Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Anything you can do, I can do better

It's seems to have been the age-old game of one-upmanship that yielded one of Europe's, if not the world's, prettiest squares.

Brussels' Grand Place with City Hall on the left
Grand Place's Maison du Roi

Brussels' Grand Place makes an immediate and powerful impression from the moment you step into it.

What makes it more impressive is the way it sneaks up on you; none of the six narrow alleys that lead into it seem to give much of a hint of the grandeur that lies ahead.

Belgians, and others who have visited Brussels, tend to downplay the city's appeal.   And with the city playing host to many EU bureaucrats it's easy to think the place is probably just grey and bland.

The Grand Place's guild halls on a sunny afternoon
La Maison des Ducs de Brabant: a group of six guild halls
But the Grand Place is something else.  

While there are many fine squares in towns and cities across Europe, it is the way Brussels' Grand Place envelopes you on all four sides that makes it feel extra special.  

It also helps that there isn't a McDonald's or KFC crowding out a corner of the square, unlike in so many other cities.

The square's centrepiece is the 15th century City Hall, adorned with gargoyles and also slightly asymmetrical on closer inspection.
City Hall

Gargoyles on City Hall

Completing the 360 degree panorama is a series of guild halls for bakers, grease-makers, cabinet-makers, archers, boatmen, haberdashers, butchers, brewers, dressmakers and artists.  It reminds you of a place in time when those professions drove Europe's trade.

It was the rivalry among the different professions that also helped shape Europe's prettiest square.   With each group trying to make their building bigger and better than the others, the guild halls are laden with grand sculptures and intricate detailing.

I stumbled across the square on a sunny day, when the gilded statues added extra dazzle to the scene.

While I gawked, others ate gelato, sipped coffee, painted canvases or just soaked up the square's buzz - all of which you can imagine has been happening on this same spot for hundreds of years.

Maison du Roi

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