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The city may not appeal to the imagination as much as, say, Paris or London, but that's unfair. Brussels has lots more to offer than you think. Culture, countless terraces, the most beautiful shops and, of course, friendly Brusselites.

Apart from this, the European Commission and the numerous other European institutions based in the city mean that Europeans all feel a just a tad possessive. Yet Brussels is also a city filled with beautiful buildings and wonderful squares like the Grote Markt, declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

You'll certainly get your fill of culture in this city, with its numerous beautiful and unique museums and buildings. Brussels is increasingly becoming an international city for creative people. And we mustn't forget the comic strip, many of whose greatest creators, like Herge (Tintin) and van der Steen (Suske & Wiske), were born in here.

As you would expect in the capital of a country where the pint is highly revered, there are lots of bars and cafes. In Brussels the good life translates into countless restaurants and friendly, intimate bars. When you're in Brussels you'll be struck by just how many possibilities a relatively small area can offer!

Although Brussels is officially bilingual, the majority of people speak French. You'll still hear and see plenty of Dutch though, because all street signs are written in both languages, and lots of advertisements also appear in Dutch and French.

Don't forget to enjoy all the delicacies that this city offers when you're here... pralines, fries and a warm waffle! A final tip, buy at least two boxes of pralines - one for here and one for home - so you can prolong your enjoyment of this great city. A trip to Brussels, so close by, yet so different!

History

In 15 BC, Belgium was part of the Roman Empire. Brussels developed around a Roman army camp on an island in the Zenne river. The city comprised marsh and rivers. Charles of France established himself here in 977, the official date of the founding of the city. The marsh was drained in 1270. The cloth trade also became important during this century, and Brussels became a major trading centre. Competition from England in the 14th and 15th centuries caused the textile industry to decline.

In the 15th century Brussels became one of the Burgundian royal residences. Prosperity grew, and knowledge and the arts flourished. Many religious disturbances took place in the second half of the 16th century, particularly between the Spanish (Roman Catholic) and the Dutch (Calvinist). The city was burnt to the ground by the French in 1695, but later made a spectacular recovery. The Grote Markt was rebuilt as masterpiece of baroque architecture and is now one of the most beautiful central squares in Europe. This is also reflected in the beautiful guildhalls which surround it.

In 1830, Belgium rose up against the Dutch King, Willem I. The revolt at Brussels' Koninklijke Schouwburg (Royal Theatre), now the Muntschouwburg, led to Belgium's independence. On 21 July 1831, Leopold I ascended to the throne, becoming the first King of Belgium. He was responsible for the reconstruction of many buildings and the development of the city. Brussels was originally a Flemish city and in 1849 the majority of the population was still Flemish. 150 years later, Frenchification of the city has reduced this to 15%.

In the first half of the 20th century, Belgium was hit hard by both world wars. Brussels has, in the past, been the capital of many areas and is currently the capital of the European Union.