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This article is about the Brussels-Capital Region. For the municipality within it, see City of Brussels.
For other places with the same name, see Brussels (disambiguation).
  • Bruxelles
  • Brussel
Region of Belgium
  • Brussels Capital Region
  • Région de Bruxelles-Capitale
  • Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest
A collage with several views of Brussels, Top: View of the Northern Quarter business district, 2nd left: Floral carpet event in the Grand Place, 2nd right: Brussels City Hall and Mont des Arts area, 3rd: Cinquantenaire Park, 4th left: Manneken Pis, 4th middle: St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, 4th right: Congress Column, Bottom: Royal Palace of Brussels
A collage with several views of Brussels, Top: View of the Northern Quarter business district, 2nd left: Floral carpet event in the Grand Place, 2nd right: Brussels City Hall and Mont des Arts area, 3rd: Cinquantenaire Park, 4th left: Manneken Pis, 4th middle: St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, 4th right: Congress Column, Bottom: Royal Palace of Brussels
Flag of Brussels
Nickname(s): Capital of Europe[1] Comic city[2][3]
Location of  Brussels  (dark green)– in the European Union  (grey & light green)– in Belgium  (grey)
Location of  Brussels  (dark green)

– in the European Union  (grey & light green)
– in Belgium  (grey)

Coordinates: 50°51′N 4°21′E / 50.850°N 4.350°E / 50.850; 4.350Coordinates: 50°51′N 4°21′E / 50.850°N 4.350°E / 50.850; 4.350
Country Belgium
Settled c. 580
Founded 979
Region 18 June 1989
 • Executive Government of the Brussels-Capital Region
 • Governing parties (2014–2019) PS, FDF, cdH; Open Vld, sp.a, CD&V
 • Minister-President Rudi Vervoort (PS)
 • Legislature Parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region
 • Speaker Charles Picqué (PS)
 • Region/City 161.38 km2 (62.2 sq mi)
Elevation 13 m (43 ft)
Population (1 January 2013)[4]
 • Region/City 1,138,854
 • Density 7,025/km2 (16,857/sq mi)
 • Metro 1,830,000
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 • Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)

Brussels (French: Bruxelles, [bʁysɛl]; Dutch: Brussel, [ˈbrʏsəl]), officially the Brussels-Capital Region[5][6] (French: Région de Bruxelles-Capitale, Dutch: Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest),[7] is a region of Belgium comprising 19 municipalities, including the city of Brussels which de jure is the capital of Belgium,[8] the French Community of Belgium,[9] and the Flemish Community.[10] Brussels is also the de facto capital of the European Union.[11]

Brussels has grown from a 10th-century fortress town founded by a descendant of Charlemagne to a sizeable city.[12] The city has a population of 1.2 million and a metropolitan area with a population of over 1.8 million, both of them the largest in Belgium.[13][14]

Since the end of the Second World War, Brussels has been a major centre for international politics. Hosting principal EU institutions,[15][16] the secretariat of the Benelux and the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the city has become the polyglot home of numerous international organisations, politicians, diplomats and civil servants.[17]

Brussels is just a few kilometres north of the boundary between Belgium's language communities—French in the south, Dutch in the north. Historically a Dutch-speaking city, it has seen a major shift to French since Belgian independence in 1830. Today, although the majority language is French, the city is officially bilingual. All road signs, street names, and many advertisements and services are shown in both languages.[18] Brussels is increasingly becoming multilingual with increasing numbers of migrants, expatriates and minority groups speaking their own languages, and English sometimes serves as a lingua franca.


Charles of Lorraine founded what would become Brussels c. 979

The most common theory of the origin of Brussels' name is that it derives from the Old Dutch Broekzele or Broeksel, meaning marsh (broek) and home (zele / sel) or "home in the marsh".[19] The origin of the settlement that was to become Brussels lies in Saint Gaugericus' construction of a chapel on an island in the river Senne around 580.[20] Saint Vindicianus, the bishop of Cambrai made the first recorded reference to the place "Brosella" in 695[21] when it was still a hamlet. The official founding of Brussels is usually situated around 979, when Duke Charles of Lower Lotharingia transferred the relics of Saint Gudula from Moorsel to the Saint Gaugericus chapel. Charles would construct the first permanent fortification in the city, doing so on that same island.

Lambert I of Leuven, Count of Leuven gained the County of Brussels around 1000 by marrying Charles' daughter. Because of its location on the shores of the Senne on an important trade route between Bruges and Ghent, and Cologne, Brussels grew quite quickly; it became a commercial centre that rapidly extended towards the upper town (St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral, Coudenberg, Sablon area), where there was a smaller risk of floods. As it grew to a population of around 30,000, the surrounding marshes were drained to allow for further expansion. The Counts of Leuven became Dukes of Brabant at about this time (1183/1184). In the 13th century, the city got its first walls.[22]

Grand Place after the 1695 bombardment by the French army

After the construction of the city walls in the early 13th century, Brussels grew significantly. To let the city expand, a second set of walls was erected between 1356 and 1383. Today, traces of it can still be seen, mostly because the "small ring", a series of roadways in downtown Brussels bounding the historic city centre, follows its former course.

