Belgium: freedom, Gothic, contrasts

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Main facts:

  • Capital city: Brussels

  • Language(s): Dutch, French, German

  • Currency: Euro, EUR

  • Population: 11,250,000

  • Timezone: UTC+1

  • Main religion: Catholicism (58%)

  • Standard of living (subjectively): high

Top 10 interesting places and activities:

Approximate costs (person/day):

~€ 20-50

~€ 1-5

~€ 6-20

~€ 7-15

Sights map of Belgium

Travel around Belgium

The history of Belgium is a centuries-old vassal subordination to many different states: the Holy Roman Empire, the Netherlands, Spain, France... Only in 1830 the Belgians made a revolution, by the results of which they were separated from the Netherlands and were established an independent state. From this point on, the Belgians began to fully develope their territory; as a result, by the end of the 19th century they had become one of the largest industrial powers in Western Europe. The first railway in continental Europe was built here - from Brussels to Mechelen, the famous bell production was founded in Mechelen, heavy industry and the jewelry industry were actively developed.

In the 20th century, the young state had colonies in Central Africa (Republic of Congo), which brought a significant income to country. From there, diamond ore was also exported, which, thanks to the Belgian masters, was turned into magnificent faceted diamonds. One of the oldest shopping districts in Antwerp is dedicated to jewelry and diamond production. During the First World War, Belgium was severely damaged, many cities were destroyed. A short period of recovery - and World War II again invaded these lands, bringing occupation, poverty and ruin. Only after the end of the war peace come to these lands and continues to this day.

Today, Belgium is a prosperous country in Western Europe, whose revenues are brought by the agro-industrial sector and tourism. The latter is a significant part of the income for the disparate local population, the national and religious composition of which is the entire spectrum of the possible. Since in Belgium, according to the Constitution, freedom of religion and love unions is guaranteed (and here it is really works!), this country is one of the most tolerant and respectful towards any social minorities. Here in 2003, same-sex marriages were legalized, all religious denominations freely confessed, the rights of all ethnic minorities, etc. were strictly observed. As a result, Belgium is the most colorful country in the European Union (three official languages ​​and several more regional ones), the most diverse in the religions practiced (all major and many small associations). It is no coincidence that it is here that the headquarters of the European Union is located, since the main values ​​of Belgium - “freedom, equality, tolerance” - completely followed its ideology.

Belgium is a country of contrasts. Here, the magnificent wealth combined with extreme poverty, the ancient Gothic temples side by side with the "temples of glass and steel", and political scientists and deputies of the European Parliament can go along with ordinary tourists or even migrants. This country is the embodiment of the ideals of the European Union - freedom for all manifestations of human nature. Here are legal drugs and prostitution, as well as a variety of religion forms. Some things on the streets plunged me into cultural shock, but I never regretted that I was here. For I saw a huge layer of cultural heritage behind bright facades, all sorts of forms of social life and a huge number of architectural styles. But in conclusion, Belgium is a Gothic country, what you can see only after leaving the capital.

Belgium is a small country, but its cities are of great interest from architectural, tourist and any of the points of view! Using the pass on the train GoPass 10, you can easily get to any place in a matter of hours. In 1-2 hours of driving from Brussels there are two picturesque Belgian cities, the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else in Europe - Gent and Bruges. They are as beautiful and unlike each other as they differ from the capital. Both of them have their own special charm: the first is a rather large city with a long history, while the second is a small cozy town with tons of greenery and tourists. In Gent, there are no tourist crowds, as in Bruges or Brussels, but there is an incredible Gothic: magnificent Cathedrals and squares, old brick buildings in the Belgian style, large dark pavements and a centuries-old castle-fortress. Wandering through the narrow streets between the houses, you can find yourself in the world of graffiti, and inside the St Bavo's Cathedral you will find a real whale skeleton (!). There is definitely something to do in Gent ...

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Literally half an hour from Ghent is Mecca for tourists in Belgium - the quiet city of Bruges, which acquired a special popularity after the release of the cult film "In Bruges". This town definitely has its own essence: it is really quiet and calm, with a bunch of secluded back streets and river channels crossing its entire center. Here are practically no buildings above 2-3 floors, but the cathedrals ascend with their towers up to 90-100 meters high. They look like real pillars of the earth, watching the life of the little creatures below. It looks gloomy and overwhelming, but everyone can admire the art and skills of the architects who built it hundreds of years ago! Bruges is a city of red bricks, which creates a unique feeling. Its central square, in my opinion, overshadows the square in Brussels and is one of the most beautiful in Belgium. Be sure to visit Bruges, it will pleasantly surprise you!

