Sunday, August 19, 2007

The most beautiful square in the world

Before I had been to Grand Place for the first time, a book described as the "largest ballroom in the world. " I had no idea what it meant then. But as I entered the square for the first time in the mid 90's I understood what the description meant. Grand Place with its ornate buildings with its towers and statues looked like an interior of a lavish baroque ballroom. There are very few places I love as much as Grand Place!!

Before August 13th 1695, when the french bombarded Brussels, most of the buildings around it were built in wood. During that day all of them caught fire and burnt down.

From then on the whole square was rebuilt. Among the buildings reconstructed was the building of the Dukes of Brabant (image) from 1698. The whole square is now a vital baroque style ballroom with such a great number of architectural details you need years to understand and digest them all.

One of the few buildings that predates 1695 is the wonderful city hall. This Gothic building dates as far back as 1455 and takes up much of southern part of the square.

Hundreds of statues covers the large facade, and the 96 metre (300 ft) impressive tower is crowned by a large statue of the Archangel Michael.

It is beautifully lit by night and during summer there is a large multi coloured light organ lighting up the brilliant facade accompanied by old classical music. My sister and I sat there, one warm night in June enjoying it all.

Between the city hall and the Maison du Duc you find these houses. One of them is Le Maison des Brasseurs, the house belonging to the Brewers guild.

In the small building on the corner you find the La Maison du Cygne, one of the best restaurants in Brussels. Here you have to dig much deeper into your wallet than in most other restaurants in the European capital. The prices are, at least for us Norwegians, not frightening but there are other and cheaper restaurants around the square. Be aware. The Grand Place area is, however, not (with the exception of La Maison du Cygne) the place for the great culinary adventures. It is a serious tourist trap where you pay more for less.

There are restaurants in abundance in the square but just a few have left an impression. Do go for a beer or two at Chaloupe d'Or or le Roi d'Espagne for the joy of having a drink in such an environment, but the food is not anything to pay for.

T'Kelderke in the basement of Le Maison du Duc is an exception. I enjoyed the most succulent and tender Horse Beef (sorry!!) in the vaulted cellars there - highly recommendable if you have no objections to eating horse meat.

And beware. Do not be tempted by the restaurants in the nearby Rue des Bouchers. In spite of the most tempting food displayed on the outside and the most pushy personnel trying to convince you to eat there. You risk paying much for mediocre food. Try one of the restaurants I recommend. You will be so much more pleased.

But do take time at Grand Place and feel the atmosphere. The book I once read did describe it, besides being the largest ballroom on the planet, as the most beautiful square in the world. And do you know, I agree!!

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