Royal Palace of Brussels

The Royal Palace of Brussels (French: Palais royal de Bruxelles, pronounced [pa.lɛ ʁwa.jal bʁy.sɛl]; Dutch: Koninklijk Paleis van Brussel [ˈkoːnɪŋklək paːˈlɛis fɑm ˈbrʏsəl];[a] German: Königlicher Palast von Brüssel) is the official palace of the King and Queen of the Belgians in the centre of the nation's capital, Brussels. However, it is not used as a royal residence, as the king and his family live in the Royal Palace of Laeken in northern Brussels. The website of the Belgian Monarchy describes the function of the Royal Palace as follows:

Royal Palace of Brussels
  • Palais royal de Bruxelles (French)
  • Koninklijk Paleis van Brussel (Dutch)
  • Königlicher Palast von Brüssel (German)
Main facade of the Royal Palace of Brussels seen from the Place des Palais/Paleizenplein
General information
Architectural styleNeoclassical
AddressPlace des Palais / Paleizenplein
Town or cityB-1000 City of Brussels, Brussels-Capital Region
Coordinates50°50′30″N 04°21′44″E / 50.84167°N 4.36222°E / 50.84167; 4.36222
Current tenantsBelgian royal family
Construction started1783 (1783)
Completed1934 (1934)
ClientKing Leopold II
OwnerBelgian State
Technical details
Floor area33,027 m2 (355,500 sq ft)
Design and construction
Other designersFrançois Rude, Jan Fabre
Other information
Public transit access
Official website

The Royal Palace is where His Majesty the King exercises his prerogatives as Head of State, grants audiences and deals with affairs of state. Apart from the offices of the King and the Queen, the Royal Palace houses the services of the Grand Marshal of the Court, the King's Head of Cabinet, the Head of the King's Military Household and the Intendant of the King's Civil List. The Royal Palace also includes the State Rooms where large receptions are held, as well as the apartments provided for foreign Heads of State during official visits.

The first nucleus of the present-day building dates from the end of the 18th century. However, the grounds on which the Royal Palace stands were once part of the Coudenberg Palace, a very old palatial complex that dated back to the Middle Ages.[2] The existing facade was only built after 1900 on the initiative of King Leopold II.

The Royal Palace is situated in front of Brussels Park, from which it is separated by a long square called the Place des Palais/Paleizenplein. The middle axis of the park marks both the middle peristyle of the Royal Palace and of the Belgian Federal Parliament building (Palace of the Nation) on the other side of the park. The two facing buildings are said to symbolise Belgium's system of government: a constitutional monarchy. This area is served by Brussels Central Station, as well as by the metro stations Parc/Park (on lines 1 and 5) and Trône/Troon (on lines 2 and 6).

History edit

Palace of Coudenberg edit

The first building on the Coudenberg hill was constructed between the second half of the 11th and first half of the 12th century.[3] At that time, it probably looked like a fortified castle forming a part of the city's fortifications. It was the home of the Dukes of Brabant who also resided in the nearby city of Leuven and in Tervuren Castle.[4] In the following centuries, it was rebuilt, extended, and improved, in line with the increased prestige of the Dukes of Brabant and their successors; the Dukes of Burgundy, the Emperor Charles V, the Archduke Albert of Austria and Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain and successive Governors of the Habsburg Netherlands.

The Royal Palace in Brussels, Peter Brueghel the Younger and Sebastian Vrancx, c. 1627

The Aula Magna, a gigantic room for royal receptions and other pageantry, was built for Philip the Good in the 15th century.[5][6] The first regular meetings of the States-General, composed of delegates from the middle class, clergy and nobility of the Burgundian Netherlands, were held there in 1465. It was in this room that in 1515 Margaret of Austria formally relinquished her regency over the Low Countries to Charles of Habsburg, and the future Emperor Charles V assumed his inheritance as the Duke of Burgundy. It was also in this same room that, 40 years later, Charles V abdicated in favour of his son, Philip II of Spain.[6]

