated. The Royal Conservatorium of Music had 529 pupils on its roll in 1874. The Boyal Society was founded in 1769. The geo-graphical establishment of Vandermaelen, instituted in 1830, is in a flourishing condition. The botanical garden is one of the best in Europe, and there is also a large zoological garden. The Palais de l'Industrie contains an admirable museum of natural history, and an extensive and valuable collection of books and manuscripts, which is accessible to the public. The number of books is 234,000, of which 2000 belong to the 15th century, while the manuscript department, known as the Bibliothèque de Bourgogne, con-tains about 22,000 MSS., many of which are beautifully illuminated. From sixty to sixty-five thousand francs are annually voted for the maintenance of the library. Eminent literary men and others are sometimes allowed to take books home, but the number to whom this privilege is conceded never exceeds 100 annually. There are numerous printing and lithographic presses in constant operation in Brussels, a large number of the former being engaged in the republication of standard works that appear in France.

The principal manufactures of Brussels are those of lace and tulle, carpets, woollen, linen, and cotton fabrics, jewellery, and articles of vertu. The most remarkable of these is that of lace. The finer sorts of flax used in the manufacture cost from £12 to £16 sterling per lb. An English yard of this lace costs £8. The persons who spin the thread work in rooms almost completely darkened, and are thus compelled to concentrate their attention ; and the thread spun in this way is said to be finer and more delicate than any that has hitherto been produced by other means. Excellent carriages are made in Brussels two-thirds cheaper than those of England, but inferior to them in quality.

In 1837, the population of Brussels was 104,265 ; in 1846, 123,874 ; in 1849, 138,189 ; in 1850, 142,289 ; and in 1873, 180,172. At the last date there were 365,404 in the nine contiguous communes. In 1846, the houses in the town numbered 13,563, and in 1866, 18,543.

The history of Brussels, though it does not date from so remote a period as that of other Flemish cities, can still be clearly traced back to the 7th century. At that time St Gery, bishop of Cambray, built a chapel on one of the small islands in the river, and by his eloquence and piety soon attracted a large congregation. The site being well adapted for building, a hamlet soon sprung up, and speedily became a town, which in the 11th century was walled in and fortified. Though in commercial importance Brussels did not at this time equal Ghent or Bruges, its traffic in cloth was very considerable, and its workers in iron and steel were not surpassed by any in Europe. In the 14th century the various trades were incorporated into guilds, who regulated the taxes and other financial matters of the city, and drew up a code of municipal laws, in which the principle of trial by jury was admitted. These arrange-ments had scarcely been completed, when a dreadful fire visited the city and nearly burnt it to the ground. At the end of this century a general persecution of the Jews in Europe took place. In Brussels, many of them were put to death, and the value of the confiscated property amounted to upwards of half a million sterling. At the beginning of the 15 th century, Brussels was again visited by a destruc-tive fire, from the effects of which it speedily recovered by the patriotic exertions of its rulers, and soon became more distinguished than ever as a seat of learning, art, and science. In 1489, and again in 1587, it was visited by the plague, which, on the former of these occasions, carried off many thousands of the inhabitants. Its horrors were enhanced by the ensuing famine, which lasted for four years.

Brussels was highly favoured by Charles V., who often resided in the city, and raised it to the rank of capital of the Netherlands. Under his son Philip II. it became the centre of the great revolutionary movement, which resulted in the independence of the United Province. In 1598 Brussels passed into the dominion of the Austrians, and soon began once more to prosper. In 1695 the French under Marshal Villeroy besieged Brussels, but were obliged to retire after doing much damage to the town ; and in 1706 the city opened its gates to Marlborough. In 1746 it was again besieged by the French under Marshal Saxe, and after a siege of three weeks was obliged to surrender. In 1792 it fell into the hands of General Dumouriez, who being soon after defeated at Louvain, evacuated Brussels for a while, but again entered it in 1794. From that year till 1814, it remained in the possession of the French, as capital of the department of the Dyle. On the fall of Napoleon, Belgium and Holland were united into one kingdom under William of Nassau, and Brussels was the seat of government alternately with the Hague. In 1830, however, after a sanguinary conflict of four days in the streets of the city, the Belgians declared their independence; and erecting their state into a separate kingdom, offered the crown to Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, whose long and peaceful reign (1831-1865) contributed greatly to the development of the resources of the country.

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