The Grand Place (Grote Markt in Dutch) is the main square in Brussels, Belgium. It is an enormous square, and the most visible landmark in Brussels. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is surrounded by beautiful buildings. It started at the end of the 11th century, when an open marketplace was set up – and continued to grow throughout the centuries. As time went on, grand buildings were built around the square, to allow merchants to be able to sell their goods in inclement weather.In 1695, the French Army bombarded Brussels, and destroyed the Grand Place (and most of the city). After that, the square was rebuilt with strict plans and zoning requirements for a harmonious look. Again in the late 18th century, the square was vandalized by revolutionaries, and the buildings were left neglected until the late 19th century. The square has been the site of burning martyrs during the inquisition, beheading counts, and (oddly enough), Christmas trees and flowers. It has been voted the most beautiful square in Europe, and is a popular gathering place for tourists and locals alike. Fun fact: if you were to head out of the square, you’d notice that many streets bear the names of food! Chicken, herbs, and cheese are just a few streets that testify to the heritage of the Grand Place.
- Let’s check out Grand Place via webcam. That huge tower is the Town Hall (not a church or castle, as many viewers might guess) – the only building to remain standing after the bombardment in 1695. Remember last week, when we discussed the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris? The Grand Place fills the same shoes, here in Brussels – that of a central meeting place. It was also the first site of a Godiva Chocolate store (1926). Discuss the role of public spaces that are not parks (i.e., the Luxembourg Gardens), in the life of a city. What’s the best urban public space you’ve seen?
- To capitalize on this most beautiful square, every other year there is an enormous flower carpet in the Grand Place! Check out this photo essay explaining the Flower Carpet, and then peruse photos of previous flower carpets. Does this remind you of traditions in the US, such as the Rose Bowl Parade? Have you ever worked with large scale flower design? Draw your own designs for a flower carpet, on a theme of your choosing. Share your designs with your class, telling why you chose the design (and flowers, and colors).
- The Grand Place is part of a comic strip tour! You know Tintin and the Smurfs – well, they are from Brussels. If you start at the Grand Place, head down the rue Marche au Charbon to see the closest ones. Take a peek at some photos or watch this video about the central place of comics in Belgian life. Reflect on what values and worldview Belgians have, to place such importance on laughing and comics.
- Sometimes, traditionalists don’t like change. For Christmas 2012, Brussels changed its Christmas decorations in Grand Place – from a traditional, large fir Christmas tree to an electronic Christmas tree, called Xmas3. At night, there was a sound and light show from Xmas3. Check out this traveler’s impressions of Xmas3 (and click through to see his video). What do you think of this change in holiday traditions? For most people, holiday traditions are just that – historic events that repeat themselves. Do you like Xmas3?