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On an August evening in 1695, François de Neufville, Duke of Villeroi and Marshal of France, instructed his artillerymen to commence firing. Their target was the city of Brussels, just to their east. The intent of this action was not to capture the city, or necessarily even to damage it. The intent was to threaten the mostly defenseless city of Brussels to whatever degree was necessary to persuade an Allied army that was besieging the nearby city of Namur to break off their siege and come to the aid of Brussels. As it turned out, this tactic was completely unsuccessful, with no Allied troops being diverted, and with the eventual fall of the strategically-located Namur to its besiegers on September 1. So intentions notwithstanding, the bombardment of Brussels, which lasted for 48 hours, caused an extreme amount of damage to the city while accomplishing nothing. Some of the ordnance dropped on Brussels consisted of incendiary rounds which caused a fire which spread rapidly through the central city’s mostly wooden structures. The residents of the city deliberately demolished a number of their own structures to create a fire break to limit the spread of the fire. All told, about one-third of the structures in the city were destroyed.

When the Duke gave up his attack and moved off to help out at Namur (a move that was blocked until it was too late), the residents of Brussels were left to pick up the pieces. Fortunately the loss of life was much lower than might be expected, as the Duke had made his intentions widely known (so the Allied army would know to come and protect Brussels), and the residents had mostly evacuated themselves out of harm’s way. But in the city center, the devastation was pretty complete. In the Grand Place, for instance, every building was destroyed except for a portion of the town hall (its 310-foot tower, which somehow survived, had been used by the gunners as a targeting reference). A great number of personal, cultural and historical treasures had been lost, and a massive cleanup and rebuilding effort loomed. Fortunately, a number of neighboring cities sent assistance. Many of the newly homeless were allowed to stay in the park adjacent to the governor’s palace, and anti-profiteering measures were enacted and enforced by militias. The local guilds, which controlled the practice of various trades in Brussels, had their monopolies on these trades suspended. As a result of all this, reconstruction progressed remarkably quickly.

The governor (of the Spanish Netherlands), Maximilian II Emanuel, envisioned a reimagining of the city in a form similar to that of some of the other great cities of Europe. But such grandiose plans required a great deal of time and money, both of which were in short supply. So the new layout of the city came to be pretty much the same as the old layout. The only structures Maximilian was able to get built according to his ideas were a theater and a building that appears on the southeast side of the Grand Place. This building is known as The House of the Dukes of Brabant. While holding seven guildhalls, it presents a single, unified, monumental façade, and is probably the least interesting structure on the square. The other structures are the Town Hall (renovated in the 1990’s), the Maison du Roi ("King’s House", also known as the Breadhouse, or Broodhuis, for a bread market that once occupied the spot), and many individual guildhalls. Before the bombardment, the local guilds operated guildhalls on and around the Grand Place, and after the bombardment they were invited to rebuild them. Their plans had to be submitted and approved first, so they would be harmonious with each other. This plan proved to be highly successful – the Grand Place is now probably the top tourist attraction in Brussels, and many consider it to be the most beautiful public square in Europe.

While we’d visited the Grand Place the night before, we still wanted to see it in daylight. We headed that way after breakfast, passing some shops on the way that we’d also seen in the dark the previous night.


Belgian Frit 'N Toast
Belgian Frit 'N Toast
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La Boutique Tintin
La Boutique Tintin
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The Grand Place looked very different in the daylight. Guildhalls that had been hard to see in the dark corners the night before were now brightly lit, and gilded features throughout gleamed in the morning sun. There was also a certain amount of construction noise. A number of workers seemed to be setting up tents or awnings, probably for some kind of festival or street market. We would have to come back later during our stay to see what this was all about.

On entering the square, our first view was of the southwest side. This side is occupied by the Town Hall, and, to its left, five guildhalls. When the guildhalls were built, they did not have numeric addresses, but were instead referred to by names. The one called The Swan was later to be used as a meeting place by Marx and Engels in the 1840’s, when they were working on The Communist Manifesto.


Connie and Southwest Guildhalls
Connie and Southwest Guildhalls
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Mountain of Thabor, Rose, Golden Tree, Swan and Star
Mountain of Thabor, Rose, Golden Tree, Swan and Star
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Town Hall - Tower
Town Hall - Tower
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Town Hall Façade
Town Hall Façade
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Town Hall - Detail
Town Hall - Detail
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Southwest Façades
Southwest Façades
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The northwest side of the square is a solid block of guildhalls.

