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Brussels (brŭˈsəlz), Fr. Bruxelles, Du. Brussel, city and region (2021 pop., 2,095,688), 63 sq mi (162 sq km), capital of Belgium, central Belgium, on the Senne River and at the junction of the Charleroi-Brussels and Willebroek canals. The city lies within, but is not part of, Flemish Brabant. It is officially bilingual (French and Dutch), although French is more widely spoken. Brussels is an important administrative, financial, cultural, commercial, and industrial center and a major rail junction. Much of the administration of the European Union takes place in Brussels, and it is the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Among its varied manufactures are pharmaceuticals, electronics equipment, machine tools, paper, processed food, and lace.

Points of Interest

The historical nucleus of the city, the medieval and Renaissance Grand' Place, a large square, is the site of the Gothic city hall (15th cent.); the Renaissance-style Maison du Roi or Broodhuis (13th cent.), meeting place of the old States-General of the Netherlands; and a number of rebuilt Gothic guildhalls. Near the Grand' Place is the famous fountain of a small boy urinating, Mannekin-Pis (1619). Other noteworthy buildings include the Collegiate Church of St. Michael and St. Gudule (founded in the 11th cent. and rebuilt in the 13th–15th cent.), which contains many noted Flemish paintings; the Palais de la Nation (parliament building); the Palais de Justice; and the Palais du Roi (royal palace). Brussels is the seat of a university (founded 1834), which in 1970 was divided into two separate institutions, one French-speaking and the other Dutch. There are also excellent art museums and a botanical garden. The rest of Brussels is mostly modern, with contemporary office buildings and broad boulevards that circle the city along its former ramparts.


The city was inhabited by the Romans and later (7th cent. A.D.) by the Franks; an oratory was founded there (c.600) by the bishop of Cambrai on an island in the Senne. The city was fortified (c.1100) and became (late 12th cent.) a commercial center on the trade route from Bruges and Ghent to the Rhineland. It developed into a center of the wool industry in the 13th cent.

In the 15th cent. the arts flourished and many stately mansions (some still standing) were built. Brussels became (1430) the seat of the dukes of Burgundy and later (1477) of the governors of the Spanish (after 1714, Austrian) Netherlands and was renowned for the luxury and gaiety of its life. In 1561 the Willebroek Canal, connecting Brussels with the Scheldt River, was completed. In the late 16th cent. the city was the center of the duque de Alba's reign of terror.

The city suffered heavily in the wars fought in the Low Countries in the 16th to 18th cent. Brussels changed hands several times in the French Revolutionary Wars; later, during the Waterloo campaign (1815), it was Wellington's headquarters. From 1815 to 1830 it was, with The Hague, the alternate meeting place of the Netherlands parliament. In 1830 it became the capital of independent Belgium. Brussels was occupied by the Germans in World Wars I and II. In 1958 it was the site of a World's Fair. Following constitutional reforms in 1989 and 1993, Brussels became a separate region within a federalized Belgium.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



capital of Belgium and the country’s political and economic center. It is situated on the Senne River and is the administrative center of the province of Brabant. Its population is 169,000 (1968) excluding the suburbs and over 1 million including the suburbs—that is, about one-tenth of the country’s entire population. The composition of the population is mixed, being part Flemish and part Walloon.

Administration. The highest administrative organ of Brussels is the 39-member communal council, elected by the city population for a six-year term. The council’s functions are limited to the adoption of the city’s budget, the levying of local taxes, and the issuance of police orders and regulations. The council elects a permanently functioning organ—a collegium of seven aldermen headed by a burgomaster, who is appointed by the king from members of the council.

Brussels is the central part of so-called Greater Brussels, an agglomeration about four times the size of Brussels proper. The Brussels agglomeration, excluding the city proper, consists of 19 communes and has no permanent administrative organs.