In the 15th century, by means of the wedding of heiress Margaret III of Flanders with Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, a new Duke of Brabant emerged from the House of Valois (namely Antoine, their son), with another line of descent from the Habsburgs (Maximilian of Austria, later Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, married Mary of Burgundy, who was born in Brussels). Brabant had lost its independence, but Brussels became the Princely Capital of the prosperous Low Countries, and flourished.

In 1516 Charles V, who had been heir of the Low Countries since 1506, was declared King of Spain in St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral in Brussels. Upon the death of his grandfather, Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor in 1519, Charles became the new ruler of the Habsburg Empire and was subsequently elected the Holy Roman Emperor. It was in the Palace complex at Coudenberg that Charles V abdicated in 1555. This impressive palace, famous all over Europe, had greatly expanded since it had first become the seat of the Dukes of Brabant, but it was destroyed by fire in 1731.

In 1695, King Louis XIV of France sent troops to bombard Brussels with artillery. Together with the resulting fire, it was the most destructive event in the entire history of Brussels. The Grand Place was destroyed, along with 4000 buildings, a third of those in the city. The reconstruction of the city centre, effected during subsequent years, profoundly changed the appearance of the city and left numerous traces still visible today. The city was captured by France in 1746 during the War of the Austrian Succession but was handed back to Austria three years later.

Brussels remained with Austria until 1795, when the Southern Netherlands was captured and annexed by France. Brussels became the capital of the department of the Dyle. It remained a part of France until 1815, when it joined the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. The former Dyle department became the province of South Brabant, with Brussels as its capital.

Episode of the Belgian Revolution of 1830, Wappers (1834)

In 1830, the Belgian revolution took place in Brussels after a performance of Auber's opera La Muette de Portici at the La Monnaie theatre. Brussels became the capital and seat of government of the new nation. South Brabant was renamed simply Brabant, with Brussels as its capital. On 21 July 1831, Leopold I, the first King of the Belgians, ascended the throne, undertaking the destruction of the city walls and the construction of many buildings. Following independence, the city underwent many more changes. The Senne had become a serious health hazard, and from 1867 to 1871 its entire course through the urban area was completely covered over. This allowed urban renewal and the construction of modern buildings and boulevards characteristic of downtown Brussels today.

The 1927 Solvay Conference in Brussels was the fifth world physics conference.

Throughout this time, Brussels remained mostly a Dutch-speaking city, though until 1921 French was the sole language of administration. During the 20th century the city has hosted various fairs and conferences, including the Solvay Conference on Physics and on Chemistry, and two world fairs: the Brussels International Exposition of 1935 and the Expo '58. During World War I, Brussels was an occupied city, but German troops did not cause much damage. In World War II the city was again occupied, and was spared major damage during its occupation by German forces before it was liberated by the British Guards Armoured Division. The Brussels Airport dates to the occupation.

After the war, Brussels was modernized for better and for worse. The construction of the North–South connection linking the main railway stations in the city was completed in 1952, while the first Brussels premetro was finished in 1969, and the first line of the Brussels Metro was opened in 1976. Starting from the early 1960s, Brussels became the de facto capital of what would become the European Union, and many modern buildings were built. Unfortunately, development was allowed to proceed with little regard to the aesthetics of newer buildings, and many architectural gems were demolished to make way for newer buildings that often clashed with their surroundings, a process known as Brusselization.

The Brussels-Capital Region was formed on 18 June 1989 after a constitutional reform in 1988. It has bilingual status and it is one of the three federal regions of Belgium, along with Flanders and Wallonia.[5][6]

Brussels as a capital[edit]

Despite what its name suggests, the Brussels-Capital Region is not the capital of Belgium in itself. Article 194 of the Belgian Constitution establishes that the capital of Belgium is the City of Brussels, the municipality within the capital region that once was the city's core.[8]

The City of Brussels is the location of many national institutions. The Royal Palace, where the King of Belgium exercises his prerogatives as head of state, is situated alongside the Brussels Park. The Palace of the Nation is located on the opposite side of this park, and is the seat of the Belgian Federal Parliament. The office of the Prime Minister of Belgium, colloquially called Law Street 16 (Dutch: Wetstraat 16, French: 16, rue de la Loi), is located adjecent to this building. This is also the place where the Council of Ministers holds its meetings. The Court of Cassation, Belgian's main court, has its seat in the Palace of Justice. Other important institutions in the City of Brussels are the Constitutional Court, the Council of State, the Court of Audit, the Royal Belgian Mint and the National Bank of Belgium.

Although the City of Brussels is the official capital, the funds allotted by the federation and region for the representative role of the capital are divided among the 19 municipalities,[citation needed] and some national institutions are sited in the other 18 municipalities.[citation needed] Thus, while only the City of Brussels itself officially carries the title of capital of Belgium, in practice the entire capital region plays this role.[citation needed]

The City of Brussels is also the capital of both the French Community of Belgium[9] and the Flemish Community.[10] The Flemish Parliament and Flemish Government have their seats in Brussels,[23] as do the Parliament of the French Community and the Government of the French Community.


