Taking it All In Stride: Understanding the History of Belgium

By Jerrice Cuvilly

As we learned in preparation for this trip, Brussels is a city with a rich history. Since we arrived in Brussels yesterday, we have been doing a lot of walking. While the city appears to be relatively small in comparison to other European cities, there are many sites to see and no shortage of places to walk and explore. I do like this because I find Brussels an un-intimidating location for my first visit to Europe.

Today we took a three hour walking tour of the central part of the city of Brussels. We started our tour at the Hogeschool Universiteit Brussels (HUB) where we met up with Stefan, our tour guide for the day and one of the professors from the university. Stefan immediately walked up and extended a warm handshake and a friendly smile and hello (pronounced more like “hallo” in Dutch) to the entire group. We bonded on the tour over our red jackets which enabled Stefan to easily spot our the group as we walked on this cool June day in the city.Our first tour stop was at the entrance of the Galeries St. Hubert, which is one of the first shopping malls in Europe. Galeries St. Hubert is enclosed by a decorative, yet functional glass ceiling that allowings air to circulate during colder and hotter months. According to Stephan, the galeries provided wealthy shoppers with an indoor shopping experience, right at the foot steps of the Grand Place in Belgium. In earlier times, it was the place to be seen and shop, much akin to Lenox Mall in Atlanta from the way it was described it to us. Today the Grand Place appears to be a preserved and the shopping and dining is primarily tourists centric. The galeries were such an outrage during the time it was built because it was seen as a frivolous expense when many Belgians were trying to make enough money to afford bread. The galeries inspired Karl Marx to write the Communist Manifesto around 1848 in Le Cigne, one of the buildings in the Grand Place, Brussels’ town square.Throughout our tour, Stefan made sure to point out the architectural styles that influenced the various buildings in the Grand Place. Each building has a deep historical significance and the oldest buildings date back to the 14th century. Some of the architectural styles that influenced the buildings were Gothic, French Classical, and Baroque. For me, this will become hopefully an easy way to understand how the city was built, as architecture flows in trends over time.On our tour we also visited Mannequin Pis, who is the infamous Belgian Statue of a little boy said to have saved the city from a potentially disastrous fire by urinating. I expected from hearing so many people talk about the statue that it would be much larger in person. It is actually quite small and numerous tourists line the small area in front of it later in the day taking photos of the Belgian landmark.Other sites we visited today included a park where we could see the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of the Belgian government in one view. We also toured the Cathedral of St. Michael and caught a glimpse of Belgium’s “Arc de Trio pho” called the Arcades du Cinquantenaire. Today I learned Belgium is steeped in architecture and has more history than can ever fit in a book or website, in addition to its unique cultural profile. Now I feel like I have an understanding of the history and the research I did in preparation for this SIE. I look forward to learning seeing and doing more over these next two weeks.

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