A Very Brief History of Belgium

  • Belgium has only existed as a sovereign nation for just under 200 years. It is officially a kingdom.
  • The name ‘Belgium’ comes from the Romans, who called their province in the north of Gaul Gallia Belgica, after its previous inhabitants the Celtic and German Belgae. The province eventually became the country.
  • The province of Belgium was ruled by many different empires, including the Spanish and the Habsburg Empire of Austria, until it was captured by France in 1795. After Napoleon was defeated, Belgium was given to the United Kingdom of Netherlands in treaty negotiations. The Belgians soon staged a revolution and gained their independence in 1830, choosing a constitutional monarchy as the form of government.
  • In 1831, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was designated as King of the Belgians by the National Congress, after two other nominees refused the role. Belgium is now on its seventh king - Phillippe. His father abdicated.

Facts and Factoids

  • Belgium has distinctive regions, including Dutch-speaking Flanders to the north (60%), French-speaking Wallonia to the south (40%) and a very small German-speaking community in the eastern regions of the province of Liege (1%). The capital, Brussels, is bilingual. N.B. there is no such language as Belgian!
  • Belgium is known as 'The Flat Country', for a reason. It's mainly coastal plains and gentle hills There's even a song ,by Jacques, Brel which says “cathedrals are the only mountains my country has”.
  • Antwerp is the diamond capital of the world. 84% of the world’s rough diamonds pass through Antwerp to be polished and shaped before reaching the shops.
  • Belgium holds the world record for the country that has gone the longest without having an official government - 541 days - after the federal elections of June 13, 2010 were inconclusive.
  • Comics are an integral part of Belgian culture. Belgium has more comic strip artists per square kilometre than anywhere in the world. Think Tin Tin and The Smurfs.
  • Chocolate and waffles are key foods - both are claimed to be the best in the world. Belgium also claims to have invented moules frites and Belgian fries are touted as being better than French ones.

Is Belgium a Poor Country?

  • Belgium, like many Western European nations, enjoys a high standard of living and a high per capita income. It ranks highly on the human development index
  • However, there are extremes of wealth and poverty in Belgium, and Brussels in particular, struggles with the proportion of people living below the poverty line.

Is Belgium in the EU?

  • With Luxembourg, The Netherlands, France, Italy and West Germany, Belgium signed the Treaty of Paris in 1951, creating the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), and thus eventually, the European Union. So, Belgium is a foundation member of the EU.
  • Brussels is the de facto capital of the EU.

What is There to See and Do in Belgium?

  • Belgium has a perhaps undeserved reputation for being boring. This is a highly urbanised country - 98 %of the population live in urban areas and cities. However, closer inspection reveals medieval towns, Renaissance architecture and some delightful Art Nouveau. Ghent and Antwerp are noteworthy and touristy. Bruges is chocolate box pretty, literally. Every other shop sells Belgian chocolate.
  • Brussels is home to the European headquarters of more than 2,000 multi-national organisations, plus the headquarters of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The Law Courts of Brussels is the world’s largest court of justice. This may or may not add to its interest….
  • The longest tram line in the world is the Belgian Coast Tram, The Kusttram. This travels the full 68 kilometres of Belgian coast between the French and Dutch borders.
  • See what I did when I visited - Belgium - Is it Boring?

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