Fox, Horn, She-Wolf, Sack, Wheelbarrow, King of Spain
Fox, Horn, She-Wolf, Sack, Wheelbarrow, King of Spain
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The King of Spain
The King of Spain
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The Wheelbarrow
The Wheelbarrow
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The Sack
The Sack
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The Horn
The Horn
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The Fox
The Fox
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Nella and Connie and Northwest Guildhalls

Nella and Connie and Northwest Guildhalls
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The northeast side of the square was dominated by the Maison du Roi, which was once used as an administrative building and was never occupied by any king. This building was completely rebuilt in the 19th Century in the neogothic style, and now holds a museum devoted to the history of the city. There are also guildhalls on both sides of the Maison du Roi, but some of them were undergoing restoration during our visit. The fourth side of the square was occupied by the House of the Dukes of Brabant.

Maison du Roi, or Broodhuis
Maison du Roi, or Broodhuis
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Tower, Maison du Roi
Tower, Maison du Roi
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Southeast Façades
Southeast Façades
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Nella and Flowers
Nella and Flowers
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After gaping at the square for awhile, we noticed that there was an open doorway in front of the Town Hall. We went over to investigate, and found ourselves in a courtyard with some statues.

Fountain, Town Hall Courtyard
Fountain, Town Hall Courtyard
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Connie and Bob and Town Hall Fountain
Connie and Bob and Town Hall Fountain
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Apparently there are periodic tours given of the Town Hall, but this didn’t sound that interesting to us, so we left the courtyard and then left the square, via a street just to the left of the Town Hall. This street was the road to the second most well-known tourist attraction in Brussels, the Manneken-Pis.

Manneken-Pis seems at first glance to be an unlikely attraction for visitors to Brussels – maybe at second glance too. It’s an instantly-recognizable bronze sculpture of a rude toddler urinating into a fountain. It’s only 24 inches tall, and was created by a sculptor named Hieronimus Duquesnoy the Elder in 1619. The Manneken-Pis on display is a copy – the original is in the Maison du Roi museum on the Grand Place. A good thing, as the one on display has been repeatedly stolen and subjected to a variety of indignities. On occasion the young man is dressed in custom-made costumes (an officially sanctioned and painstakingly planned indignity). There has been an enormous selection of costumes throughout the years (mostly from the 20th Century, when the idea seemed to really take hold), and many of the costumes are also on display at the Maison du Roi. On our visit the statue was au naturale. Also on occasion the statue is hooked up to kegs of Belgian beer, and passersby are treated to free cups that are dispensed in a unique way. There are a number of stories dealing with the origin of the statue, ranging from a heroic boy dousing fires to a young prince showering armies to victory, but it’s unclear which, if any, are the true inspiration. It doesn’t seem to matter, as the statue is constantly surrounded by adoring tourists who couldn’t possibly be aware of the stories, and there are copies of the statue all over the world, on display to people who probably are mostly unaware that the original is in Belgium. There is some kind of universal appeal to the statue – it’s a little bit naughty, and perhaps there’s something in the boy’s attitude that people find admirable or enviable.


Manneken-Pis
Manneken-Pis
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Manneken-Pis
Manneken-Pis
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Bob and Manneken-Pis
Bob and Manneken-Pis
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Crowd and Manneken-Pis
Crowd and Manneken-Pis
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Another universal principle is in evidence around Manneken-Pis – the principle that tourist magnets are always surrounded by vendors trying to sell you stuff. But in this case the vendors weren’t entirely unwelcome, at least to us, as many of them were selling good things to eat. Most prominent were the candy stores.

Godiva and Leonidas Chocolate Shops
Godiva and Leonidas Chocolate Shops
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Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries, Godiva
Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries, Godiva
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Chocolates
Chocolates
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Chocolates
Chocolates
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Macarons
Macarons
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Fruit-Flavored Candies
Fruit-Flavored Candies
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Marzipan Fruit
Marzipan Fruit
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Marzipan Rodents
Marzipan Rodents
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Brussels is a treacherous city for dieters. Those that visit are likely to become either former dieters or painfully frustrated. We weren’t dieting, but even so we managed to get through the candy stores without buying anything. We wondered what other unwholesome temptations Belgium could subject us to. Frites … chocolate … waffles? And there they were, beckoning to us from a store window. Our feeble resistance lasted maybe a nanosecond.

Connie and Giant Manneken-Pis with Waffle
Connie and Giant Manneken-Pis with Waffle
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Waffles for Sale
Waffles for Sale
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Bob and Waffle
Bob and Waffle
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Nella and Waffle
Nella and Waffle
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Nella and Connie Demolishing Waffle

Nella and Connie Demolishing Waffle
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Totally ashamed of ourselves (well maybe a little ashamed), we decided we should do some more walking around, preferably uphill. This took us to another area of Brussels, an area known as the Upper Town.

Back to Brussels Intro     Continue to Upper Town