Although the traditional tourist route does not go further than Brussels or Bruges, there are still many incredibly beautiful places in Belgium. Like a Leuven - a suburb of Brussels, which is strikingly different from the capital of its atmosphere. Mystery and dark solemnity literally envelop this ancient city, revealing a new side of the Belgian Gothic heritage. The city center is decorated with an incredible Catholic Cathedral and Town Hall, which has a history of several hundred years. The adjacent streets are paved with tiles, the buildings are lined with dark brick, and the tops of the houses are decorated with staircase patterns with a statuette above. Walking through this old place, you feel peace and tranquility: in these places life does not change for decades. Another example is Tournai. Located on the border with France, the influence of French grace is clearly felt here, but the strict Belgian style still dominates. The grand Tournai Cathedral of dark stone, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as one of the highest cathedrals in Europe... Its overwhelming power is felt as soon as you see this community towering over 2-3 storey buildings! And what is the central square in this city! It is decorated with buildings of the Catholic church in the form of a toy castle, medieval residential buildings, the town hall and a bell tower in the form of a castle tower, rising up to 72 meters.

If you suddenly want to take a break from the omnipresent Gothic, you can go to the border with Luxembourg - in the province of Namur, where the pearl of pastoral Belgium the town of Dinant is located. Two hours from Brussels, surrounded on both sides by mountain ranges and crossed by the wide river Meuse, Dinant has been showing its medieval appearance to the world for more than 10 hundred years. In the center of the city there is a bridge from which a charming panorama of the ancient city opens, with a high Gothic church and austere fort towering above it. Small colorful houses, huddled together, create a great contrast of impressions. Dinant is also known as the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone. No wonder that a whole museum here is dedicated to him, and the streets are decorated with tall statues of saxophone, donated by different countries of the world in honor of this person. Dinant is a place where you feel calm and peace.

 

Also close to Brussels is another small medieval city known as the european center of bell music. Here the carillon was invented - a special musical instrument for the bell towers, from which you can play amazing music. This is what you can hear on weekends, when local residents flock to the farmer’s farm fair to the center of Mechelen. The central square of Mechelen is decorated with old houses in a traditional Belgian style, above which towers the Cathedral of St. Rumold. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the tallest building in the city. The square also houses the town hall, which is a complex of buildings with towers resembling a small castle. This is a place where you can come for a day and where you can safely enjoy your time: sit in a cafe in the old square, enjoy the melodious bell ringing or take a walk along the surface boardwalk that stretches along the river channels. Mechelen is a place filled with a special flair of Belgian romance.

The richest in the history of the city of Europe, which still amazes, is Antwerp - a major city on the border of Belgium and the Netherlands, once the largest in Europe. Once the capital of the Dutch Empire and the main seaport of Europe, its repeatedly changed affiliations: from Dutch to Spanish, from Spanish to French, from French to Dutch, and after the formation of Belgium (with a delay) it became Belgian. Due to its geographical proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, Antwerp now is the second largest seaport in Europe (after the Port of Rotterdam), which created a special atmosphere of wealth and luxury. This is a very big city, crossed in half by the Schelde river, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Its center consists of tall buildings in the traditional Dutch style, but reflecting the Belgian approach to architecture and creativity. The tall Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp is one of the tallest buildings in the city, which is surrounded by ancient, cozy streets paved with tiles. The ground floors are often cafes or pubs, covered with decorative ivy or other decorations. Most of the center is pedestrian and favors leisurely walks and shopping, which makes up the lion's share of the income of the local population. The buildings are mainly paved with dark red brick (as opposed to the traditional dark gray in most parts of Belgium), making the city very similar to Copenhagen. The strongest feeling when walking around the city is its wealth and diversity. Here are very beautiful buildings, combining the styles of modern, baroque (obviously French influence), classicism, Belgian Gothic and even postmodern constructivism (the influence of Rotterdam nearby). Take, for example, the Antwerp-Centraal railway station - this is a multi-level 5-storey building, where the railway tracks are located below each other, and the building itself is a masterpiece of architecture of the 18th century. Or, for example, the medieval Steen Castle, adjacent to the incredibly beautiful Gothic residential quarters. The city leaves a very pleasant impression. Here you can relax in a variety of parks, stroll through the long tunnel under the river, taste the sea delicacies or Italian gelato, get a lot of creative and aesthetic pleasure.