This impressive complex suffered several fires over the centuries. In 1679, a fire destroyed part of the roof. A large fire that broke out on 3 February 1731 almost completely destroyed the building. Only the court chapel and the walls of the Aula Magna were somewhat spared.[7][8] The ruins only disappeared when the district was redeveloped after 1775. At that time the urban axes of the present-day Brussels Park were laid out. The Place Royale/Koningsplein was built on top of the ruined palace. Excavations of the site by different archaeological organisations have unearthed various remains of different parts of the palace as well as the surrounding town. The monumental vaults remaining under the square and its surrounding buildings can be visited.

The new Royal Palace edit

The Royal Palace and the Place des Palais/Paleizenplein, aquarel painting by William Wyld, c. 1843

Charles Alexander of Lorraine, at that time Governor of the Austrian Netherlands had a new palace, the Palace of Charles of Lorraine, built on the nearby site of the former Palace of Orange-Nassau.[9] The Palace of Charles of Lorraine is now part of the Royal Library of Belgium (KBR)[9] and the old palace's garden was redesigned as a public park. On the northern side, a new building for the Council of Brabant was built by the French architect Gilles-Barnabé Guimard, which now houses the Belgian Federal Parliament and is known as the Palace of the Nation. On the other side of the park (the building plot of the present-day Royal Palace), the middle axis of the park continued as a street between two newly built mansions. One served as the residence of the Abbot of the nearby Coudenberg Abbey, while the other was inhabited by important government members.

After the Congress of Vienna in 1814, Brussels became (together with The Hague) the joint capital of the new established United Kingdom of the Netherlands. It was under the rule of King William I of the Netherlands that the street was covered and the two mansions were joined with a gallery. The newly created "Royal Palace" received a new neoclassical facade designed by the architect Tilman-François Suys with a peristyle in the middle, and a balcony with a wrought iron parapet surrounding the entire first floor.

The street running alongside the new Royal Palace was widened and thus the Place des Palais/Paleizenplein ("Square of the Palaces") was created. The new square's name uses the plural form, because another palace was built on the left side of the Royal Palace. This new building (1823) was designed as the residence of the Crown Prince called the Prince of Orange (the future King William II of the Netherlands). Nowadays, it houses the Royal Academies for Science and the Arts of Belgium (RASAB) and is consequently called the Academy Palace. The rooms and salons of the old mansions were incorporated in the new Royal Palace and were only partly refurnished. Some of them survived the 19th and 20th centuries' renovations and are still partly intact. A major addition to the interior decoration from the time of William I is the so-called "Empire Room", which was designed as a ballroom. It has a very refined cream and gold decoration designed and executed by the famous French sculptor François Rude.

Extensions by Leopold II edit

The Royal Palace, c. 1919

After the Belgian Revolution, the Royal Palace was offered to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha when he ascended the throne as H.M. Leopold I, the first King of the Belgians. Just like his predecessor, William II, he used the palace mainly for official receptions and other representational purposes and lived in the Royal Palace of Laeken. During his reign (until 1865), little was changed to the palace. It was his son and successor, King Leopold II, who judging the building to be too modest for a king of his stature, kept on enlarging and embellishing the palace until his death in 1909.

During Leopold II's reign, the palace nearly doubled in surface. The houses located between the different buildings were destroyed[10] and gave way to two symmetrical curved galleries which considerably widened the length of the building. A large part of the shallow grounds located in front of the palace were also filled in, in order to increase the space in front of its facade. After the designs of the king's architect Alphonse Balat, imposing rooms like the Grand Staircase, the Throne Room and the Grand Gallery were added. Balat also planned a new facade but died before the plans could be executed.