French name Dutch name
Anderlecht.jpg Anderlecht Anderlecht I
Auderghem.jpg Auderghem Oudergem II
Blason Berchem-Sainte-Agathe.svg Berchem-Sainte-Agathe Sint-Agatha-Berchem III
Coat of Arms of Brussels.svg Bruxelles-Ville Stad Brussel IV
Coat of arms of Etterbeek.svg Etterbeek Etterbeek V
Evere-Blason-1828.png Evere Evere VI
Armoiries Forest.png Forest Vorst VII
Ganshorenwapen.gif Ganshoren Ganshoren VIII
Coat of arms of Ixelles.svg Ixelles Elsene IX
Armoiries Jette.png Jette Jette X
Coat of arms of Koekelberg (escutcheon).svg Koekelberg Koekelberg XI
Coat of arms of Saint-Jean-de-Molenbeek.jpg Molenbeek-Saint-Jean Sint-Jans-Molenbeek XII
Coat of arms of Saint-Gilles.svg Saint-Gilles Sint-Gillis XIII
Coat of arm Municipality be Saint-Josse-ten-Noode.svg Saint-Josse-ten-Noode Sint-Joost-ten-Node XIV
Blason Schaerbeek.svg Schaerbeek Schaarbeek XV
Uccle Blason.png Uccle Ukkel XVI
Watermaalbosvoordewapen.gif Watermael-Boitsfort Watermaal-Bosvoorde XVII
Coat of arms of Woluwe-Saint-Pierre.svg Woluwe-Saint-Lambert Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe XVIII
Coat of arms of Woluwe-Saint-Pierre.svg Woluwe-Saint-Pierre Sint-Pieters-Woluwe XIX
The Town Hall of the City of Brussels municipality

The 19 municipalities (communes) of the Brussels-Capital Region are political subdivisions with individual responsibilities for the handling of local level duties, such as law enforcement and the upkeep of schools and roads within its borders.[24][25] Municipal administration is also conducted by a mayor, a council, and an executive.[25]

In 1831, Belgium was divided into 2,739 municipalities, including the 19 in the Brussels-Capital Region.[26] Unlike most of the municipalities in Belgium, the ones located in the Brussels-Capital Region were not merged with others during mergers occurring in 1964, 1970, and 1975.[26] However, several municipalities outside of the Brussels-Capital Region have been merged with the City of Brussels throughout its history including Laeken, Haren, and Neder-Over-Heembeek, which were merged into the City of Brussels in 1921.[27]

The largest and most populous of the municipalities is the City of Brussels, covering 32.6 square kilometres (12.6 sq mi) with 145,917 inhabitants. The least populous is Koekelberg with 18,541 inhabitants, while the smallest in area is Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, which is only 1.1 square kilometres (0.4 sq mi). Despite being the smallest municipality, Saint-Josse-ten-Noode has the highest population density of the 19 with 20,822 inhabitants per km2.

A lot of controversy exists concerning the division of 19 municipalities for a highly urbanized region which is considered as (half of) one city by most people. Some politicians mock the '19 baronies' and want to merge the municipalities under one city council and one mayor.[28][29] This would lower the number of politicians needed to govern Brussels, and centralise the power over the city to make decisions easier. Thus reduce the overall running costs. The current municipalities could be transformed into districts with limited responsibilities, similar to the current structure of Antwerp or to structures of other capitals like the boroughs in London or arrondissements in Paris, to keep politics close enough to the citizen.[30]

Brussels-Capital Region[edit]

The Brussels-Capital Region is one of the three federated regions of Belgium, alongside Wallonia and the Flemish Region. Geographically and linguistically, it is a bilingual enclave in the unilingual Flemish Region. Regions are one component of Belgium's institutions, the three communities being the other component: Brussels' inhabitants deal with either the French Community or the Flemish Community for matters such as culture and education.


The Brussels-Capital Region is governed by a parliament of 89 members (72 French-speaking, 17 Dutch-speaking, parties are organised on a linguistic basis) and an eight-member regional cabinet consisting of a minister-president, four ministers and three state secretaries. By law, the cabinet must comprise two French-speaking and two Dutch-speaking ministers, one Dutch-speaking secretary of state and two French-speaking secretaries of state. The minister-president does not count against the language quota, but in practice every minister-president has been a bilingual francophone. The regional parliament can enact ordinances (French: ordonnances, Dutch: ordonnanties), which have equal status as a national legislative act.

19 of the 72 French-speaking members of the Brussels Parliament are also members of the Parliament of the French Community of Belgium, and until 2004 this was also the case for six Dutch-speaking members, who were at the same time members of the Flemish Parliament. Now, people voting for a Flemish party have to vote separately for 6 directly elected members of the Flemish Parliament.

The Brussels Region is the only one that is not subdivided into provinces, nor is it a province itself. Within the Region, 99% of the areas of provincial jurisdiction are assumed by the Brussels regional institutions. Remaining is only the governor of Brussels-Capital and some aides. Its status is roughly akin to that of a federal district.

Agglomeration of Brussels[edit]

Before the creation of the Brussels-Capital Region, regional competences in the 19 municipalities was performed by the Agglomeration of Brussels. The Agglomeration of Brussels was an administrative division that was established in 1971. This decentralised administrative public body also assumed jurisdiction over areas that elsewhere in Belgium were exercised by municipalities or provinces.[31]

The Agglomeration of Brussels had a separate legislative council, but the by-laws enacted by it did not have the status of a legislative act. The only election of the council took place on 21 November 1971. The working of the council was subject to many difficulties caused by the linguistic and socio-economic tensions between the two communities.

