Belgium is a country of Europe
with a surface area of 30,528 km² (density of 362.67 inhab./km²). The population of Belgium is 11,071,483 inhabitants in the last census.The capital of Belgium is the city of Brussels which has 1,125,728 inhabitants. The king of the federal parliamentary monarchy is Albert II.
"The Unity is the strength"
Belgium or Kingdom of Belgium is a country in Western Europe sharing borders with France, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg. It is bordered by the North Sea for a distance of 65 km.
Belgium is one of the founding countries of the European Union and many European institutions are based in Brussels, the capital. It is also part of the Benelux countries with Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The union of these three nations was concluded at the end of the Second World War in order to strengthen their economic power against the more important European countries, guaranteeing in particular the free circulation of goods and persons.
The Benelux is a forerunner of the European Union. Since the creation of the EU, the Benelux has less reason for being but allows the three countries to maintain a certain cohesion in particular for the organization of major sporting events.
Belgium at a glance
Administrative divisions: 3 regions comprising 5 Walloon provinces, 5 provinces of Flanders and 19 municipalities of Brussels-Capital.
Population: more than 11 million inhabitants
Main languages: French, Dutch, German
Main religion: Christianity
Current monarch: Philippe
Current Prime Minister: Charles Michel
Tourism: no restrictions
The flat country
With an area of 30,528 km², Belgium is one of the smallest countries in Europe but has three distinct geographical regions: the coastal strip (Lower Belgium), the trays in the center of the country (Middle Belgium) and the more rugged relief from the south (Upper Belgium). The highest peak, the Signal de Botrange in the Belgian Ardennes, culminates at 694 meters above sea level.
The lower Belgium whose altitude does not exceed 100 meters above sea level is included in the Dutch-speaking part of the country. The coastline is formed by a long sandy beach of 67 km and up to 500 meters wide during low tides. The beach is lined with dunes and the inland areas are sandy or sandy loam. These so-called polders are often below sea level and were once regularly flooded. Today they are protected by a system of dykes and locks.
The Middle-Belgium is made up of very fertile plateaus not exceeding 200 meters of altitude. This area was covered by forests, but urbanization and agriculture have greatly reduced them. The Forêt de Soignes on the edge of the capital and nicknamed the "green lung of Brussels" is the last vestige of the Forest Charbonnière which extended, from the time of the Romans, from the Meuse to the North Sea. Until the 15th century, the forest remained intact. It served as a hunting rendezvous for its owners, the Counts of Louvain and, later, the Dukes of Brabant. Some religious communities had also settled there. The buildings are still visible around Brussels, notably the Val Duchesse, a former priory rebuilt at the beginning of the 20th century and now hosting important governmental or international meetings, or the abbey of Rouge-Cloître, an augustin priory of the 14th century and which has experienced different assignments before becoming a workshop-residence of artists and a coffee-restaurant appreciated by walkers.
The Soignes forest, composed mainly of beeches, now extends over 4,400 hectares managed by the Flemish, Brussels and Walloon regions according to the principles of sustainable management in order to protect its fauna and flora. In particular, it is forbidden to harvest more wood than the forest can produce and to collect dead wood in certain areas in order to favor the natural enrichment of the soil.
Upper Belgium is located in the south of the Sambre and Meuse rivers. It is composed of the tray of Condroz and its green valleys where agriculture and cattle breeding share fields and meadows, swampy areas of the Fagnes, peat bogs of the Hautes-Fagnes and finally the massif ardennais, a hilly region covered by vast forests of birch and softwood.
The climate of Belgium is of temperate type with an oceanic influence. The precipitation is regular and sometimes abundant (from 12 to 20 days per month) and the temperatures are mild in summer (18 ° on average) as well as in winter (2 ° on average) despite the possibility of experiencing hot summers with periods of heatwaves and harsh winters, mainly in the Ardennes. The extreme temperatures recorded by the Meteorological Institute are + 40 ° in Campine and -30 ° in the Lesse valley but these are exceptions. The climate is thus variable and is determined by differences in atmospheric conditions, mainly the situation of the polar front forming a boundary between hot air masses of subtropical origin and masses of cold air of polar origin. The movement of this front determines the time. The coastal strip is often swept by the winds which accentuate the impression of freshness. In the extreme south of the country, the Pays de Gaume, also known as the Belgian Lorraine, benefits from a privileged climate with a greater amount of sunshine which gives it its nickname of "Petite Provence belge" and allows the cultivation of the vine.