It was only after 1904 that the palace's current facade was executed after new plans by the architect Henri Maquet, which were finished after his death by his pupil Octave Flanneau [fr].[11] The sculpture of the pediment shows an allegorical figure of Belgium flanked by groups representing Industry and Agriculture, by the sculptor Thomas Vinçotte. The new design includes a formal front garden with gilded railings, gates and balustrades, separating the building from the Place des Palais. Since then, apart from maintenance and restoration work, there has not been any more major transformations. The royal apartments were still occupied until 1935, but after Queen Astrid's death, King Leopold III chose to live in the Palace of Laeken, like all the kings who succeeded him.[11] Since 1965, the palace is open to the public regularly from 21 July (Belgian National Day) until the beginning of September. Visiting hours are Tuesday to Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.[12]

Interior edit

Grand Staircase edit

Grand Staircase

Located on the site of the former Rue Héraldique, the Grand Staircase was designed by Alphonse Balat in 1868 and 1872. In front of the central flight, in a false loggia, dominates a statue of Peace in the guise of Minerva made by the sculptor Charles-Auguste Fraikin in 1877. The steps are made of white marble and the banisters of green marble enhanced with bronze decoration.

Access to this staircase is via a vestibule housing the busts of some Kings and Queens of the Belgians. Two full-length portraits of the current sovereigns frame the door. One also finds in these spaces two bronze candelabra taking up the motifs of the Dying Slave and the Rebellious Slave by Michelangelo,[13] as well as two Egyptian statues of the goddess Sekhmet probably brought back by the young Duke of Brabant[clarification needed] during his trips to the Orient, .

Large Anteroom edit

Large Anteroom

The Large Anteroom was used under King William I of the Netherlands as the Throne Room. Its decoration is therefore loaded with many political symbols relating to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Produced by the sculptors François Rude and Jean-Louis van Geel [fr] around 1826, the frieze running all around the room thus represents the four main economic activities of the country (Trade, Navigation, Industry and Agriculture) and the four virtues of good governance (Abundance, Prudence, Armed force and Peace).[14] The frieze was reworked under King Leopold II to include his cipher and the coat of arms of Belgium.

Above the door leading to the Grand Staircase, a bas-relief depicts two female figures holding hands above a crowned lion and holding a sword and a bundle of arrows. It is a representation of the union of the Northern Provinces (holding a rudder) and the Southern Provinces (holding a cornucopia) under the aegis of the House of Orange-Nassau (represented by the lion). It is therefore the last true Dutch symbol present in the palace, as the lion is still the one depicted on the coat of arms of the Netherlands. There are also in this room two paintings by the English portraitist George Dawe representing the young Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Princess Charlotte of Wales at the time of their wedding.[14]

'Il Pensieroso' Room or Square Room edit

The 'Il Pensieroso' Room or Square Room takes its former name from the mantelpiece clock with a bronze reproduction of Michelangelo's Il Pensieroso ("The Thinker"), which adorns the fireplace. This space is also used as a chapel in the event of the death of a member of the Belgian royal family.[15]

Hall of Mirrors edit

Heaven of Delight (Fabre, 2004) in the Hall of Mirrors

Requested by Leopold II from Henri Maquet as a tribute to his Congo colony, the Hall of Mirrors contains many elements reminiscent of its primary vocation: exotic plant decorations, lion figures, copper sconces (and not gilding, the Congo being very rich in copper mines) and especially terrestrial globes depicting Africa in the pediments above the chimneys. The architect and the king having died a few months apart, King Albert I decided not to pursue his uncle's plans and to have mirrors installed between the columns instead of the allegorical paintings initially planned.[16]

At that time, the barrel ceiling remained unfinished and only covered with a layer of stucco. It was not until 2004 that, at the request of Queen Paola,[17] the artist Jan Fabre installed there a work called Heaven of Delight made up of more than a million beetle elytra in order to reflect the light with a metallic green tint.[18] Despite the artist's conviction for sexual offences, the palace decided to keep his creation.[19] The room is mainly used today for the reception of letters of credence from ambassadors posted in Brussels.