History. Brussels is first mentioned in 11th-century sources in connection with events of the late seventh century. In the second half of the 12th century it became one of the main economic centers of the Duchy of Brabant. It was the seat of the dukes of Brabant and later of the vicegerents of the Hapsburgs in the Netherlands. The revolt which broke out in Brussels on Sept. 4, 1576, during the Netherlands bourgeois revolution of the 16th century, ended Spanish rule in the south of the country, although Brussels was recaptured by Spanish forces in 1585. Brussels was the main center of the Belgian revolution of 1830 and became the capital of Belgium after the revolution triumphed. The city was occupied by German forces from 1914 to 1918 and from 1940 to 1944.

Brussels has been the seat of a number of international conferences and congresses. From July 17 (30) through July 24 (Aug. 6), 1903 the second congress of the RSDLP was held in the city. The World’s Fair was held there in 1958.

Economy. The city’s geographical position in the center of Belgium has helped to promote its economic development. The Brussels-Charleroi canal links it to the central industrial area of the country, and the Brussels-Rupel canal connects it with the Scheldt River and the North Sea. Its close ties with the oldest industrial areas of Europe have helped make Brussels Belgium’s largest trade, transport, and industrial center, and it is the junction of many railway lines and automobile and air routes. Its airport is at Zaventem.

Various branches of the machine-building industry, producing industrial equipment primarily for the electrotechnical, transport, and printing industries, are located in Brussels and its environs. In addition, there are textile, clothing, food, and tobacco enterprises and many small-scale enterprises combining the production of articles of general consumption with the manufacture of handicraft antique-type wares, such as lace, rugs, and jewelry.

Brussels is Belgium’s credit and financial center. The largest banks of the Société Générale and the Bank of Brussels and the main Belgian as well as many international trusts have their offices in Brussels.

The old Brussels has merged with the nearest suburbs—Ixelles, Anderlecht, Schaerbeek, and others—and the city line has taken in such outer suburbs as Vilvoorde and Tubize.

Educational, scientific, and cultural institutions. The University of Brussels, founded in 1834, the Higher School of Political and Social Sciences, the Institute of Geography (founded by E. Reclus), the Academy of Sciences and Arts, and the Pasteur Institute, among other scientific institutions, are located in the city. Cultural institutions include the Museum of Ancient Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Royal Museum of Art and History (an archaeological and ethnological museum), the Royal Museum of the Congo, and the C. Meunier Museum.


Architecture. The central part of Brussels has preserved the medieval radial-circular plan, which was completed in the 18th and 19th centuries by the building of highways from north to south. By the time of the 1958 World’s Fair, great progress had been made in the construction of automobile highways and bypasses had been built along the boulevard ring on the site of the 14th-century city walls. In the lower town are the old quarters surrounding the Grand’ Place with its Gothic town hall (1401-55), the King’s House (1515-25), and guildhouses (circa 1696-1720). The Gothic church of St. Michael and Ste. Gudule (1226-1490), the business center, and the commercial quarters are also in the lower town. Mainly in the upper town are the majestic ensembles—squares in the classical style such as the Place des Martyrs (1772-75, architect C. A. Fisco) and the Place Royal (1774-80, architects Barré and Guimard)—palaces, administrative and cultural institutions (the Royal Palace, 18th-20th centuries), the parliamentary building (1779-83, architect B. Guimard), the Palace of Justice (1866-83, architect J. Poelaert) and the Palace of Fine Arts (1922-28, architect V. Horta). Recent buildings include the Centenary Building (1935, architect J. van Neck), the Central Railway Station (1953, architect V. Horta), the city air terminal (1954, architect M. Brunfaut), the Social Welfare building (1958, architect H. van Kuych), the residential quarter near the site of the 1958 World’s Fair in Heysel Park, and the Lambert Bank (1958, American architects L. Skidmore, N. Owings, and J. Merrill). A number of housing areas have been built in the suburbs.


Rousseau, A. Bruxelles et ses environs. Paris [1956].
Henne, A., and A. Wauters. Histoire de la ville de Bruxelles. Brussels [1957].
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the capital of Belgium, in the central part: became capital of Belgium in 1830; seat of the European Commission. Pop.: 999 899 (2004 est.)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005