After the creation of the Brussels-Capital Region, the Agglomeration of Brussels was never formally abolished, although it no longer has a purpose.

French and Flemish communities[edit]

The French Community and the Flemish Community exercise their powers in Brussels trough two community-specific public authorities: the French Community Commission (French: Commission communautaire française or COCOF) and the Flemish Community Commission (Dutch: Vlaamse Gemeenschapscommissie or VGC). These two bodies each have an assembly composed of the members of each linguistic group of the Parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region. They also have a board composed of the ministers and secretaries of state of each linguistic group in the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region.

The French Community Commission has also another capacity: some legislative powers of the French Community have been devolved to the Walloon Region (for the French language area of Belgium) and to the French Community Commission (for the bilingual language area).[32] The Flemish Community, however, did the opposite; it merged the Flemish Region into the Flemish Community.[33] This is related to different conceptions in the two communities, one focusing more on the Communities and the other more on the Regions, causing an asymmetrical federalism. Because of this devolution, the French Community Commission can enact decrees, which are legislative acts.

Common Community Commission[edit]

A bi-communitarian public authority, the Common Community Commission (French: Commission communautaire commune, COCOM, Dutch: Gemeenschappelijke Gemeenschapscommissie, GGC) also exists. Its assembly is composed of the members of the regional parliament, and its board are the ministers—not the secretaries of state—of the region, with the minister-president not having the right to vote. This Commission has two capacities: it is a decentralised administrative public body, responsible for implementing cultural policies of common interest. It can give subsidies and enact by-laws. In another capacity it can also enact ordinances, which have equal status as a national legislative act, in the field of the welfare powers of the communities: in the Brussels-Capital Region, both the French Community and the Flemish Community can exercise powers in the field of welfare, but only in regard to institutions that are unilingual (for example, a private French-speaking retirement home or the Dutch-speaking hospital of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel). The Common Community Commission is responsible for policies aiming directly at private persons or at bilingual institutions (for example, the centra for social welfare of the 19 municipalities). Its ordinances have to be enacted with a majority in both linguistic groups. Failing such a majority, a new vote can be held, where a majority of at least one third in each linguistic group is sufficient.

International institutions[edit]

Brussels has, since World War II, become the administrative centre of many international organizations. The European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) have their main institutions in the city, along with many other international organisations such as the World Customs Organization and EUROCONTROL as well as international corporations. Brussels is third in the number of international conferences it hosts[34] also becoming one of the largest convention centres in the world.[35] The presence of the EU and the other international bodies has, for example, led to there being more ambassadors and journalists in Brussels than in Washington D.C.[36] International schools have also been established to serve this presence.[35] The "international community" in Brussels numbers at least 70,000 people.[37] In 2009, there were an estimated 286 lobbying consultancies known to work in Brussels.[38]

European Union[edit]

Aerial view of the European Quarter.

Brussels serves as capital of the European Union, hosting the major political institutions of the Union.[15] The EU has not declared a capital formally, though the Treaty of Amsterdam formally gives Brussels the seat of the European Commission (the executive/government branch) and the Council of the European Union (a legislative institution made up from executives of member states).[39][40] It locates the formal seat of European Parliament in the French city of Strasbourg, where votes take place with the Council on the proposals made by the Commission. However meetings of political groups and committee groups are formally given to Brussels along with a set number of plenary sessions. Three quarters of Parliament now takes place at its Brussels hemicycle.[41] Between 2002 and 2004, the European Council also fixed its seat in the city.[42] In 2014, the Union hosted a G7 summit in the city.

Brussels, along with Luxembourg and Strasbourg, began to host institutions in 1957, soon becoming the centre of activities as the Commission and Council based their activities in what has become the "European Quarter".[39] Early building in Brussels was sporadic and uncontrolled with little planning, the current major buildings are the Berlaymont building of the Commission, symbolic of the quarter as a whole, the Justus Lipsius building of the Council and the Espace Léopold of Parliament.[40] Today the presence has increased considerably with the Commission alone occupying 865,000 m2 within the "European Quarter" in the east of the city (a quarter of the total office space in Brussels[15]). The concentration and density has caused concern that the presence of the institutions has caused a "ghetto effect" in that part of the city.[43] However the presence has contributed significantly to the importance of Brussels as an international centre.[36]


Under the Köppen climate classification, Brussels experiences an oceanic climate (Cfb). Brussels' proximity to coastal areas influences the area's climate by sending marine air masses from the Atlantic Ocean. Nearby wetlands also ensure a maritime temperate climate. On average (based on measurements over the last 100 years), there are approximately 200 days of rain per year in the Brussels-Capital Region.[44] Snowfall is infrequent, averaging 24 days per year.

