Friday, November 20, 2015

Brussels - Grand Place or Grote Markt

Date of visit: 10th October 2015

Anne has explored the grand place on the night we arrived in the city. I was too tired and sleepy to follow her, hence, she went alone as the main square is located nearby to Ibis Hotel Grand Place, i.e. 500 meters away. She walked that night and brought back some churros. The next morning, after we have done with our sightseeing inside Cathedral of St Michael & St Gudula and a window shopping inside Galeries Royales Saint Hubert, we straight away approaching the square. I was a little bit frustrated as the sky was too shy to come out and play, unlike a day before. However, a flower bazaar right on the centre of the square has helped to boost my desire to take photos. You may just click to see what I have shared in earlier entry.
A lion statue at the Town Hall overlooking the Breadhouse, i.e the museum

The Grand Place or Grote Markt is the central square of Brussels. It is surrounded by lavish buildings and 2 large structures, i.e. the city's Town Hall and the Breadhouse or famously known as the Museum building of the City of Brussels. The square became the most important tourist destination and most memorable landmark in Brussels. It measures 68 by 110 metres being in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Rathause, a.k.a Brussels Townhall
The sky is bluer at night than in day time

Brussels city was built in the 10th century by Charles, Duke of Lower Lorraine who started it off by constructing the fort on Saint-Gery Island. The fort is located furthest inland point at which the Senne river was still navigable. The city were slowly developed from thereon to become what the present Brussels are. By the end of the 11th century, an open-air marketplace was set up on a dried-up marsh near the fort that was surrounded by sandbanks. The market was called the Nedermerckt, or Lower Market.

Ongoing cleaning before the tourist started to crowd the square by the municipality cleaner
Typical flemish-styled guildhalls that surround the Gothic edifice Hotel de Ville

The market was likely to develop around the same time as the commercial development of Brussels. A document from 1174 mentions a lower market seated not far from the port on the Senne River. The market was well situated along the Causeway which becoming an important commercial road connected the prosperous regions of the Rhineland and the County of Flanders. Remarks: County of Flanders, presence in 1350, are in relation to the Low Countries and the Holy Roman Empire. The county was located where the border between France and the Holy Roman Empire met the North Sea.

Stunning Hotel de Ville, purely in Gothic architecture sits alongside with the Townhall on the beautiful Grand Place

At the beginning of the 13th century, 3 indoor markets were built on the northern edge of the Grand Place, i.e. a meat market, a bread market and a cloth market. These buildings, which belonged to the Duke of Brabant, allowed the wares item to be displayed even in bad weather. It also allowed the Dukes to keep track of the storage and sale of goods, in order to collect taxes. Other buildings, made of wood or stone started to enclosed the Grand Place area 1 by 1.

Improvements to the Grand Place begun from the 14th century onwards, marked the rise in importance of local merchants and tradesmen relative to the nobility. The Duke later transferred control of mills and commerce to the local authorities due to short of money. The city of Brussels, as with the neighbouring cities of Mechelen and Leuven constructed a large indoor cloth market to the south of the square. At this point, the square was still randomly being laid out where the buildings along the edges had a contrasting tangle of gardens and irregular additions. The city expropriated and demolished a number of buildings that clogged the Grand Place, and formally defined the edges of the square.

The Brussels City Hall (Rathaus) was built on the south side of the square in stages between 1401 and 1455 which made the Grand Place as the seat of municipal power. The 96 metres high tower is capped by a 4-metre statue of Saint Michael slaying a demon or devil. To counter this symbol of municipal power, from 1504 to 1536 the Duke of Brabant built a large building across from the city hall as symbol of ducal power. It was built on the site of the first cloth and bread markets, which were no longer in use, and it became known as the King's House, although no king has ever lived there. It is currently known as the Maison du roi (King's House) in French, though in Dutch it continues to be called the Broodhuis (Breadhouse), after the market whose place it took. Wealthy merchants and the increasingly powerful guilds of Brussels built houses around the edge of the square in the same period.

On 13th August 1695, a 70,000 strong French army began a bombardment of Brussels in an effort to draw the League of Augsburg's forces away from their siege on French-held Namur in what is now southern Belgium. The French launched a massive bombardment of the mostly defenceless city centre with cannons and mortars, setting it on fire and flattening the majority of the Grand Place and the surrounding city. Only the stone shell of the town hall and a few fragments of other buildings remained standing. That the town hall survived at all is ironic, as it was the principal target of the artillery fire.

The square was rebuilt within 4 years by the city's association (municipality). Their efforts were regulated by the city councillors and the Governor of Brussels, who required that their plans be submitted to the authorities for their approval. This helped to deliver a remarkably harmonious layout for the rebuilt Grand Place, despite the seemingly clashing combination of Gothic, Baroque and Louis XIV design styles.

In the late 18th century, revolutionaries again sacked the Grand Place, destroying statues of nobility and symbols of Christianity. The guildhalls were seized by the state and were sold. The buildings were neglected and left in poor condition, with their facades painted, stuccoed and damaged by pollution. In the late 19th century, mayor Charles Buls had the Grand Place returned to its former splendour, with buildings being reconstructed and/or restored whenever applicable.

In 1885, the Belgian Labour Party, the first socialist party in Belgium, was founded during a meeting on the Grand-Place. The Grand Place continued to serve as a market until 19th November 1959, and it is still called the Great Market or Grote Markt in Dutch. Neighbouring streets still reflect the area's origins, named after the sellers of butter, cheese, herring and coal. The Grand Place was named by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1998. One of the houses was owned by the brewers' guild, and is now the home of a brewers' museum.

The Grand Place was voted as the most beautiful square in Europe in 2010. A survey was initiated by a Dutch website asked its users to rate different squares across Europe. In my opinion, Moscow’s Red Square should be ranked as number 1 instead of taking 2nd place in the same survey. The Place Stanislas in Nancy, France, took third place.

Source of info: Wikipedia
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