Grand Gallery edit

Grand Gallery

The Grand Gallery, 41 m (135 ft) long, connects the Square Room to the Throne Room while skirting the Brabant Courtyard. It was originally intended to include a gallery of portraits of the historic rulers of Belgium, but this idea was never realised. Its current decoration, in a fairly sober neo-Louis XVI style with white stucco and Corinthian pilasters raised in gold, is embellished with allegorical paintings by Charles-Léon Cardon, reproducing or even copying at the request of Leopold II works by the French painters Charles Le Brun or Louis-Jacques Durameau: Dawn, Day and Twilight are completed by Aurora located on one of the central walls.[20]

This gallery, ideal for its length and the possibility of housing an orchestra on a raised balcony, often hosts receptions: for example the dinner given in honour of the Duke of Edinburgh in 1958, the ball given the day before the wedding of King Baudouin with Fabiola de Mora y Aragón in 1960 or the reception which followed the wedding of Prince Philippe with Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz in 1999.[20]

Marble Room edit

Built by Balat in the west wing of the palace, the Marble Room owes its name to its paneling and its green, pink and black marble fireplaces. On the walls, two portraits by Louis Gallait represent Godfrey of Bouillon and Charles V. The space served mainly as a dining room, as at the time of the wedding of Princess Louise with Prince Philip of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and had for this purpose a pantry and a freight elevator embedded behind doors.

Throne Room edit

Throne Room

Despite its name, the Throne Room does not house any throne because the King of the Belgians simply does not have one (just like a crown). This room is divided into three spaces separated by arched arcades supported by Corinthian pillars. The neo-Louis XVI style decor corresponds to the will of Leopold II, whose monogram is inscribed in the parquet flooring in oak, maple, mahogany and ebony. It was Queen Elisabeth who had the red velvet and silk hangings installed.

The exterior spaces are each decorated with a large allegorical bas-relief of the Meuse and Scheldt rivers, works of the sculptor Thomas Vinçotte. The perimeter of the central space is decorated with female figures attributed to Auguste Rodin, representing the Belgian Provinces and their main activities. Only the Province of Brabant (unitary at the time the frieze was created) is not represented because the palace was already built on Brabant territory.[21]

This room has seen many historical events take place, such as the abdication of King Leopold III in 1951, that of Albert II in 2013 or the civil marriage of King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola in 1960. It is also there that the reception of the constituted bodies takes place during the Christmas and New Year celebrations, the presentation of the King Baudouin International Prize for Development [fr] and that of the triennial prize for Flemish literature.[21]

Pillar Room or Blue Room edit

Pillar Room

Originally an anteroom, what is now the Pillar Room later became a reception area for the kingdom's great noble families. Known then as the Blue Room (the colour referring to the expression blue blood), the room was full of paintings and included a table set with the famous birds of Buffon service ordered to the painter Frédéric Théodore Faber. Even if this noble privilege disappeared during the reign of Baudouin, the expression Princes and Dukes of the Blue Room survived in the documents regulating precedence.

On the occasion of the Asia–Europe Meeting (ASEM) in 2010, Queen Paola asked the decorator Axel Vervoordt to renovate the room.[22] It was completely modified, going so far as to repaint the walls in the ochre colour they had in the Dutch era (hence the change of name for this room). It now houses a portrait of King Leopold I painted in 1846 by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Empire style armchairs that belonged to Napoleon and his wife Joséphine at the Palace of Laeken, as well as a harp and a music stand probably belonging to Queen Louise.[22]

Louis XVI Room edit

The Louis XVI Room, like the Blue Room or the Pillar Room and the Marshals' Room, dates back to the time of William I. It was used at the time as an anteroom and was later converted into a living room. Alongside the portraits of family members of Leopold I are some canvases from his personal collection. The depiction of his deceased first wife, Allegory of the Death of Princess Charlotte, is a work by portrait painter and historian Arthur William Devis. Works by Michaël Borremans were also added to the room during its refurbishment in 2010.[23]

Empire Room edit

Empire Room

Vestige of the former Hotel Belgiojoso renovated under William I to make it a ballroom, the Empire Room's decoration still bears traces of the Austrian era, such as the dancing putti above the doors. It was in this room that Napoleon received with his wife Joséphine the authorities of the City of Brussels in 1803.

