Economic, political and cultural
Location and site
An esplanade of approximately 110 m x 75 m, of irregular shape almost like a rectangle, located in the middle of the old city (Pentagone), east of the central boulevards, namely on the former right bank of the Zenne River, which was removed at the end of the 20th century.
The Grand-Place of Brussels is located on the site of a former sandbank between two brooks flowing into the Zenne River. The first known written mention of the low market or the “Nedermerckt” dates back to 1174. The greater part of the southwestern side is dominated by the city hall, built in the first half of the 15th century and completed by a left wing during the reconstruction that followed the bombings of 1695. Since the Middle Ages, its functions have not changed: it is the seat of the politic representation of the commune.
The House of the King is in front of it. The present building, rebuilt between 1873 and 1895, in a flamboyant gothic style, has housed the municipal museum since 1884, first of all limited to one floor, before occupying the entire building in 1926.
The houses that make up the remainder of the built front of the square are of the baroque style characterizing the era of the reconstruction of the city after 1695. Although very individualized, they blend into the composition whose unity is undeniable. Still today, they are identified by a name that they have had for the most part since the Middle Ages. They were built on narrow and deep pieces of land, and some of them were bordered by dead ends that led to yards inside islets. With this system, quite a few houses had many separate accesses, justified by their various functions (business on the ground floor, corporation room on the first room, lodging on the higher levels
Criterion ii: The Grand-Place is an outstanding example of the eclectic and highly successful blending of architectural and artistic styles that characterizes the culture and society of this region.
Criterion iv: Through the nature and quality of its architecture and of its outstanding quality as a public open place, the Grand-Place illustrates in an exceptional way the evolution and achievements of a highly successful mercantile city of northern Europe at the height of its prosperity.
- Founded in the 10th century, the city of Brussels drew its wealth from craftsmanship and trade. As early as the 12th century, it was a main economic crossroad on the route between the North Sea and the south of Germany.
- In the 13th and 14th centuries, a few patrician stone houses (the “steenen”), cloth, bread and meat markets, and wooden houses that were not in a straight line surrounded the square.
- In the 14th and the 15th centuries, many major reconstructions modified the aspect of the square forever. A new cloth market was built southwest of the square; the city expropriated an islet on the northeast to straighten the line. Then, the present city hall was built progressively between 1451 and 1456, in front of the cloth market. A new bread market was built in 1405 and the entire southeastern side was rebuilt by the communal authorities in 1441.
- During the 16th and 17th centuries, the bread market was turned into the House of the King and many homes were rebuilt, often by rich corporations, and updated. Of baroque inspiration, the reconstructions of the most recent façades were made out of stone.
- From August 13 to 15,1695, the city was bombed to ruins by the troops of Field Marshall de Villeroi by order of the King of France Louis XIV, and was widely destroyed. There only remained a few façades, among which those of the House of the King and the City Hall, as well as its belfry tower.
- Despite the major damage, reconstruction was done quickly, so much so that in the first years of the 18th century, the city was completely rebuilt. On that occasion, the alignment of some of the streets was rectified and the streets were made wider. As for the rebuilding of the Grand-Place, it was particularly controlled, as the reconstructions were approved by the Magistrate only on the basis of the tabling of a façade project, under a municipal order of 1697.
- After a slow deterioration, still made worse by the exactions of the French revolutionaries in 1793, the Grand-Place raised again the interest of the communal authorities after the independence of Belgium, which occurred in 1831. As early as 1851, but mostly starting from 1883, public and private buildings surrounding the Grand-Place were systematically renovated. This vast campaign ended in 1920.
M. Philippe Close
Bourgmestre de la Ville de Bruxelles
Ville de Bruxelles
Hôtel de Ville Grand Place