Climate data for Brussels
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 15.3
Average high °C (°F) 5.7
Daily mean °C (°F) 3.3
Average low °C (°F) 0.7
Record low °C (°F) −21.1
Average precipitation mm (inches) 76.1
Average precipitation days 19.2 16.3 17.8 15.9 16.2 15.0 14.3 14.5 15.7 16.6 18.8 19.3 199
Average snowy days 5.2 5.9 3.2 2.4 0.4 0 0 0 0 0 2.4 4.6 24.1
Average relative humidity (%) 86.6 82.5 78.5 72.5 73.2 74.1 74.3 75.5 80.9 84.6 88.2 88.8 80
Mean monthly sunshine hours 59 77 114 159 191 188 201 190 143 113 66 45 1,546
Source: KMI/IRM[45]



Brussels is home to a large number of immigrants. At the last Belgian census in 1991, 63.7% of inhabitants in Brussels-Capital Region answered that they were Belgian citizens, born as such in Belgium. However, there have been numerous individual or familial migrations towards Brussels since the end of the 18th century, including political refugees (Karl Marx, Victor Hugo, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Léon Daudet for example,) from neighbouring or more distanced countries as well as labour migrants, former foreign students or expatriates, and many Belgian families in Brussels can claim at least one foreign grandparent.

In general the population of Brussels is younger than the national average and the gap between rich and poor is wider.[46] Brussels has a large concentration of immigrants and their children from other countries, including many of Turkish and Moroccan ancestry, together with French-speaking black Africans from Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.

People of foreign origin make up nearly 70%[47] of the population of Brussels, most of whom have been naturalized following the great 1991 reform of the naturalization process. 32% of the inhabitants are of foreign European origin, and 36% are of another background, mostly from Morocco, Turkey and Sub-Saharan Africa. Among all major migrant groups from outside the EU, a majority of the permanent residents have acquired Belgian nationality.[48]

Largest groups of foreign residents[49]
Nationality Population (2014)
 France 58,682
 Morocco 38,008
 Italy 30,336
 Romania 29,682
 Poland 26,414
 Spain 26,020
 Portugal 19,336
 Germany 10,193
 Bulgaria 9,746
 Turkey 8,952


St. Mary's Royal Church, a 19th-century Roman Catholic church in Brussels.

Although historically Roman Catholic majority, after the expulsion of Protestants in the 16th century, most today are non-practicing, with about 10% of the Catholic population regularly attends church services. Brussels has a growing Muslims community, atheists and agnostics. Other recognized religions Protestantism, Anglicanism, Orthodoxy and Judaism, are practiced by much smaller groups in Brussels.

Recognized religions and Laïcité enjoy public funding and school courses: every pupil in an official school from 6 years old to 18 must choose 2 hours per week of compulsory religion—or Laïcité—inspired morals.[citation needed]

Brussels has a large concentration of Muslims, mostly of Turkish and Moroccan ancestry. Belgium does not collect statistics by ethnic background, so exact figures are unknown. It was estimated in 2005 that people of Muslim background account for 25.5% of Brussels' population, a much higher concentration than those of the other regions of Belgium.[50]

Regions of Belgium[50] (1 January 2005) Total population People of Muslim origin  % of Muslims
Belgium 10,445,852 628,751 6.0%
Brussels-Capital Region 1,006,749 256,220 25.5%
Wallonia 3,395,942 136,596 4.0%
Flanders 6,043,161 235,935 3.9%


Estimate of languages spoken at home (Capital Region, 2013)[51]
  Dutch and French
  French and other language
  Neither Dutch nor French

Since the founding of the Kingdom of Belgium in 1830, Brussels has transformed from being almost entirely Dutch-speaking (Brabantian dialect to be exact), to being a multilingual city with French (specifically Belgian French) as the majority language and lingua franca. This language shift, the Francization of Brussels, is rooted in the 18th century and accelerated after Belgium became independent and Brussels expanded past its original boundaries.[52][53]

Manneken Pis is a well-known public sculpture in Brussels.

French-speaking immigration contributed to the Frenchification of Brussels; both Walloons and expatriates from other countries, mainly France, came to Brussels in great numbers. However, a more important cause for the Frenchification was the language change over several generations from Dutch to French that was performed in Brussels by the Flemish people themselves. The main reason for this was the political, administrative and social pressure, partly based on the low social prestige of the Dutch language in Belgium at the time; this made French the only language of administration, law, politics and education in Belgium and thus necessary for social mobility.[54] From 1880 on, faced with the necessity of using French in dealing with such institutions, more and more Dutch-speakers became bilingual, and a rise in the number of monolingual French-speakers was seen after 1910. Halfway through the 20th century the number of monolingual French-speakers surpassed the number of mostly bilingual Flemish inhabitants.[55]

Only since the 1960s, after the fixation of the Belgian language border, and after the socio-economic development of Flanders was in full effect, could Dutch stem the tide of increasing French use.[56] Through immigration, a further number of formerly Dutch-speaking municipalities in surrounding Flanders became majority French-speaking in the second half of the 20th century.[57][58][59] This phenomenon is, together with the future of Brussels, one of the most controversial topics in all of Belgian politics.[60][61]

Given its Dutch-speaking origins and the role that Brussels plays as the capital city in a bilingual country, the administration of the entire Brussels-Capital Region is fully bilingual, including its subdivisions and public services. Nevertheless, some communautarian issues remain. Flemish political parties demanded for decades that the Flemish part of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde arrondissement be separated from the Brussels Region (which made Halle-Vilvoorde a monolingual Flemish arrondissement). BHV was divided mid 2012. The French-speaking population regards the language border as artificial[62] and demands the extension of the bilingual region to at least all six municipalities with language facilities in the surroundings of Brussels.[63] Flemish politicians have strongly rejected these proposals.[64][65][66]