The man of Spy
The territory of Belgium is occupied since prehistory and archaeological excavations have confirmed the presence of men during the Lower Palaeolithic period, more than 800,000 years ago, in the province of Liège.
In the Middle Paleolithic, the banks of the Meuse were inhabited by men of Neanderthal. A major discovery took place in a cave at Spy, in the province of Namur in 1886. Archaeologists have uncovered hominid bones and a large number of tools and animal remains from the Paleolithic period. The study of the bones of "Man of Spy" confirmed the presence of sedentary hominids endowed with intellectual capacities and subsisting from the fishing, the hunting and the picking, 36,000 years ago. The thesis of the existence of men long before the arrival of the "modern man" was thus validated. A partial sequencing of the Neanderthals present in Eurasia makes it possible to express the hypothesis of a common heritage with Homo sapiens but this remains to be proved. Many historians lean to the theory of a coexistence of two lines descending from Homo erectus.
During the Neolithic era, the agriculture developed and the flint mines were exploited and the equipment improved. In Belgium, the Bronze Age is dated to around 1,600 BC and the Iron Age around 800 BC.
The conquest of Gaul
In 57 BC, the army of Julius Caesar invaded the area which was then populated by the Celts after 5 years of sometimes intensive fighting. After the Roman conquest, the "pax romana" settled and, with it, the cultural and economic development of the country. The Celts already had their own currency and a society hierarchized by village (King, nobility, druids, free men and slaves). They had commercial exchanges with the Mediterranean and Brittany peoples by selling their handicrafts (wood, cloth, pottery, enamel and iron), but mainly subsisted from the agriculture and the livestock.
The Romans will build new roads, defend the territory against invasions and reorganize society. Augustus divided Gaul into three provinces, Aquitaine, Lyonnaise, and Belgium.
Gallia Belgica comprises some sixty cities (former tribes) spread over the territories of present-day Belgium but also in the north of France and in part of Germany. The province is governed by a legate representing the emperor and charged with enforcing his edicts. The cities were subject to different taxes and duties. The inhabitants got the right of city in 212, except for the slaves.
By the end of the third century, the province was reorganized and divided into three, the Belgica Prima (chief town: Trier) comprising the southern part of the province of Luxembourg, the Belgica Secunda (chief town: Reims) The present-day Belgium and the Belgica Inferior (chief town: Cologne), which comprises only a small territory of German-speaking Belgium and which will later become Germania Secunda.
The Gallo-Romans are romanized and the Latin is gradually becoming the main language although it is very different from the language spoken in Rome or in the southern provinces. This dialect will give rise to so-called Romance languages including French. The large farms called villae are built of stone and include the dwellings of the Roman owners of the estate, servants and peasants. Gallic farmers continue to live in huts bursting with rocks or wood and cob, thus marking the difference between social classes between the rich Romans and the local populations, which are often very poor.
The trade intensified and the country began to urbanize, the cities surrounded by fortifications to defend themselves against barbarian invasions were generally built on the sites of ancient Celtic cities.
The Celtic deities are gradually replaced by the Roman gods although certain cults are maintained. Meanwhile, Christianity spread and was finally authorized by the Emperor Constantine. A first bishopric was founded in Trier in the 4th century, but the invasions were going to hurt this nascent religion until 506, the date of the baptism of Clovis.
The Frankish era
While Rome is in the grip of civil wars and revolts in its provinces, Gaul has to face the incursions of the Barbarians. Wanting to take over fertile land, they seize the territories of Belgium, plundering and massacring the populations as they pass, while the Western Roman Empire collapses and the whole of Western Europe Hands of the Germanic tribes.
