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For other uses, see Brussels (disambiguation).
Emblem of the Brussels-Capital Region
Emblem of the Brussels-Capital Region
Flag of The City of Brussels
Flag of The City of Brussels

Brussels (Dutch: Brussel, French: Bruxelles, German: Brüssel) is the capital of Belgium and is considered by many to be the headquarters of the European Union, as two of its four main institutions have their headquarters in the city.

Brussels is, first of all, a city located in the centre of Belgium and its capital, but it sometimes also refers to the largest municipality of the Brussels-Capital Region. This municipality inside Brussels is correctly named The City of Brussels (French: Bruxelles-Ville or Ville de Bruxelles, Dutch: Stad Brussel), which is one of 19 municipalities that make up the Brussels-Capital Region (see also: Municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region). The municipality has a population of about 140,000 while the Brussels-Capital Region has more than a million inhabitants. 50° 50′ 37″ N, 4° 21′ 27″ E. [1]

The Brussels-Capital Region is a region of Belgium in its own right, alongside the Flemish Region and Wallonia. Geographically, it is an enclave in the Flemish Region. Regions are one component of Belgium's complex institutions, the three communities being "the" other component: the Brussels inhabitants must deal with either the Flemish Community or the French (speaking) community for matters such as culture and education.

Brussels is also the capital of Flanders and of the French Community of Belgium (Communauté française Wallonie-Bruxelles in French) ; all Flemish capital institutions are established here: Flemish Parliament, Flemish government and its administration.

Two of the three main institutions of the European Union - the European Commission and the Council of the European Union - have their headquarters in Brussels: the Commission in the Berlaymont building and the Council in the Justus Lipsius building facing it. The third main institution of the European Union, the European Parliament, also has a parliamentary chamber in Brussels in which its committee meet and some of its plenary sessions are held (the other plenary sessions are held in Strasbourg, and its administrative headquarters are in Luxembourg).

Brussels is also the political seat of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the Western European Union (WEU) and EUROCONTROL, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation.

The "language frontier" divides Belgium into a northern, Dutch-speaking, region and a southern, French-speaking, region. Although the real language frontier and the official one are largely identical, there are bilingual pockets on both sides with, in certain cases, no specific linguistic rights for the population speaking the other language. The Brussels-Capital Region is officially bilingual, while the majority of its residents speaks French (see the linguistic history of Brussels in this article's linguistic situation section).

The highest building in Brussels is the South Tower (150 m); the most famous probably the Atomium, which is a remnant from the Expo '58.



The name Brussels comes from the old Dutch Bruocsella, Brucsella or Broekzele, which means "marsh (bruoc, bruc or broek) home (sella or zele)" or "home in the marsh". "Broekzele" was spelt "Bruxelles" in French. In Belgian French pronunciation as well as in Dutch, the "k" eventually disappeared and "z" became "s", as reflected in the current Dutch spelling. The names of all other municipalities in the Brussels-Capital Region are also of Dutch origin, except for Evere, which is of Celtic origin.


The Palais d'Egmont, seat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a site for European diplomacy
The Palais d'Egmont, seat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a site for European diplomacy

In 977, the German emperor Otto II gave Lower Lorraine, the empire's western frontier to Charles, the banished son of King Louis IV of France. Mention was already made of Brussels at the time. However, the founding of Brussels is usually known to happen when a small castle was built by Charles around 979 on an island (called Saint-Gery island) encompassed by the Senne river. At the end of the tenth century, with the death of Charles, Lower Lorraine was taken over by Lambert I of Leuven. Under Lambert II of Leuven, a new castrum and the first city walls were built. The small town became in the 12th century an important stop on the commercial road from Bruges to Cologne; the Counts of Leuven changed their name to Dukes of Brabant at about this time also. From 1357 to 1379, a new city enclosure was constructed as the former one was already proving to be too small: it is now known as the inner ring or pentagon. 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, was Philip's father).

In 1695 Brussels was attacked by King Louis XIV of France: the battle was responsible for the flattening of the city's heart, the Grand Place, and the razing of what was left: more than 4000 houses, including the buildings of the Grand Place, were all destroyed, except for the famous city hall, the Hôtel de Ville, which miraculously survived).

In 1830, the Belgian revolution took place in Brussels after a representation of La Muette de Portici at La Monnaie theatre. On July 21, 1831, Léopold I, the first King of Belgium, ascended the throne, undertaking the destruction of the city walls and the construction of many buildings. Under Léopold II of Belgium, the city underwent many more changes: the Senne was culverted (as it brought diseases), theNorth-South Junction was built, and the Tervuren Avenue was laid out.

From May 10, 1940, Brussels was bombed by the German army. A lot of damage was done with bombs mainly in 1943-1944. The Heysel Stadium disaster took place in Brussels on May 29, 1985. The Brussels Capital Region was founded on June 18, 1989.

Linguistic situation

The original languages of the Brussels area are Brabantic dialects of Dutch. A curiosity is "Marollien", a Brussels dialect heavily influenced by Walloon which was spoken in a central section of the city. Both Dutch and French have been in use for most of the city's history as official languages and were used by the upper classes.

During the 19th and the 20th century, as literacy progressed, dialects started to lose ground to standardized languages. In Brussels, most of the population adopted French rather than Dutch as its language of culture, since at the time, it was more prestigious and consequently considered more useful. Today, the Brussels dialects are on the verge of extinction, although some try to revive them (see links).

The royal palace in Brussels
The royal palace in Brussels

Nowadays, the Brussels Capital Region is officially bilingual French-Dutch. There are no official statistics on the first language of its population, which would be difficult to gather anyway since mixed-language families are not uncommon. Serious estimates of the number of Dutch-speakers among the Belgian population vary between 7,5 % and 15 %, and are based upon the language in which people communicate with the authorities and the election results of Dutch-language political parties (voting is mandatory in Belgium).

