Overview of Brussels

History of Brussels

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The name Brussels comes from the old Dutch Bruocsella, Brucsella or Broekzele which means marsh (bruoc, bruc ou broek), home (sella or zele)" or "home in the marsh". "Broekzele" was spelt "Bruxelles" in French, the "k" disappeared and "z" became "s" in the meantime in Dutch.

Belgium, inhabited by Celtes and Germans, was conquered by the Romans in 57 B.C. and included in the Belgium Gaule that Francs invaded in the 5th and 6th centuries. Divided by the Verdun Treaty (843) into two parts (the region at the east of Escaut being part of the Lotharingia, then of Germany, west being part of France), the country was divided into numerous seigniories, amongst them the Brabant domain, and Hainaut and Flandres counties.

In 977, the German emperor Otto II gave Lower Lorraine to Charles, descendant of Charlemagne, the banished son of King Louis IV of France. Brussels foundation is usually dated around 979, when Charles would have built a small castle on Saint-Gery island, on the Senne river. (Unfortunatly nowadays the Senne, polluted by the city drains, has been covered by buildings and can only be seen from the edge of the town).

At the end of the 10th century, with the death of Charles, Lower Lorraine was taken over by Lambert I of Leuven. The population left Saint-Gery island for the south of the Senne valley, and settled at a place called Coudenberg (where is the current Place Royale) and where all the future palaces of the Belgium kings would be built.

The town becinreates another line of descent from the Habsburgs. In 1515, Charles Quint becomes Burgundy sovereign and inherited from the kingdom of Spain at 16.

In 1695 Brussels was attacked by King Louis XIV of France. The battle was responsible for the flattening of the city's heart: the Grand Place, and the razing of more than 4000 houses, except for the famous city hall, the Hôtel de Ville, which miraculously survived.

After the first riot in 1789 (called brabançonne revolution), the Belgian revolution took place in Brussels in 1830, after a representation of La Muette de Portici at La Monnaie theatre. Léopold from Saxe-Cobourg became the first king of the constitutional monarchy set in 1831. Léopold II (1865-1909) gave in 1908 the Congo, his personal property, to Belgium, that knew, during the second half of the 19th century, a great economical growth.

Catholics and liberals alternated at the head of the State until 1914. Despite its neutrality claimed in 1821, the kingdom was occupied by Germany in 1914-1918 and 1940-1945. Leopald III succeded Albert I (1909-1934) and in turn left the principality to his son, Baudouin, in 1951.

During the second part of the 20th century, Belgium had a history dominated by a non stop language debate between Dutch and French. Between 1970 and 1994, the Constitution changed, creating a federal State with three regions: the Flemish region, the Wallonia region (French speaking) and Brussels-Capital region, bilingual, and three cultural communities: the Flemish community, the French community and the German speaking community. Brussels-Capital Region was founded the 18th of June 1989.

Update 4/10/2005

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