Brussels, Grand-Place

(continuer en français) – Published: December 25, 2021

Grand-Place, Brussels

The Grand-Place of Brussels is the heart of the Belgian capital. Now a pedestrian area, it is a must for visitors. Many historical facts took place here and even today, it is the place where many events take place. In the Middle Ages, markets were held here, a source of wealth for the town and the merchants. Halls and houses were built here, first in wood and then in stone, in Renaissance or Baroque style.

Fires, of course, but also Louis XIV’s army and the French Revolutionaries destroyed many of these beautiful houses. In the 19th century, calmer times allowed them to be rebuilt, embellished and idealised by architects wishing to reconstitute the medieval square on the basis of the historical knowledge of the time.

The Grand-Place of Brussels has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1998.

The City Hall

By exception, this is the only really old building. The present building dates back to the late Middle Ages, mainly between 1400 and 1455. Its original Gothic style, however, had to be adapted to the many alterations during the partial demolitions. The tower is integrated into the façade and rises to almost 300 feet, 100 metres

King’s House

Facing the City Hall, another gothic building provides a harmonious match. It is, however, a reconstruction from the end of the 19th century, idealising the building that could have been erected. In the past, the building housed royal administrations, hence its name. Today, the city museum presents Brussels in detail.

The west side

On the west side of the square, several guild houses illustrate the importance of these organisations in ancient times. Not only did they organise the practice of their respective trades, but they also took part in the administration of the towns, using their growing wealth to replace the royal or lordship authorities. They were abolished during the French Revolution, when Belgium and the Netherlands were annexed.

The King of Spain– This was once the house of the Bakers’ guild, being decorated with a bust of Charles II, King of Spain and ruler of the Netherlands, and was later named after this decorative element.

The Wheelbarrow – The Wheelbarrow House belonged to the corporation of Greasers, merchants in charge of selling poultry and eggs. Above the doors are golden wheelbarrows.

The Bag – This is the former house of the Carpenters, the base of which survived the destruction. The harvest scene above the doorway shows a large bag. Its current occupant has nothing historical.

The She-Wolf – The house takes its name from the sculpture above the door depicting the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus. It was one of the few decorations to escape the sacking of the Grand-Place by the French revolutionaries in 1793.

The Cornet – This was the house of the Boatmen, but the name comes from the horn represented on the lintel of the door.

The Fox – The house of the Haberdashers’ guild is decorated with a golden fox, higher up the four continents surround the Justice.

The northwest side

On this part of the square, the houses are narrower and less decorated. Nevertheless, the tourist activity now occupies the terraces at the foot of the houses.

The Helmet – On the right, the most imposing house retains its 18th century appearance.

The Peacock – Narrower, it was rebuilt at the end of the 19th century, do not be deceived by the 1697 inscription on the façade. Here the stone is painted white, while the peacock is depicted in gold in the centre.

The Small Fox and the Oak – These form a whole although there are two separate houses behind this other painted façade, a practice that has been abandoned on the rest of the Grand Place.

Saint Barbara – This Renaissance house owes its name to the representation of the saint on the façade. The house was completely restored in 1918.

The Donkey – The narrowest building in this block with only two windows, a major restructuring took place in 1916.

The north-east side

This part of the Grand-Place has a group of harmoniously arranged facades, giving a definite feeling of grandeur.

The Golden Boat – The house in the centre belonged to the guild of Tailors who tried in vain to unify all the houses under one structure. At the top, the Tailors’ Patron seems to bless the whole square.

The Angel – To the right of the previous one, this was the private house of a rich merchant. It was reconstructed at the end of the 19th century on the basis of old iconography.

Joseph and Anne – Two houses grouped together in one facade, with four windows which is unusually wide.

The Deer – The last house before the street, it looks very small next to its wider neighbour.

The Dove – To the left of the Golden Boat, Victor Hugo lived here temporarily. It was the headquarters of the Painters’ guild.

The Golden Merchant – A house occupied by important people, the façade was remodelled at the end of the 19th century. It bears the coat of arms of Brabant, the region surrounding Brussels.

House of the Dukes of Brabant

The eastern side of the Grand-Place is apparently uniform, with one large façade occupying the entire side. In reality, it consists of seven different houses whose facades were brought together at the end of the 17th century by the city architect. Subsequent renovations also took place, maintaining this unity.

Several of these houses were occupied by guilds, such as the Millers, the Tanners or the Carpet Makers. Their activities are recalled by the cartouches used for decoration. The busts of 19 Dukes of Brabant were also installed here, giving it its name.

Grand-Place, Brussels

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  1. I’ve always wanted to visit some of the great cities of Europe, and had plans to begin our journeys in 2020. Of course, the pandemic put all of those plans on hold for now.
    Your photos of this great city and others you’ve featured have allowed me to visit vicariously, anyway. Thanks for taking the time to share.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are many beautiful and ancient cities in Europe, but I admit that being a capital city brings something extra. The weight of history and the concentration of national excellence gives them a superior dimension. Brussels fits perfectly into this category.


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