The Franks invest the corresponding territories in the Netherlands, Belgium and Somme (France). The Belgians, accustomed to the refined Gallo-Roman way of life, began a real reversal with agriculture as the sole resource. In fact, the Frankish people are closer to the ancient Gauls than to the Romans in terms of both morphology and usages and customs. The villas and towns are in ruins and the fields are devastated but the Franks are more warriors than architects or art lovers and they do not think to rebuild. They separate the newly conquered territory into two kingdoms, the Frank Ripuaires and the Salian Franks. The latter, presumably headed by King Clodion and then by his son Mérova, took over and founded the Merovingian dynasty. Clovis I, great-grandson of Clodion, came to power in 481 and extended his kingdom, Francia, to all Gaul. At his death in 511, the country is divided between his four sons who will tear and confront each other going as far as murder to seize the territories. We must wait for the reign of Dagobert 1st so that the country becomes unified and regains some of its former splendor. Dagobert is the last great Merovingian king, his children known under the nickname of lazy kings leave power to the mayors of the palace responsible for managing fortune and royal domains and who will take advantage of the situation to strengthen their power and ultimately usurp the place of Merovingian kings. In 751 Pepin le Bref proclaimed himself King of the Franks, became the founder of the Carolingian dynasty and was at the head of a kingdom comprising Belgium, France, and parts of Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany.
His son Charles, future Charlemagne, was born in Liège in 742. Quasi-illiterate when he ascended the throne, he applied himself to learning to read and write while preparing his conquests in direction of Germany, Italy and Spain. Belgium became an important economic, cultural and administrative center of a kingdom led by Charlemagne who chose Aachen as its capital and imposed the missi dominici system. The latter had the task of dictating the orders of the sovereign and of controlling their application in the various counts and marches. In 800, Charlemagne is crowned Emperor of the Romans by the Pope. Eager for culture, Charlemagne believes that education is indispensable and for this reason he opens schools to all and that education becomes free.
At his death in 814, the empire quickly broke up by the play of successions and fraternal rivalries. Belgium is divided into two in 843, the territories west of the Scheldt belong to western France (future France) of Charles the Bald while the territories of the east belong to the Francie Median of Lothaire. Finally, the eastern Francie of Louis the Germanic gave birth to Germany. Francie Médiane will be shared between the other two regions. The great rivalries between France and Germany date from that time.
In the 9th century, the Vikings from northern Europe landed on the North Sea coast or drakkar through inland rivers, burning villages and killing locals and especially the monks without mercy. These rapid raids weaken the country badly directed by the heirs of Charlemagne. The population asks for help from the nobles who will build fortresses and castles on rocky spurs while the roads are protected by dungeons. In exchange, the landowners agreed to cede their rights, allowing the dukes, counts and marquises to enlarge their estates, which eventually gave rise to counties, duchies and principalities that were increasingly independent, in the 14th century (counties of Louvain, Hainaut, Lomme, Limbourg and Looz, Duchy of Luxembourg and principalities of Liège and Stavelot-Malmedy).
The Dukes of Burgundy
In 1369, the Duke of Burgundy and younger son of the King of France John II the Good, Philip the Bold married the heiress of the County of Flanders giving birth to a strong Burgundian state supported by the French crown.
His heirs maintain his power and expand the territories. But the ambition of Charles the Bold urged him to embark on disastrous conquests. His daughter, Mary of Burgundy, inherited a weakened duchy. When she died at the age of 25 as a result of a hunting accident, the Burgundy dynasty came to an end.
His marriage to Maximilian of Austria in 1477 marks the beginning of the Habsburg dynasty of which Charles V is the most famous representative.
During the period of the Dukes of Burgundy, the arts developed, making the country a cultural center radiating throughout the West. Van Eyck, Jeroen Bosch, Hans Memlinc, Roger Van der Weyden are some of the most famous painters. At the same time, the architecture changes and the Gothic becomes flamboyant.
During the reign of Maximilian of Austria, the conflicts between the power and the Flemish cities (mainly Bruges and Ghent) intensified. The latter lost part of their privileges, and in 1493 Maximilian became Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, leaving the Netherlands to his son Philip the Fair. Let us remember his marriage with Joan of Castile, a union which enabled the ruler of the Netherlands to be the head of an important territory following many deaths in the Spanish dynasty.
When his son Charles of Luxembourg ascends the throne at the age of 6, the bases of his empire are in place. At the end of the regency of his aunt Margaret of Austria, Charles V. was at the head of an empire comprising, besides the Netherlands, Spain, Sardinia, Sicily, Naples and the possessions of the New World. He was crowned Emperor under the name of Charles V. on October 23rd, 1520.