The original Dutch dialect of Brussels (Brussels) is a form of Brabantic (the variant of Dutch spoken in the ancient Duchy of Brabant) with a significant number of loanwords from French, and still survives among a minority of inhabitants called Brusseleers, many of them quite bi- and multilingual, or educated in French and not writing the Dutch language. Brussels and its suburbs evolved from a Dutch-dialect–speaking town to a mainly French-speaking town. The ethnic and national self-identification of the inhabitants is quite different along ethnic lines.

For their French-speaking Bruxellois, it can vary from Belgian, Francophone Belgian, Bruxellois (like the Memellanders in interwar ethnic censuses in Memel), Walloon (for people who migrated from the Wallonia Region at an adult age); for Flemings living in Brussels it is mainly either Flemish or Brusselaar (Dutch for an inhabitant) and often both. For the Brusseleers, many simply consider themselves as belonging to Brussels. For the many rather recent immigrants from other countries, the identification also includes all the national origins: people tend to call themselves Moroccans or Turks rather than an American-style hyphenated version.

The two largest foreign groups come from two francophone countries: France and Morocco.[67] The first language of roughly half of the inhabitants is not an official one of the Capital Region.[68] Nevertheless, about three out of four residents are Belgian nationals.[69][70][71]

In recent decades, owing to migration and the city's international role, Brussels is home to a growing number of foreign language speakers. In 2013, figures cited in the Marnix Plan show that 63.2% of Brussels inhabitants are native speakers of French, while less than 20% are native Dutch speakers. Just 2.5% speak English as their mother tongue, but 29.7% of people living in the city claim to speak English well or very well.[72] The use of English as an unofficial compromise language between Dutch and French is rising, but language laws still require Dutch and French translations in most cases. The acceptance of English as a language for communication with the city's public servants depends entirely on the goodwill of the public servants, though they must accept questions in French and Dutch.[73]

The migrant communities, as well as rapidly growing communities of EU-nationals from other EU-member states, speak many languages like French, Turkish, Arabic, Berber, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, German, and (increasingly) English. The degree of linguistic integration varies widely within each migrant group.



Guildhalls on the Grand Place

The architecture in Brussels is diverse, and spans from the clashing combination of Gothic, Baroque and Louis XIV styles on the Grand Place to the postmodern buildings of the EU institutions.

The Grand Place is the main attraction in the city centre and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998. The square is dominated by the Flamboyant Town Hall, the Neo-Gothic Breadhouse and the Baroque guildhalls. Other landmarks in the centre include the St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral, the Royal Palace and the Palace of Justice.

The Manneken Pis, a fountain containing a bronze sculpture of a urinating youth, is a tourist attraction and symbol of the city.

Also particularly striking are the buildings in the Art Nouveau style by the Brussels architect Victor Horta. Some of Brussels' districts were developed during the heyday of Art Nouveau, and many buildings are in this style. Good examples include Schaerbeek, Etterbeek, Ixelles, and Saint-Gilles. Another example of Brussels Art Nouveau is the Stoclet Palace, by the Viennese architect Josef Hoffmann. The modern buildings of Espace Leopold complete the picture.

Cinquantenaire triumphal arch

Located outside the centre in a more green environment are the Cinquantenaire park with its triumphal arch and nearby museums, the Royal Palace of Laeken with its large greenhouses, and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

The Atomium is a symbolic 103-metre (338 ft) tall structure that was built for the 1958 World's Fair. It consists of nine steel spheres connected by tubes, and forms a model of an iron crystal (specifically, a unit cell). The architect A. Waterkeyn devoted the building to science. Next to the Atomium is the Mini-Europe park with 1:25 scale maquettes of famous buildings from across Europe.


Brussels contains over 80 museums.[74] The Royal Museums of Fine Arts has an extensive collection of various painters, such as Flemish painters like Bruegel, Rogier van der Weyden, Robert Campin, Anthony van Dyck, and Jacob Jordaens. The Magritte Museum houses the world's largest collection of the works of the surrealist René Magritte. Museums dedicated to the national history of Belgium include the BELvue Museum, the Royal Museums of Art and History, and the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History.

The city has had a renowned artist scene for many years. The famous Belgian surrealist René Magritte, for instance, studied and lived in Brussels, as did the avant-garde dramatist Michel de Ghelderode. The city was also home of the Impressionist painter Anna Boch from the Artist Group Les XX which includes other famous Belgian painters such as Léon Spilliaert and Guy Huygens. The city is also a capital of the comic strip;[2] some treasured Belgian characters are Tintin, Lucky Luke, Cubitus, Gaston and Marsupilami. Throughout the city, walls are painted with large motifs of comic book characters; these murals taken together are known as the Brussels' Comic Book Route. Also, the interiors of some Metro stations are designed by artists. The Belgian Comic Strip Center combines two artistic leitmotifs of Brussels, being a museum devoted to Belgian comic strips, housed in the former Waucquez department store, designed by Victor Horta in the Art Nouveau style.

