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Grand Place intro

Grand Place,guildhouses TownHall and anecdotes

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Grand Place-Guild houses-Town Hall and anecdotes

Before starting with town hall let’s tour around the square and start at the northern corner. Follow the opposite side as the needles of a clock. At no.1 stands the ROI D’ESPAGNE (1696-1697) once a guild house of the bakers, now a well-known café. Juts above the entrance you can see medallions of emperor Marc Aurelius, Nerve, Decius and Trajan. At the second floor the bust of king Charles II of Spain, accompanied by an Indian South American prisoner and a more.
At no.3 “La Brouette” ‘1655-1645), ancient corporate house of the fat and oil merchants, also transformed into a café, and which survived partly the bombing of 1635. No.4 “Le Sac” (1645-1646 restored in 1697) was the house of the cabinet-makers and coopers. No.5 (1696) “La Louve” was the Archers house. Look on the façade, you’ll see a bas-relief showing a female wolf giving Romulus and Remus some milk. At no.6 (1697) “Le Cornet”, house of the boat and ferry men with a frigate on its fronton. No.7, “Les Renards” was the house of the Mercers.
But the unavoidable star of the Grand Place is the magnificent “HOTEL DE VILLE” (Town Hall), one of the most important examples of civil gothic architecture in Europe. Its 96-meter spire, mounted by the gold statue of Saint-Michel, patron of the city, is finally liberated from the scaffolding that covered it for so many years. When it was erected in the beginning of the 15th century (1402) it was supposed to overtake the one in Bruges by its height. The French bombardment in 1695 destroyed it but spared the spire. Town hall was rebuilt identical.
Gracious, this coquettish building has 4 floors, refining the higher you climb. With turrets, pinnacles, high flamboyant windows, small bell towers, balconies and corbellings ending in the spire.
Did you notice? The portal is not exactly in line with the tower. The legend says that the architect, discovering this minor error couldn’t stand the shame and threw him off the 96 m spire. Frankly, if all architects who made an error should do the same, the cemeteries in Brussels would be traffic jammed 24/24h !!
The arcades on the ground floor used to be taken centuries ago by the merchants. Above, dozens of 19th century sculptures dedicate to all sovereigns and artist of Belgium. If you’re lucky and are there on a Saturday, you could have the chance to see a just married couple on the balcony receiving the applauds and ovations of the stunned and ravished tourists. Just for a minute they can pretend being some noble being saluted by its people!! The visit of the building will enable you to see some neo-gothic salons enhanced with nice tapestries, paintings and sculptures. The Tourist office is located at the ground level.
 I almost forgot: here is another anecdote I got out of one of my favourite guides mentioned in my bibliography. It’s a savoury anecdote that makes you understand Belgian’s mentality and their art of consensus. On the right side, the 3 capitals of the columns of the Tourist office have eloquent sculptures. They are there to remind us the names of the three taverns that used to be here before the building of the right side obliged them to scram. On the first capital you can see the word “Scuptoel” (shovel and chair). Not knowing exactly what that meant, it was sculpted literally representing men “shovelling a lot of chairs”! Quite odd. The second capital was much easier since the name of the tavern was “PapenKelder” (monks cellar) which was simple to sculpt. (you see indeed monks drinking beer). But the 3rd capital was THE real problem. The tavern called “De Moer” became a fight for the translators. Some affirmed that it took his roots in the word “Mores” and thus turbaned personages were sculpted. Since other swore that it came from “Moeder” (Mother). Is that so? No problem in Belgium. The stone was chiselled on the other side with a mother figure and a cradle.
That’s what we call a Belgian compromise ! ;-)

Bibliography

“Guide illustré de Bruxelles “by D.des Marez (Brussels 1979), « Gids » voor Vlaanderen (Vlaamse Toeristenbond), “Brussel, groei van een hoofdstad, by Jean Stengers (Antwerp, 1979), Guides du Routard (ed.Hachtte 1979)”Vlaanderen’s roem”, by Guido Peeters (Brussels 1975)