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BRUSSELS, BELGIUM

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Ghent

Brussels is the largest city in Belgium, and the administrative heart of the European Union (EU). The City of Brussels in the Brussels-Capital Region is the country's capital. Brussels has grown from a 10th century fortress town founded by Charlemagne's grandson into a city of over one million inhabitants.

Brussels is also capital of the Brussels-Capital Region, of Flanders and of the French Community of Belgium. It is not, however, the capital of the Walloon Region (Wallonia), whose capital is Namur.

Depending on the context, the word Brussels may mean the largest municipality of the Brussels-Capital Region officially called the City of Brussels (ca. 140,000 inhabitants), the Brussels-Capital Region (1,067,162 inhabitants as of 1 February 2008) or, the metropolitan area of Brussels (from 2,100,000 to more or less 2,700,000 inhabitants).

Brussels is often considered the de facto capital of the European Union, and hosts key EU institutions such as the Commission, Partliament and the Council. Hence, many other pan-European organisations are also headquartered in the city. NATO is also based in Brussels.

Brussels is the de facto capital city of the European Union (EU) and the largest urban area in Belgium. It comprises 19 municipalities, including the City of Brussels proper, which is the constitutional capital of Belgium, Flanders, the Flemish Community, and the French Community of Belgium.

Brussels has grown from a 10th-century fortress town founded by a descendant of Charlemagne into a metropolis of more than one million inhabitants. The metropolitan area has a population of over 1.8 million, making it the largest in Belgium.
Since the end of the Second World War, Brussels has been an important centre for international politics. The presence of the main EU institutions as well as the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has made the city a polyglot home of many international organisations, politicians, diplomats and civil servants.

Although historically Dutch-speaking, Brussels became increasingly French-speaking over the 19th and 20th centuries. Today a majority of inhabitants are native French-speakers, although both languages have official status. Linguistic tensions remain, and the language laws of the municipalities surrounding Brussels are an issue of much controversy in Belgium.

The most common theory for the etymology of Brussels is that it derives from the Old Dutch Broeksel or other spelling variants, which means marsh and home or "home in the marsh". The origin of the settlement that was to become Brussels lies in Saint Gaugericus' construction of a chapel on an island in the river Senne around 580. The official founding of Brussels is usually situated around 979, when Duke Charles of Lower Lotharingia transferred the relics of Saint Gudula from Moorsel to the Saint Gaugericus chapel. Charles would construct the first permanent fortification in the city, doing so on that same island.

The Lambert I of Leuven, Count of Leuven gained the County of Brussels around 1000 by marrying Charles' daughter. Because of its location on the shores of the Senne on an important trade route between Bruges and Ghent, and Cologne, Brussels grew quite quickly; it became a commercial centre that rapidly extended towards the upper town, where there was a smaller risk of floods. As it grew to a population of around 30,000, the surrounding marshes were drained to allow for further expansion. The Counts of Leuven became Dukes of Brabant at about this time (1183/1184). In the 13th century, the city got its first walls.

After the construction of the first walls of Brussels, in the early 13th century, Brussels grew significantly. In order to let the city expand, a second set of walls was erected between 1356 and 1383. Today, traces of it can still be seen, mostly because the "small ring", a series of roadways in downtown Brussels bounding the historic city centre, follows its former course.
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, with another line of descent from the Habsburgs. Brabant had lost its independence, but Brussels became the Princely Capital of the prosperous Low Countries, and flourished.

Charles V, heir of the Low Countries since 1506, though governed by his aunt Margaret of Austria until 1515, was declared King of Spain, in 1516, in the Cathedral of Saint Gudule in Brussels. Upon the death of his grandfather, Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor in 1519, Charles became the new archduke of the Habsburg Empire and thus the Holy Roman Emperor of the Empire "on which the sun does not set". It was in the Palace complex at Coudenberg that Charles V abdicated in 1555. This impressive palace, famous all over Europe, had greatly expanded since it had first become the seat of the Dukes of Brabant, but it was destroyed by fire in 1731.

In 1695, French troops sent by King Louis XIV bombarded Brussels with artillery. Together with the resulting fire, it was the most destructive event in the entire history of Brussels. The Grand Place was destroyed, along with 4000 buildings, a third of those in the city. The reconstruction of the city centre, effected during subsequent years, profoundly changed the appearance of the city and left numerous traces still visible today. The city was captured by France in 1746 during the War of the Austrian Succession but was handed back to Austria three years later.

In 1830, the Belgian revolution took place in Brussels after a performance of Auber's opera La Muette de Portici at the La Monnaie theatre. On 21 July 1831, Leopold I, the first King of the Belgians, ascended the throne, undertaking the destruction of the city walls and the construction of many buildings. Following independence, the city underwent many more changes. The Senne had become a serious health hazard, and from 1867 to 1871 its entire urban area was completely covered over. This allowed urban renewal and the construction of modern buildings and boulevards which are characteristic of downtown Brussels today.

During the 20th century the city has hosted various fairs and conferences, including the fifth Solvay Conference in 1927 and two world fairs: the Brussels International Exposition of 1935 and the Expo '58. Brussels suffered damage from World War II, though it was minor compared to cities in Germany and the United Kingdom.

After the war, Brussels was modernized for better and for worse. The construction of the North-South Junction linking the main railway stations in the city was completed in 1952, while the first Brussels premetro was finished in 1969, and the first line of the Brussels Metro was opened in 1976. Starting from the early 1960s, Brussels became the de facto capital of what would become the European Union, and many modern buildings were built. Unfortunately, development was allowed to proceed with little regard to the aesthetics of newer buildings, and many architectural gems were demolished to make way for newer buildings which often clashed with their surroundings, a process known as Brusselization.

The Brussels-Capital Region was formed on 18 June 1989 after a constitutional reform in 1970. The Brussels-Capital Region was made bilingual, and it is one of the three federal regions of Belgium, along with Flanders and Wallonia.

July 2003

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