Brussels is well known for its performing arts scene, with the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, the Kaaitheater and La Monnaie among the most notable institutions. The King Baudouin Stadium is a concert and competition facility with a 50,000 seat capacity, the largest in Belgium. The site was formerly occupied by the Heysel Stadium. Furthermore, the Bozar (Center for Fine Arts) is home to the National Orchestra of Belgium and the Flagey cultural centre hosts the Brussels Philharmonic.


Brussels is known for its local waffle

Brussels is known for its local waffle, its chocolate, its French fries and its numerous types of beers. The Brussels sprout has long been popular in Brussels, and may have originated there.[75]

The gastronomic offer includes approximately 1,800 restaurants, and a number of high quality bars. Belgian cuisine is known among connoisseurs as one of the best in Europe. In addition to the traditional restaurants, there are a large number of cafés, bistros, and the usual range of international fast food chains. The cafés are similar to bars, and offer beer and light dishes; coffee houses are called the Salons de Thé. Also widespread are brasseries, which usually offer a large number of beers and typical national dishes.

Belgian cuisine is characterised by the combination of French cuisine with the more hearty Flemish fare. Notable specialities include Brussels waffles (gaufres) and mussels (usually as "moules frites", served with fries). The city is a stronghold of chocolate and pralines manufacturers with renowned companies like Neuhaus, Leonidas and Godiva. Numerous friteries are spread throughout the city, and in tourist areas, fresh, hot, waffles are also sold on the street.

In addition to the regular selection of Belgian beer, the famous lambic style of beer is predominately brewed in and around Brussels, and the yeasts have their origin in the Senne valley. Kriek, a cherry lambic, enjoys outstanding popularity, as it does in the rest of Belgium. Kriek is available in almost every bar or restaurant.


The stadium now known as the King Baudouin Stadium is the largest in the country and home to the national teams in football and rugby union. It hosted the final of the 1972 UEFA European Football Championship, and the opening game of the 2000 edition. Several European club finals have been held at the ground, including the 1985 European Cup Final which saw 39 deaths due to hooliganism and structural collapse.[76] The King Baudouin Stadium is also home of the annual Memorial Van Damme athletics event, which is part of the IAAF Diamond League. Other important athletics events are the Brussels Marathon and the 20 km of Brussels.

The Brussels Cycling Classic is one of the oldest semi classic bicycle races on the international calendar.


R.S.C. Anderlecht, based in the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium in the Anderlecht municipality, is the most successful Belgian football club in the Belgian Pro League with 33 titles.[77] It has also won the most major European tournaments for a Belgian side. Brussels is also home to Union Saint-Gilloise, the most successful Belgian club before World War II with 11 titles[78] The club was founded in Saint-Gilles but is based in the nearby Forest municipality and currently plays in Second Division. White Star Bruxelles is another football club that plays in second division.

Racing White Daring Molenbeek, based in the Sint-Jans-Molenbeek municipality and often referred to as RWDM, was a very popular football club until it was dissolved in 2002.


Further information: Economy of Belgium

Serving as the centre of administration for Europe, Brussels' economy is largely service-oriented. It is dominated by regional and world headquarters of multinationals, by European institutions, by various administrations, and by related services, though it does have a number of notable craft industries, such as the Cantillon Brewery, a lambic brewery founded in 1900.

Brussels has a robust economy. Its GDP per capita is nearly double that of Belgium as a whole,[79] and it has the highest GDP per capita of any NUTS 1 region in the European Union at €62,000 in 2011.[80] That being said, the GDP is boosted by a massive inflow of commuters from neighbouring regions; over half of those who work in Brussels live in Flanders or Wallonia, with 230,000 and 130,000 commuters per day respectively.[81] Not all of the wealth generated in Brussels remains in Brussels itself, and as of December 2013 the unemployment among residents of Brussels is 20.4%.[82]


There are several universities in Brussels. The two main universities are the Université Libre de Bruxelles, a French-speaking university with about 20,000 students in three campuses in the city (and two others outside),[83] and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, a Dutch-speaking university with about 10,000 students.[84] Both universities originate from a single ancestor university founded in 1834, namely the Free University of Brussels, which was split in 1970 at about the same time the Flemish and French Communities gained legislative power over the organization of higher education.

Other universities include the Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles with 2,000 students,[85] a campus of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven,[86] (offering bachelor & master's degrees in economics & business, law, arts, and architecture, and counting a faculty in the city centre) the Royal Military Academy, a military college established in 1834 by a French colonel[87] and two drama schools founded in 1982: the French-speaking Conservatoire Royal and the Dutch-speaking Koninklijk Conservatorium.[88][89]

Still other universities have campuses in Brussels, such as the Université Catholique de Louvain that has had its medical faculty in the city since 1973.[90] In addition, the University of Kent's Brussels School of International Studies is a specialised postgraduate school offering advanced international studies and Boston University Brussels was established in 1972 and offers master's degrees in business administration and international relations. Due to the post-war international presence in the city, there are also a number of international schools, including the International School of Brussels with 1,450 pupils between 2½ and 18,[91] the British School of Brussels, and the four European Schools, which provide free education for the children of those working in the EU institutions. The combined student population of the four European Schools in Brussels is currently around 10,000.[92]

However, by far most Brussels pupils between 3 and 18 go to schools organized by the Flemish Community and the French-speaking Community, with roughly 20% going to the first (Flemish) and close to 80% for the French-speaking schools.


