Brussels Town Hall
|Brussels' Town Hall|
|Town or city||B-1000 City of Brussels, Brussels-Capital Region|
|Height||96 metres (315 ft)|
|Design and construction|
Jacob van Thienen,
Jan van Ruysbroek
|Engineer||Guillaume de Voghel|
|Part of||La Grand-Place, Brussels|
|Criteria||Cultural: ii, iv|
|Inscription||1998 (22nd Session)|
The Town Hall (French: Hôtel de Ville, Dutch: Stadhuis (help·info)) of the City of Brussels is a landmark building in Brussels, Belgium. It is located on the famous Grand Place (Brussels' main square), opposite the King's House or Bread House building (French: Maison du Roi, Dutch: Broodhuis) housing the Brussels City Museum.
Erected between 1401 and 1455, the Town Hall is the only remaining medieval building of the Grand Place and is considered a masterpiece of civil Gothic architecture and more particularly of Brabantine Gothic. Its three neoclassical rear wings date from the 18th century. It is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as part of the square.
Gothic Town Hall
The Town Hall (French: Hôtel de Ville, Dutch: Stadhuis) of the City of Brussels was erected in stages, between 1401 and 1455, on the south side of the Grand Place, transforming the square into the seat of municipal power. It is also the square's only remaining medieval building.
The oldest part of the present building is its east wing (to the left when facing the front). This wing, together with a shorter tower, was built between 1401 and 1421. The architect and designer is probably Jacob van Thienen with whom Jean Bornoy collaborated. Initially, future expansion of the building was not foreseen, however, the admission of the craft guilds into the traditionally patrician city government apparently spurred interest in providing more room for the building. As a result, a second, somewhat longer wing was built on to the existing structure, with the young Duke Charles the Bold laying its first stone in 1444. The architect of this west wing is unknown. Historians think that it could be Guillaume (Willem) de Voghel who was the architect of the City of Brussels in 1452, and who was also, at that time, the designer of the Aula Magna at the Palace of Coudenberg.
The facade is decorated with numerous statues representing the local nobility (such as the Dukes and Duchesses of Brabant and knights of the Noble Houses of Brussels), saints, and allegorical figures. The present sculptures are mainly 19th- and 20th-century reproductions or creations; the original 15th-century ones are kept in the Brussels City Museum in the King's House or Bread House building across the Grand Place.
The 96-metre-high (315 ft) tower in Brabantine Gothic style is the work of Jan van Ruysbroek, the court architect of Philip the Good. By 1455, this tower, replacing the older one, was complete. Above the roof of the Town Hall, the square tower body narrows to a lavishly pinnacled octagonal openwork. At its summit, stands a 5-metre-tall (16 ft)[a] gilt metal statue of Saint Michael, the patron saint of Brussels, slaying a dragon or demon. This statue is a work by Michel de Martin Van Rode, and was placed on the tower in 1454 or 1455. It was removed in the 1990s and replaced by a copy. The original is also in the Brussels City Museum.
The tower, its front archway and the main building's facade are conspicuously off-centre relative to one another. According to a legend, the architect of the building, upon discovering this "error", leapt to his death from the tower. More likely, the asymmetry of the Town Hall was an accepted consequence of the scattered construction history and space constraints.
View of the Grand Place in Brussels and the Town Hall, Jan Mommaert, 1594
Brussels' Town Hall, engraving by Abraham van Santvoort after Leo van Heil, c. 1650
Destruction and rebuilding
On 13 August 1695, during the Nine Years' War, a 70,000-strong French army under Marshal François de Neufville, duc de Villeroy, 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 Wallonia. 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. The resulting fire completely gutted the Town Hall, destroying the building's archives and art collections, including paintings by Rogier van der Weyden. Only the stone shell of the building remained standing. That it survived at all is ironic, as it was the principal target of the artillery fire.
After the bombardment, the interior was soon rebuilt and enlarged by the architect-sculptor Corneille Van Nerven, who added three rear wings in the Louis XIV style over the ruins of the former inner cloth market (Halle au Drap), from 1706 to 1717, transforming the L-shaped building into its present configuration; a quadrilateral with an inner courtyard. This courtyard has a pavement marked with a star which indicates the geographical centre of Brussels. It is decorated with two marble fountains designed in 1714 by Johannes Andreas Anneessens, surmounted by allegorical figures of The Meuse and The Scheldt rivers, sculpted in 1715 by Jean de Kinder and Pierre-Denis Plumier respectively. Until 1795, these wings housed the States of Brabant; the representation of the three estates (nobility, clergy and commoners) to the court of the Duke of Brabant.
The Scheldt by Pierre-Denis Plumier
The Town Hall underwent many restoration campaigns throughout the 19th century, first under the direction of the architect Tilman-François Suys, starting in 1840. The interior was later revised by the architect Victor Jamaer from 1860, in the style of his mentor Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Jamaer was the City of Brussels' architect and also reconstructed the King's House. The interior is now dominated by neo-Gothic: the Maximilian Room, the States of Brabant Room and their antechamber with tapestries depicting the life of Clovis, the splendid Municipal Council Room, the likewise richly furnished ballroom and the Wedding Room (formerly the courtroom).
It was also at this time that most of the Town Hall's statues were made. Indeed, before then, the Town Hall was not adorned like it is today with countless statues, with the exception of culs-de-lampes ("lamp ends"), representations of eight prophets above the portal, and a few statues located at the corner turrets. Jamaer reworked the facade by adding non-existent niches, as well as a gallery and a new portal. Between 1844 and 1902, nearly three hundred statues in Caen and Échaillon stone, created by famous artists, including Charles Geefs, Charles-Auguste Fraikin, Eugène Simonis and George Minne, were executed. The interior rooms were replenished with tapestries, paintings, and sculptures, largely representing subjects of importance in local and regional history, such as a monumental bronze statue of Saint Michael created by Charles van der Stappen in the entrance.
The Town Hall not only housed the city's magistrate, but also the States of Brabant until 1795. In 1830, the provisional government operated from there during the Belgian Revolution, which provoked the separation of the Southern Netherlands from the Northern Netherlands, resulting in the formation of Belgium as it is known presently.
At the start of World War I, as refugees flooded Brussels, the Town Hall served as a makeshift hospital. On 20 August 1914, the occupying German army arrived at the Grand Place and hoisted a German flag at the left side of the Town Hall.
The Town Hall was designated a historic monument on 9 March 1936, at the same time as the King's House. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998 as part of the registration of the Grand Place.
Brussels' Town Hall was an exemplary work for architects representing the Gothic Revival in the era of historicism. The Austrian architect Friedrich von Schmidt drew inspiration from it when building the City Hall in Vienna. Georg von Hauberrisser, while building the New Town Hall of Munich, also used the building's Brabantian pattern as an architectural example.
- This is the height of Saint Michael alone. Including the base to the point of the sword, the statue is about 5 metres (16 ft) tall.
- State 2004, p. 147.
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- Mardaga 1993, p. 128. sfn error: no target: CITEREFMardaga1993 (help)
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- Mardaga 1993, p. 134. sfn error: no target: CITEREFMardaga1993 (help)
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- De Vries, André (2003). Brussels: A Cultural and Literary History. Oxford: Signal Books. ISBN 978-1-902669-46-5.
- Hennaut, Eric (2000). La Grand-Place de Bruxelles. Bruxelles, ville d'Art et d'Histoire (in French). Vol. 3. Brussels: Éditions de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale.
- Heymans, Vincent (2011). Les maisons de la Grand-Place de Bruxelles (in French). Brussels: CFC Éditions. ISBN 978-2-930018-89-8.
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