If Brussels is a stage for the unfolding of European history, then the Grand Place is its centrepiece. You walk into it and your mouth falls agape, a beautiful large square with opulent structures, imposing buildings and blinding edifices. Dawn’s gentle rays reflect on the majestic white walls of the mall, illuminating the square underneath.
The Grand Place is perhaps one of the most beautiful public squares in all of Europe in my mind because it fits exactly what a grand place should be – Grand.
The Grand Place has a long history, going back to the 10th century and was even then the centre of a market. Trade was vital to the city and promoted by the Duke of Brussels because it enabled the collection of taxes. It grew in prominence in the 14th century as business grew, after the Duke transferred control over to local businesses. To solidify its importance, vital local administration was constructed in the area including the Town Hall. As Brussels emerged as an important trading city, the merchants and their guilds established their headquarters around the square.
Grand Place is more than a place for trade. Being a centrepiece of Brussels history, it has witnessed a huge amount of tragedy. Protestants (Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes) were burned at the stake by the Inquisition when the Protestant Reformation was in full swing, and Belgium was under the Spanish.
Others were beheaded for more ‘earthly’ reasons – treason. The Counts of Egmont and Hornwere both beheaded by the Spanish king for speaking out against the governance policies of King Philip II in the then Spanish-Netherlands, an act that precipitated the Eighty Years War. Then the place was leveled in the Nine Years War, it was rebuilt in four years after the end of the war by the merchants who continued to own guilds in the area, but the place was once again laid to waste during the Brabant Revolution – an armed insurrection that sought to get rid of Austrian Hapsburg rule in the area. The insurrection did vast damage to the place, as the revolutionaries destroyed all signs of the nobility and Christianity in the square.
Still, the square was rebuilt in the centuries that followed. It was because of the destruction that happened during the Brabant Revolution that people were to become the grand structure it is today. The toil of destruction was that the importance of sensitivity and heritage came into focus and therefore the reconstruction of the square took on a more tasteful approach.. Perhaps fascinatingly, it was not leveled during the two world wars in the 19th and 20th century but was instead repurposed as a large public hospital for refugees, military soldiers and civilians.
The square has since calmed down a lot since. It is today a primary must see site for any tourist on a visit to Brussels. It is the site of Christmas Markets and festivals all year round, including a beautiful biannual flower carpet – the next happening in 2020.
Check if out when you are in Brussels!
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