Brussels – France And The Netherlands

The great commercial and material prosperity of the place dates from the commencement of the rule of the House of Burgundy. It was then, in the fifteenth century, that the most beautiful of its many fine buildings were erected. The Church of St. Michael and St. Gudule has its great nave and towers dating from this period; the Hotel de Ville, Notre Dame du Sablon, the Nassau Palace, the Palace of the Dukes of Brabant, and many other buildings were commenced then. Manufactures and commerce commenced to. flourish, while the liberties of the municipality were extended considerably. . . It was undoubtedly under the rule of Charles V. that Brussels reached its zenith of ancient prosperity. Then, with the era of Philip II. of Spain, came a long period of bloodshed, persecution, and misery. The religious disputes and troubles afflicting the Netherlands had their effect upon the life, prosperity, and happiness of the Bruxellois. The whole country was running with blood, and ruin stalked through the land. But during this tragic period of Netherlands’ history Brussels saw several glorious events, and did as a city more than one noble deed. It was in Brussels that the compromise of the nobles took place, after which those who were rebelling against the cruelties of the Inquisition were given the name of “Gueux,” which had been bestowed upon them contemptuously by the Comte de Barlaimont. . It was Brussels which led the revolt against the most bloodthirsty of the rulers sent to the Netherlands by Spain, the Duke of Alva, and successfully resisted the imposition of the notorious “twentieth denier” tax which it was sought to impose upon it, a tax which led ultimately to the revolt of the whole of the Belgian provinces. Certainly this ancient capital of the Province of Brabant, containing nowadays with its suburbs a population of upward of 600,000, which has quadrupled in sixty years, has come to take its place among the most beautiful and charming capital cities of Europe. It is undoubtedly healthy, and there is an engaging air about Brussels which soon impresses itself upon the foreign visitor. Added to- all its many attractions of interesting museums —the homes of wonderful and in some cases unrivaled collections of works of art—and of historical associations with the past, it possesses the charm of being modern in the best sense and of being a place where one may find much that is finest in art and music. As a home of fashion it bids fair some day to rival Paris herself, and the shops of the Montagne de la Cour, Boulevard Anspach, and contiguous streets are scarcely less luxurious or exclusive than those of the Rue de la Paix or Boulevard des Italiens in the French cap-ital. Brussels is a city of shady boulevards, open spaces, and pleasant parks as is Paris; and the beautiful Bois de la Cambre on its outskirts compares very favorably with the world-renowned Bois de Boulogne as regards rural charm and picturesqueness. One impression that Brussels is almost certain to make upon the visitor is its compactness. Its population, including the outskirts, is nowadays rather over 600,000; but it is almost impossible to realize that nearly one-eleventh of the whole population of Belgium is concentrated in this one city, or, as might be said, in Greater Brussels. Perhaps the real reason of this apparent lack of size is because there are in reality two cities, Brussels interior and Brussels exterior. The one with a population of about 225,000; the latter with one of about 375,000. It is with the former, of course, that the tourist and casual visitor are chiefly concerned. The outlying suburbs are, however, connected with the city proper by a splendid system of steam, electric, and other trams. In fact, it may be said that Brussels is in a sense surrounded by a group of small towns, which tho forming part of the great city are yet independent, and are governed very much like the various boroughs which make up Greater London, Curhegem, St. Gilles, Ixelles, St. Josse, Ten Noodle, Molenbeek, St. Jean, and Schaerbeek, still further out, are all in a sense separate towns, seldom visited by, and indeed al-most unknown to the tourist. The most fashionable quarters for residences of the wealthy classes are the broad and beautiful Avenue Louise and the streets and avenues of the Quartier Leopold. They in a sense correspond to the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, Avenue des Champs Elysees, and Boulevard St. Germain of Paris. There is another feature, too, that modern Brussels has in common with Paris of the immediate past and of today. It is being “Haussmannized,” and the older and more quaint and interesting portions of the city, as has been and is the case in Paris, are gradually but surely disappearing to make way for the onward march of progress and expansion. Almost on every hand, and especially in the Porte de Namur Quarter, old buildings are constantly falling victims to the house-wrecker, and new, in the shape of handsome mansions and lofty blocks of flats, are arising from their ashes. The last thirty—even twenty—years have seen many changes. During that period the sluggish little River Senne, which once meandered through the ‘city, and upon whose banks stood many fine and picturesque old houses and buildings of past ages, has been arched over, and the fine Boulevard of the same name, and those of Hainaut and Anspach, have been built above its imprisoned waters. The higher portions of the city are undeniably healthy, and the climate of Brussels is less subject to extreme changes than that of Paris. It is not unbearably cold in winter, and tho hot in summer, is not so, we think, airless as either Paris or London, a fact accounted for by reason of its many open spaces, its height above sea-level, and comparative nearness to the North Sea. Of its fine buildings, none excels the Hotel de Ville, which is certainly one of the most interesting and beautiful buildings of its kind in Belgium. It is well placed on one of the finest medieval squares in Europe, and is surrounded by quaint and historic houses. On this Grande Place many tragedies have from time to time been enacted, and some of the most ferocious acts of the in-human Alva performed. In the spring of the terrible year, 1568, no less than twenty-five Flemish nobles were executed here, and in the June of the same year the patriots Lamoral, Count Egmont, Philip de Montmorency, and Count Hoorn were put to death. This atrocious deed is commemorated by a fountain with statues of the he-roes, placed in front of the Maison du Roi, from a window of which the Duke of Alva watched his orders carried out. This most beautiful Hotel de Ville, with its late Gothic facade approaching the Renaissance period, nearly 200 feet in length, was commenced, according to a well-known authority, either in 1401 or 1402, the eastern wing, or left-hand portion as one faces it across the Place, having been the first part to be commenced, the western half of the facade not having been begun until 1444. The later additions formed the quadrangle. .The Cathedral at Brussels is dedicated jointly to Ste. Gudule and St. Michael. The former is one of the luckiest saints in that respect, as probably but for this dedication, she would have remained among the many rather obscure saints of the early periods of Christianity. It is to this church that most visitors to Brussels first wend their way after visiting the Grande Place and its delightful Flower Market, which is gay with blossoms on most days of the week all the year round. The natural situation of the church is a fine one, which was made the most of by its architects and builders of long ago. Standing, as it does, on the side of a hill reached from the Grande Place by the fine Rue de la Montague and short, steep Rue Ste. Gudule, it overlooks the city with its two fine twin western towers dominating the neighboring streets. These towers have appeared to us when viewed up the Rue Ste. Gudule and other streets leading up from the lowcr town to the church, generally to be veiled by a mystic gray or ambient haze, and to gain much in impressiveness and grandeur from the coup d’oeil one obtains of them framed, as it were, in the end of the rising street.