Main article: Transport in Brussels
Brussels-South railway station, home to the Eurostar train service to London
High-speed rail networks connect Brussels with other European cities (ICE train in the North station pictured)


Brussels is served by Brussels Airport, located in the nearby Flemish municipality of Zaventem, and by the smaller Brussels South Charleroi Airport, located near Charleroi (Wallonia), some 50 km (30 mi) from Brussels.


Brussels also has its own port on the Brussels-Scheldt Maritime Canal located in the northwest of the city. The Brussels-Charleroi Canal connects Brussels with the industrial areas of Wallonia.


The City of Brussels has three main train stations: Brussels South, Central and North, which are amongst the busiest of the country. Brussels South is also served by direct high-speed rail links: to London by the Eurostar train via the Channel Tunnel (1hr 51 min); to Amsterdam by the Thalys and "InterCity-Plus" connections; to Amsterdam, Paris (1hr 50min, 1hr 25 min respectively) as of 6 April 2015, and Cologne by the Thalys; and to Cologne and Frankfurt by the German ICE (2hr 59 min-3hr 16min).

The train rails in Brussels go underground near the centre through the North–South connection, with the Brussels-Central station also being largely underground. The tunnel itself is only six tracks wide at its narrowest point, which often causes congestion and delays due to heavy use of the route.

The City has minor railway stations at Bockstael, Brussels-Chapel, Brussels-Congres, Brussels-Luxembourg, Brussels-Schuman, Brussels-West, Haren, Haren-South, Simonis.

In the Brussels Region there are also railways stations at Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, Boitsfort, Boondael, Bordet (Evere), Etterbeek, Evere, Forest-East, Forest-South, Jette, Meiser (Schaarbeek), Moensberg (Uccle), Saint-Job (Uccle), Schaarbeek, Uccle-Calevoet, Uccle-Stalle, Vivier d'Oie-Diesdelle (Uccle), Merode and Watermael.

City public transport[edit]

The Brussels Metro dates back to 1976,[93] but underground lines known as premetro have been serviced by tramways since 1968. A comprehensive bus and tram network also covers the city.

An interticketing system means that a MIVB/STIB ticket holder can use the train or long-distance buses inside the city. A single journey can include multiple stages across the different modes of transport. The commuter services operated by De Lijn, TEC and NMBS/SNCB will in the next few years be augmented by the Brussels RER/GEN network which will connect the capital and surrounding towns.

Since 2003 Brussels has had a car-sharing service operated by the Bremen company Cambio in partnership with the MIVB/STIB and local ridesharing company Taxi Stop. In 2006 shared bicycles were introduced, the scheme was subsequently being taken over by Villo!. In 2012, the Zen Car electric car-sharing scheme was launched in the university and European areas.

Road network[edit]

Rue de la Loi is one of the city's main streets

Brussels has the most congested traffic in North America and Europe according to US traffic information platform Inrix.[94]

In medieval times Brussels stood at the intersection of routes running north-south (the modern Rue Haute/Hoogstraat) and east-west (Chaussée de Gand/Gentsesteenweg-Rue du Marché aux Herbes/Grasmarkt-Rue de Namur/Naamsestraat). The ancient pattern of streets radiating from the Grand Place in large part remains, but has been overlaid by boulevards built over the River Senne, over the city walls and over the railway connection between the North and South Stations.

As one expects of a capital city, Brussels is the hub of the fan of old national roads, the principal ones being clockwise the N1 (N to Breda), N2 (E to Maastricht), N3 (E to Aachen), N4 (SE to Luxembourg) N5 (S to Rheims), N6 (SW to Maubeuge), N8 (W to Koksijde) and N9 (NW to Ostend).[95] Usually named chaussées/steenwegen, these highways normally run in a straight line, but on occasion lose themselves in a maze of narrow shopping streets.

The town is skirted by the European route E19 (N-S) and the E40 (E-W), while the E411 leads away to the SE. Brussels has an orbital motorway, numbered R0 (R-zero) and commonly referred to as the "ring" (French: ring Dutch: ring). It is pear-shaped as the southern side was never built as originally conceived, owing to residents' objections.

The city centre, sometimes known as "the pentagon", is surrounded by an inner ring road, the "small ring" (French: petite ceinture, Dutch: kleine ring ), a sequence of boulevards formally numbered R20. These were built upon the site of the second set of city walls following their demolition. Metro line 2 runs under much of these. Since June 2015, a number of central boulevards in the small ring have become car-free, limiting the transit traffic through the pentagon.[96]

On the eastern side of the city, the R21 (French: grande ceinture, grote ring in Dutch) is formed by a string of boulevards that curves round from Laeken to Uccle. Some premetro stations (see Brussels Metro) were built on that route. A little further out, a stretch numbered R22 leads from Zaventem to Saint-Job.

International relations[edit]

Twin towns and sister cities[edit]

Brussels is twinned with the following cities:

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]