On the floor, the room sometimes houses a huge Kerman carpet offered by Shah Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar of Persia to Leopold II in 1900, and which recalls this gift in a Persian inscription. On the two central chimneys, one can also admire busts of Leopold I and his son, Count Philippe of Flanders.[24]

This room housed, among other things, the marriage of Prince Albert of Liège to Paola Ruffo di Calabria in 1959 and the signing of the sixth state reform in 2014. It also contains a work by Patrick Corillon [fr] entitled Flowers of the Royal Palace.

Coburg Room edit

Coburg Room

The Coburg Room takes its name from the set of portraits representing a large number of relatives of Leopold I by different artists. One can find there as well: the king himself, when he was still only prince of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (the name of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha would only come after the acquisition of the eponymous duchy by his brother Duke Ernest I of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha); his father Duke Francis of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld; his mother Countess Augusta Reuss of Ebersdorf; his sister Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and brother-in-law the Duke of Kent (parents of Queen Victoria); his great-uncle Prince Josias of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (generalfeldmarschall of the Austrian army); his wife Queen Louise, as well as a bust of the future Leopold II by the sculptor Guillaume Geefs.[25]

Goya Room edit

Initially a billiard room, the Goya Room has since 1905 housed three tapestries woven at the Royal Tapestry Factory of Santa Bárbara from designs by Francisco de Goya: The Dance, The Little Blind Man and The Water Carrier. These tapestries were offered by Queen Isabella II of Spain to Leopold I.

Small and Large White Drawing Rooms edit

Grand White Drawing Room

Like the Empire Room, the Small and Large White Drawing Rooms are among the oldest parts of the palace. The original 18th-century decorations have been preserved. The Empire style furniture, a wedding present given by King Louis-Philippe of France to his daughter Louise of Orléans and Leopold I, still bears its original decoration in the Beauvais tapestry.[26]

The Small White Drawing Room is decorated with portraits of Louise and her parents, Louis-Philippe and Princess Maria Amalia of Naples and Sicily.[26]

Venice Staircase edit

Built by Balat between 1868 and 1872, the Venice Staircase owes its name to the large oils on canvas representing different views of Venice. Painted by Jean-Baptiste Van Moer [fr] in 1867 (while the painter was using his Prix de Rome to visit Italy),[27] they represent Saint Mark's Square, the Grand Canal and the inner courtyard of the Doge's Palace. Other paintings, representing the Piazzetta and the Porta della Carta were later commissioned by Leopold II from the artist and installed in a small annex corridor.

Functions edit

The palace is used for state occasions at court.

Unlike most European royal residences, the Palace of Brussels is no longer the real residence of the Kings of the Belgians, who prefer to live in the Palace of Laeken. It was under Leopold III that the palace really only became a place of work, housing the king's office as well as the services of his House. It was also at the palace that the Councils of Ministers took place, then often chaired by the king. Leopold III being reluctant to play the game of the parliamentary regime of the time, he only rarely convened these meetings which then took place elsewhere.

Although it is no longer the private residence of the sovereigns, the palace has continued to house members of the royal family and to see important events take place for them. Only one king was born there (Leopold II, on 9 April 1835), none died there, but many marriages took place there: we note, among many others, that of the future Leopold II with Marie-Henriette of Habsburg-Lorraine, that of Princess Charlotte with Archduke Maximilian, that of Prince Albert of Liège with Paola Ruffo di Calabria, that of King Baudouin with Fabiola de Mora y Aragón or even that of Prince Philippe with Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz.

