10 things you probably forgot about
Ah, « la Grand-Place », our gem at the heart of Brussels that makes our country so famous, especially since it is a UNESCO World Heritage site (since 1998!). If you live in Brussels, you may have probably seen the Grand-Place a thousand times and maybe you even went on a special guided tour to learn more about its legends and mysteries. Actually, we are 100% sure you already know everything about the Grand-Place. That is the reason why we wrote a special article about 10 things you obviously knew about this place … but that you might have already forgotten by now! Isn’t that neat?!
What better occasion to get to know more about one of the most beautiful architectural pieces of Belgium than the week of the national day (on the 21st of July, you little ignorant). So get ready, take a pen and a paper and test yourself as if it was a real pop quizz at school!
1. « Ceci n’est pas la Grand-Place »
The Grand-Place as you see it today is not what it first was… The original was bombarded by the French army in 1695 who destroyed one third of the city and left the place in a pity ruin. But that didn’t bring down the Belgians!
In less than 5 years, we rebuilt the whole Grand-Place with even more brightness! We usually compare the Grand-Place as a phoenix that went on to rise from the ashes. But the Belgians are surely some of the craziest architects of all times mixing 4 different styles that led to create this beautiful ensemble that we know of today.
Did you know that damages remain from the bombing of 1695? Not far from the Grand-Place, a cannonball crashed in one of the Arcades of the church of Saint-Nicolas and its still there! By the way, our house hosting the Flybox experience(coming soon, we will keep you updated) still holds original beams prior to the fires of 1695. Impressive right?
2. Did you spot the Phoenix?
There is one special house of the Grand-Place that was particularly unlucky : the fifth house of the square named « Maison de la Louve ». The building burnt once in 1690 and was rebuilt a first time. But five years later, it was destroyed again with the bombing of our beloved Frenchies! In total, the house had to be re-done 3 times! Because twice was obviously not enough. So when they rebuilt the Grand-Place, the architects put a phoenix on the top of Maison de la Louve to symbolize the rebirth of the square, and especially that specific house.
If you take a closer look, you might be able to read some sentences in latin that are addressed to the visitors. Just in case you have slightly forgotten your latin, don’t worry we’ve translated it for you: « You are surprised that I am reborn for the third time from my ashes; I am the Phoenix… ». A great joke in the face of history!
3. The funky legend of the statues
At the top of some of the buildings of the Grand-Place, you may spot three statues that are pointing at each other. Many people wonder the reason why these characters hold that positions so we looked for some explanations … and we must say that it remains quite unclear! (we told you that Grand-Place still is a mystery). But we read one hell of a story on the internet that we definitely wanted to share with you. Listen up guys!
Once you spot the statues pointing at each other, you will eventually find the statue of Saint-Nicolas looking down. There is an urban legend saying that all these people are actually pointing at each other to find out who is guilty for the funky smell (yes, you know what we mean). If Saint-Nicolas is looking down, it is because he was the last one pointed at!
We had a good laugh at Imagine Belgium while writing this article but of course, we were not fully satisfied with this smelly story. So we looked further into the legend behind the statues. Sorry to debunk the myth but there is no historically valid story about them. There is an ancient oral legend saying it was a supposedly pregnant woman that was pointing at the statue of Saint-Boniface, he would then point to Saint-Nicolas, who is looking at the three children down at his feet. There are other hypothesis, but in the end the mystery remains unsolved!
4. Seven, the lucky number of the Grand-Place
The number seven is quite important on the Grand-Place. First, you can access the square through seven streets, there are seven blocks of buildings and some of them are made of seven houses. The Belgian historian Paul de Saint-Hilaire said that the presence of the number seven on Grand-Place is linked to the seven steps of the method to obtain the legendary philosopher’s stone (any Potter head around here?!).
In fact, the very first process to obtain the stone was composed of twelve steps, while the second method was composed of seven steps. If you look at the City Hall, you will notice that the left side is made of twelve pillars, while the right side is made of seven pillars! If the origins of the reconstruction of our Grand-Place and its references to Masonic and alchemical symbols are quite unclear, it still is an incredible story that makes number 7 the lucky number of the Grand-Place.
5. The legend behind the asymmetry of the City Hall
As you understood, the Grand-Place is still full of mysteries! Regarding the asymmetrical facade of the City Hall, there is a legend that says it was in fact a mistake that led to the death of the architect (talk about a Belgian drama). Once the architect realized that the tower was not centered on the facade, he was so chocked that he climbed to the top of the tower and jumped to his death. If you go in the City Hall’s interior courtyard, you will find a star on the ground. The legend says that it was to mark where the architect fell… Sorry to spoil the mood, guys!
