Grand Place (Grote Markt) is the central square of Brussels. With its sumptuous blend of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance style, the square was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. An essential location for every tourist and the most instagrammable place for every self-respecting travel influencer, Grand Place reflects a rich history and offers a generous portion of urban legends. In other words: history meets legend to create a tale.
Grand-Place is surrounded by several majestic guild houses, restaurants, chocolate shops and museums. Let us not forget the Brussels lace workshops, craft beer stores and souvenir stalls where you can buy a corkscrew with the Manneken Pis or a mini piano in the shape of the Atomium.
The original function of the city square was to serve as a stock exchange market. In 987, the Duke of Lower Lorraine, Charles, built the market in this strategic spot, perfect for commercial activity. The little settlement grew into the beautiful city of Brussels, and the market transformed into a cultural center. However, the commercial spirit of the past still permeates the air and is preserved in the names of the streets around – Herbs market street, Cheese street, Butter street and so forth.
The House of the Dukes of Brabant is an ensemble of seven guild house buildings in neo-classical style, richly adorned with statues and ornaments. In 1695, after the bombardments by Louis XIV's troops, the seven houses were hidden behind one big wall with a common door.
The construction of the Brussels Town Hall started in 1402 when the building's first foundations were laid under the watchful eye of architect Jacob van Thienen. He built only one wing of the structure. Almost 30 years later, the building was completed by an unknown architect who finished its right and middle wing.
What makes the Town Hall even more unique is the asymmetrical structure. The tower is not exactly in the middle, and the building was constructed longer than required. The architect was so embarrassed by these inaccuracies that he climbed the tower and jumped from the top!
Legend has it that his embarrassed spirit still roams about, dissatisfied with the lack of perfection even after so many years. Some people claim to hear him whisper, begging them to demolish and rebuild the Town Hall so that his soul can finally find peace. Others insist that on a very clear day, when the sun shines extremely brightly (which, by the way, never happens in Belgium), the architect's ghost appears on the top of the tower, crying and looking in the empty space.
The Brussels City Museum (La Maison Du Roi) charms with its Neo-Gothic’s facade and boasts over 7,000 items, including the original statue of the Manneken Pis. We all know the legend of the little boy that saved the city from burning down by doing… well, you know what. However, I am sure that you did not know that some people believe that the first statue of the Manneken Pis was actually a cast of the real child's body. He was still alive when that happened, and his parents were compensated with a bag of coins. Another version of the legend says that he only posed naked for the making of the statue. It is up to you to decide which story sounds more credible.
While we are on the topic, do not miss to visit the statue itself. Manneken Pis rises only a few hundred meters from the square and each time he is dressed differently, according to the occasion. And on your way there, treat yourself with a Belgian waffle!
The monument of Everard t’Serclaes (or the statue that brings luck), is located on one of the walls of the Maison de l’Étoile (the House of the Star). It was erected there in memory of Everard t’Serclaes, a Belgian hero, who helped in pushing the Flemish troops out of the city. He breathed his last breath and died in the Maison de l’Étoile. It is a well-known fact that touching the hand of his statue brings good luck and health. Or so legend says.
Galleries Royal is a project of the architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer, established in 1846 as a fashionable place for shopping and chocolate tasting. Stores of the most prestigious Belgian chocolate brands are gathered here, alongside tempting pastry shops and coquettish cafés.
And, of course, one of the oldest movie theatres in Belgium, Cinema Galleries, is a place where rare films are screened.
To finish the walk around Grand Place properly, I would suggest taking a bite in the popular Sister Brussels Café. Great cuisine, a lot of vegan and vegetarian options, and the upper floor is a performing stage for many artists and musicians.
Despite its worldwide popularity, the bustling Grand Place of Brussels always has something to surprise you with. There is no place for boredom here, at Grand Place, where history meets legend to create a tale.
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