The palace plays a big role in the receptions of international personalities. Currently, the very many ambassadors accredited to Belgium are received by the king in the Hall of Mirrors. The palace can also serve more specific functions: for instance, during the First World War and on the initiative of Queen Elisabeth, it became a military hospital of the Red Cross. As often mentioned, it has a facade 50% longer than that of Buckingham Palace in London, but its floor area of 33,027 m2 (355,500 sq ft) is less than half of Buckingham Palace's floor area at 77,000 m2 (830,000 sq ft).[28]

Royal Collection edit

In the Royal Palace, an important part of the Royal Collection is found. This consists of mainly state portraits and important furniture of Napoleon, Leopold I, Louis Philippe I and Leopold II. Silverware, porcelain and fine crystal is kept in the cellars used during state banquets and formal occasions at court. Queen Paola added modern art in some of the state rooms.

During state visits, the royal apartments and suites are at the disposal of visiting heads of state. Ambassadors too are received there with state ceremony. New Year's receptions are held for NATO, EU ambassadors and politicians. Royal wedding banquets take place in the palace, and after their death, the body of the deceased king lies in state there. If the king is currently in the country, the flag is hoisted on the central building. If he is present inside the palace, then the guard of honour stands at the front of the palace.

Gallery edit

See also edit

References edit

Footnotes edit

  1. ^ In isolation, van is pronounced [vɑn].

Citations edit

  1. ^ Région de Bruxelles-Capitale (2016). "Palais Royal" (in French). Brussels. Retrieved 18 January 2022.
  2. ^ Mardaga 1994, p. 57–67.
  3. ^ Smolar-Meynart, Vanrie & Soenen 1991, p. 15.
  4. ^ Wasseige 1995, p. 3.
  5. ^ Mardaga 1994, p. 222.
  6. ^ a b Wasseige 1995, p. 4.
  7. ^ Wasseige 1995, p. 6–7.
  8. ^ Rudi Schrever, Paleis op de Coudenberg in: Historiek, 28 September 2014 (in Dutch)
  9. ^ a b Wasseige 1995, p. 26.
  10. ^ Wasseige 1995, p. 49.
  11. ^ a b Wasseige 1995, p. 50.
  12. ^ "Les expositions estivales au Palais royal ont attiré 70.000 visiteurs". Le Soir (in French). 29 August 2022. Retrieved 10 February 2023.
  13. ^ Brochure 2022, p. 3.
  14. ^ a b Brochure 2022, p. 5.
  15. ^ Brochure 2022, p. 7.
  16. ^ Brochure 2022, p. 9.
  17. ^ "L'outrance de Jan Fabre fêtée sur tous les fronts dans une Belgique conquise". Le (in French). 25 November 2002. Retrieved 26 January 2023.
  18. ^ Lorent, Claude. "Le Palais royal irradié par l'art". La (in French). Retrieved 26 January 2023.
  19. ^ Brochure 2022, p. 10.
  20. ^ a b Brochure 2022, p. 11.
  21. ^ a b Brochure 2022, p. 13.
  22. ^ a b Brochure 2022, p. 17.
  23. ^ Brochure 2022, p. 19.
  24. ^ Brochure 2022, p. 22.
  25. ^ Brochure 2022, p. 24.
  26. ^ a b Brochure 2022, p. 25.
  27. ^ Brochure 2022, p. 27.
  28. ^ Buckingham Palace Fact Sheet

Bibliography edit

Further reading edit

  • André Molitor, The Royal Palace in Brussels, Musea Nostra. Ghent, Crédit Communal & Ludion, 1993
  • Liane Ranieri, Léopold II urbaniste (in French), Brussels, Hayez, 1973
  • Irène Smets, The Royal Palace in Brussels, Ghent, Ludion, 2000
  • Arlette Smolar et al., Le Palais de Bruxelles. Huit siècles d'art et d'histoire (in French), Brussels, Crédit Communal, 1991
  • Thierry Van Oppem. Aux origines du Palais royal de Bruxelles, un hôtel ministériel de la fin du XVIIe siècle (in French), Maison d'Hier et d'Aujourd'hui, 1991

External links edit