During his reign, the principalities of the Netherlands were grouped in the XVII provinces, the duchies of Brabant, Limburg, Luxembourg and Gelderland, the counties of Flanders, Artois, Hainaut, Holland, Zeeland and Zutphen, The marquisates of Namur and Antwerp and the seigneuries of Tournaisis, Utrecht, Overijssel, Friesland and Groningen.
The internal policy of Charles V., based on respect for local laws, enabled him to obtain the support of the people, especially as the country was prosperous. The port of Antwerp becomes an important economic center dethroning Bruges. Merchants, diamond merchants and bankers opened branch offices there, while improved land and river transport routes made it possible to improve the flow of manufactured goods. It is at this time that the great canals are dug. In Brussels, many breweries open their doors, assuring the city of appreciable income, the beer being taxed. Despite this opulence, the workers and the rural proletariat are becoming poorer.
At the same time, Lutheranism is developing and the Reformation is gaining ground. The people have enough of it to see the ecclesiastics get rich and the monks dismiss themselves. Charles V. will appoint an inquisitor charged with the task of flushing out the Reformed and later the Calvinists, who are heretical and condemned to death.
Tired by a reign of more than 40 years, Charles V. abdicated in favor of his son Philip II in 1555 but entrusted to his brother the Austrian possessions dividing thus the Habsburg dynasty in two, the Habsburgs of Austria and Habsburg of Spain.
Philip II does not like the Belgian people, and the latter does it all the more because the king draws money from the Netherlands to finance the Spanish army and the wars against France and reduces power and the independence of the Councils by placing them under the control of his half-sister Marguerite of Parma appointed governess and especially of a secret political council called the Consulta.
The Spanish era
This situation led to a revolt of the nobility led by William of Nassau, Prince of Orange and the Counts of Egmont and Hornes and supported by the clergy and the people. The Reformers, more and more numerous, also revolted.
Philip II then sent the Duke of Alba to the Netherlands to establish a regime of terror and to establish a tribunal which would be called the Blood Council, which could judge and condemn without proof any person suspected of having taken part or not preventing the riots. 8,000 persons, of which the Counts of Egmont and Hornes ascend the scaffold. In addition, the Duke of Alba levied new heavy taxes.
A movement of passive resistance began, shops began a strike to avoid paying a tax and the people gave up drinking beer in order not to enrich the king. The deans of the trades are in turn threatened with death.
The Prince of Orange turns then abroad to try to free the Netherlands. He managed to take control of several cities obliging the Duke of Alba to recognize his failure and return to Spain. The country is in chaos and a provisional government is appointed but the Spanish army present in the unhappy Netherlands not to be paid will loot and burn towns and villages, slaughtering in particular 7,000 people in Antwerp. The Civil war is raging throughout the Netherlands when the new governor Alexander Farnese manages to divide the rebels, enabling him to master the southern Low Countries and a part of the north which corresponds roughly at the present border between Holland and Belgium.
Austria, France, the Netherlands
During the Austrian occupation, Belgium finally attained peace and welcomed the sovereigns even though it was not until 1780 and the accession to the throne of Joseph II for a monarch to travel to Belgium, listen to the demands and lead Reforms but his brother who succeeded him in 1790 had them canceled.
After a few years spent under the French flag in the aftermath of the Revolution of 1789, the nine former Belgian provinces were annexed to the Kingdom of the Netherlands by Guillaume 1er d'Orange-Nassau.
To the Independence
Very quickly, the Belgians opposed the absolutism of the king and, in 1830, the revolution broke out in the streets of Brussels nourished by the patriotic enthusiasm of the spectators of the Muette de Portici.
The Revolution is on the march and will lead to the independence of the country proclaimed on October 4th.
The first King of the Belgians, Leopold 1st of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, took the oath on July 21st 1831. The same family has ruled Belgium since then.
Belgium has been a constitutional and parliamentary monarchy since 1831.
Philippe of Belgium is the 7th king of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha dynasty and his eldest daughter, Elizabeth is the crown princess, she bears the title of Duchess of Brabant.