Skyline of Brussels seen from the Mont des Arts
Skyline of Brussels seen from the Mont des Arts

It should be noted that the Brussels periphery, which is officially part of Flanders, has an important French-speaking population. In most of the municipalities immediately bordering the Brussels Capital Region, French-speakers form a large majority. Their linguistic rights and/or the expansion of the Brussels Capital Region are the subject of much heated debate.


Brussels has several universities, two of them being the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). A satellite campus of the Université catholique de Louvain (UCL) is also located in Brussels: it is called "Louvain-en-Woluwe" or "UCL-Brussels", and hosts the faculty of Medicine of the university. There is also the Catholic University of Brussels a Dutch-language university.

 Old houses on Brussels' Grand Place
Old houses on Brussels' Grand Place


Brussels is served by Brussels National Airport, located in the municipality of Zaventem, and by Brussels South Airport, located near Charleroi, some 80km from Brussels. Brussels' major train stations link the city to the United Kingdom by Eurostar, and to major European cities by high speed rail links (such as the Thalys).

Brussels metro (actually here premetro), de Brouckère station
Brussels metro (actually here premetro), de Brouckère station

The Brussels metro dates back to 1976 (but underground lines known as premetro have been serviced by tramways since 1968). A comprehensive bus and tram network also covers the city. Brussels also has its own port on the Willebroek canal located in the city's northwest.

There are four companies managing public transport inside Brussels:

  • STIB/MIVB (metro, bus, tram)
  • SNCB/NMBS (train)
  • De Lijn (buses based in Flanders)
  • TEC (buses based in Wallonia)

An interticketing system means that a STIB/MIVB ticket holder can use the train or long-distance buses inside the city. The commuter services operated by De Lijn, TEC and SNCB/NMBS will in the next few years be augmented by an RER rail network around Brussels.

Railway stations

The major stations in Brussels are on the North-South Junction:

  • Brussels North (Dutch: Brussel-Noord, French: Gare du Nord)
  • Brussels Central (Dutch: Brussel-Centraal, French: Gare Centrale)
  • Brussels South (Dutch: Brussel-Zuid, French: Gare du Midi or Bruxelles-Midi) (the Eurostar, Thalys, TGV and ICE international terminal)

Two more stations serve the EU district in Brussels. Trains towards Namur and Luxembourg call at:

  • Brussels Luxembourg
  • Brussels Schuman

The last two stations located in the municipality of Brussels (they also are on the North-South Junction and operate only in rush hours) are:

  • Brussels Congress (French: Bruxelles-Congrès, Dutch:Brussel-Congres)
  • Brussels Chapel (French: Bruxelles-Chapelle, Dutch: Brussel-Kapellekerk)

Other railway stations in other Brussels municipalities include :

  • Schaarbeek (French: Schaerbeek)
  • Etterbeek
  • Uccle Stalle (Dutch: Ukkel Stalle)
  • Uccle Calevoet (Dutch: Ukkel Kalevoet)
  • Jette
  • Merode
  • Delta
  • Sint-Job (French: Saint-Job)
  • Vorst Oost (French: Forest Est)
  • Vorst Zuid (French: Forest Midi)
  • Sint-Agatha-Berchem (French: Berchem Sainte-Agathe)
  • Saint-Gilles (Dutch: Sint-Gillis)
  • Watermaal (French: Watermael)
  • Bosvoorde (French: Boitsfort)
  • Boondael (Dutch: Boondaal)
  • Meiser

Road network

Brussels has an orbital motorway, numbered R0 (R-zero) and commonly referred to as the "ring" (French : ring Dutch: grote 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 the "small ring" (Dutch: kleine ring, French: petite ceinture), 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.

On the eastern side of the city, the R21 (French: grande ceinture, no particular name 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 St-Job.

Conferences and world fairs

Brussels hosted the third Congrès international d'architecture moderne in 1930.

Two world fairs took place in Brussels, the Exposition universelle et internationale (1935) and the Expo '58 in 1958. The Atomium, a 103 metre representation of an iron crystal was built for the Expo '58, and is still there.

Throughout 2003, Brussels celebrated native son Jacques Brel on the 25th anniversary of his death.

See also

Places of interest

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:

Notable parks

The Floral Carpet in the "Grand Place" in 2004
The Floral Carpet in the "Grand Place" in 2004

Notable people from Brussels

Sports clubs

Concert halls



External links

Communities, regions and provinces of Belgium Flag of Belgium
Communities: French Community of Belgium | Flemish Community in Belgium | German-speaking community of Belgium
Regions and provinces: Flanders: Antwerp | East Flanders | Flemish Brabant | Limburg | West Flanders
Wallonia: Hainaut | Liège | Luxembourg | Namur | Walloon Brabant
Brussels-Capital Region
edit Brussels-Capital Region Flag of the Brussels Capital Region
Anderlecht | Auderghem / Oudergem | Berchem-Sainte-Agathe / Sint-Agatha-Berchem | The City of Brussels | Elsene / Ixelles | Etterbeek | Evere | Forest / Vorst | Ganshoren | Jette | Koekelberg | Molenbeek-Saint-Jean / Sint-Jans-Molenbeek | Saint-Gilles / Sint-Gillis | Saint-Josse-ten-Noode / Sint-Joost-ten-Node | Schaerbeek / Schaarbeek | Woluwe-Saint-Lambert / Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe | Woluwe-Saint-Pierre / Sint-Pieters-Woluwe | Uccle / Ukkel | Watermael-Boitsfort / Watermaal-Bosvoorde
Minister-President of the Brussels-Capital Region | Brussels Parliament | Governor of Brussels-Capital
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