Fortunately, it is only a legend since the architect did not jump. In fact, the star simply represents the ‘zero point in Brussels’, from which the distance to the capital is measured. In the end, the asymmetry of the City Hall is much more related to the fact that it was built in two stages, with several architects, who also underestimated the marshy underground of the Grand-Place with such an imposing building.
6. The pillars of the City Hall
If you look at the pillars of the City Hall, you will find some unexpected scenes. The first one represents a mother breastfeeding her baby and some men in turbans. The second one are some monks clinking their beer glasses. The last one represents some people with shovels and chairs. It is said that they represent some of the previous establishments that were demolished to build the City Hall.
FYI: The mother and the men in turbans would then refer to ‘De Moor’ which means “mother” in Dutch and is the name of the Muslim people of northwestern Africa. The monks would represent a hostel called the ‘Papenkelder’, the monks’ cellar. And finally, the men with chairs (‘stoelen’ in Dutch) and shovels (‘schoppen’) would represent the ‘schopstoel’, a special form of torture used to condemn people on the Grand-Place. Nice, isn’t it?
7. The famous statue of Everard T’Serclaes
If you end up in the Grand-Place from the left side of the City Hall, you will find the famous statue of Everard T’Serclaes. If you have ever wondered who Everard T’Serclaes was, he was Lord of Kruikenburg and was killed during the fifteenth century while defending Brussels. So here is another fact! The legend says that his statue brings good luck to those who touch its arm. Pretty cool, right?
In fact, so many people touched the statue, that at some point there was a hole in the metal! Poor Everard! No worries the original statue has been fixed and it is now placed inside the City Hall. It has been replaced by a new one made of resin, so that you can still come and make a wish to sweet little Everard!
PS: Don’t forget to clean your hands before/after touching the statue to be a real Coronavirus-fighter!
8. The prettiest parking lot of Brussels was on the Grand-Place
Can you believe that the Grand-Place was a (super pretty) parking lot only 40 years ago? Well, true story! Until 1972 it was possible to park your car in Grand-Place. After that date, it was no longer allowed, but it was still possible to cross the square by car! It is only in 1991 that the Grand-Place became fully pedestrian (except for deliveries, of course).
9. A secret tunnel under your feet
Still hungry for some more mystery of the Grand-Place? Here we go! Did you know that there was a secret tunnel right under your feet between the City Hall and the “Maison du Roi”? The legend says that the convicts would pass from the prison to the City Hall to be judged. Once they were sentenced, they would pass through the tunnel and exit through the Maison du Roi to be directly sanctioned in the Grand-Place. True story or a myth? Nowadays, there are for sure no more convicts but many events take place on the Grand-Place and the only use of the tunnel is for pipes and cables for the stage!
10. Let’s party on the Grand-Place!
What is the common point between Lady Gaga, Angèle, a Flower Carpet and the Ommegang? They were all in the Grand-Place, of course!
Did you know that the first flower carpet was created in 1971? Every two years on the weekend of August 15th, the Grand-Place is covered with a beautiful carpet made of more than 500.000 flowers. Each edition is the occasion to (re)discover the Grand-Place and enjoy a magnificent sound-and-light show every evening at night.
Unfortunately there will be no carpet this year due to covid-19. Fingers crossed that it will be there next year!
At least we had a small version of the Ommegang Pageant! The Ommegang is a historical reenactment of the entry of Emperor Charles V in Brussels in 1549 taking place every year at the beginning of July.
With the sanitary crisis, many events were canceled. However, the city organises the MissYou.Events to entertain the visitors. From 21 of July to 31 of August, from 10 pm to 12:30 am (every 15 minutes), don’t miss the sound and light show right in the Grand-Place to celebrate throughout the summer the events that we ordinarily organise in Brussels. Dry your tears, we love our Grand-Place and we will always have a good reason to come and visit it!
That’s all folks! We hope you have a good grade on your special test on the Grand-Place and that you will show off about the facts that you learnt!
We can’t wait to read all your fun facts and stories about the Grand-Place in the comment section below! You can also share your posts and stories about the Grand-Place on Instagram with our tag @ImagineBelgium, we will be happy to repost them on our feed!
Last but not least, if you want to get more into the stories of the Grand-Place, you will love this fantastic interactive visit of the Grand-Place made by TV5 Monde.
If you are more into reading, you should definitely check these articles and the Secret Brussels guide:
- Les dessous du patrimoine: la Grand-Place, symbole de l’identité bruxelloise (published on Le Soir)
- The Secret Brussels Guide from Nathalia Capart & co
- Grand Place’s must (published on Brusselslife.be)
Are you planning to visit Brussels? Don’t miss the guided tours of the Grand-Place organised by Itinéraires.