The King of Belgium is also the head of the Belgian Armed Forces and a senator of law and honorary president of the Agency for Foreign Trade, the Federal Council for Sustainable Development, the Belgian Investment Society for Developing Countries, the European Chapter, the Club of Rome and the International Polar Foundation. The role of the king is essentially representative of the country and his acts can only have effect if they are approved by a minister.
Belgium is also a federal state whose particularly complex system is unique in the world. It comprises the three Communities (French, Flemish and German-speaking) and the 3 Regions (Walloon, Flemish and Brussels-Capital) and has competence in areas of national interest, including Foreign Affairs, National Defense, Social Security and finances.
The Communities and Regions: the education, the culture, a part of health and the assistance to persons are managed by the Communities, while the regions are responsible for the spatial planning, the public works, the housing, the tourism , the energy, the agriculture, the environment, the water and the forests, the family ...)
The executive branch is entrusted to the federal government consisting of the King, the Prime Minister (currently Charles Michel), the Deputy Prime Minister and ministers or Secretaries of State according to Cabinet.
The legislative power is entrusted to the bicameral Parliament consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Note, the legislative power has a right of control over the executive and vice versa.
There are three main political families in Belgium: the Dutch - speaking and the French - speaking socialists, the centrists (Dutch - speaking and French - speaking) and the liberals (Dutch - speaking and French - speaking) and several community or non - traditional parties such as the ecologists, the extreme right, the extreme left or the nationalists.
In Belgium, the voting is compulsory, the elections are by universal suffrage and the principle of proportional representation applies. The federal, regional and European elections are held every 5 years, while the communal and provincial elections take place every 6 years.
At the end of the elections, the coalitions are formed between the major parties of the country which agree to compose a new government and propose it to the King.
A stable and diversified economy
The economy of Belgium is based on the principle of free enterprise under the supervision of the State in order to guarantee the development of citizens in terms of health, education ...
The industry, the agriculture and the foreign trade supported by an important road, river, sea and rail network are the two main poles of the country's economy.
The world economic crises (oil shocks and financial crisis of 2007) did not spare Belgium, which has a high rate of unemployment (8.5%) slightly lower than the average rate of the EU and the euro area.
The economy is more flourishing in the Flemish region than in the Walloon region, thanks in particular to the port activities of Antwerp, Zeebrugge and Ghent. Wallonia, on the other hand, suffers from the decline of its main activities, namely the coal and the steel, and is now trying to turn to other economic sectors such as the aeronautics, the logistics and the biotechnology. Finally, the tourism accounts for approximately 3% of national GDP.
One country, three communities
The total population of Belgium exceeds 11,200,000 inhabitants, with just over 12% of foreign-born nationals sharing equally between European Union and non-European countries. By totaling foreign-born foreigners and foreigners born in their country of origin, this percentage exceeds 22%.
Belgium has three national languages, French spoken in Wallonia (south of the country) and partly in Brussels, Flemish (or Dutch) spoken in the north of the country and partly in Brussels and finally German spoken in the Cantons of ballast. Some municipalities on the border between linguistic regions are said to be "facilitated", which implies that administrative documents can be bilingual. Brussels is actually the only truly bilingual zone of the country, mostly French-speaking, even though it is enclosed within the Dutch-speaking linguistic territory.
The students generally have a choice between English and French (or Dutch as their mother tongue) as a second language.
The Belgian Constitution grants freedom of religion but the country is traditionally and largely Catholic. The Belgians, however, are not very active.
The mission of the State is to subsidize the Roman Catholic worship but also other religions and non-confessional philosophical organizations. At present, six religions are officially recognized: the Catholic, Islamic, Evangelical, Israelite, Orthodox and Anglican religions, as well as organized secularism. The buddhism and the Jehovah's Witnesses also have tens of thousands of believers.
Belgium is a country that has always developed art and many artistic movements have originated on its territory, including Art Nouveau and Surrealism. It also prides itself on being the birthplace of many top athletes.
The painters Rubens, Brueghel, James Ensor, René Magritte, Paul Delvaux, Félicien Rops, singers Jacques Brel, Adamo and Maurane or more recently Stromae, musicians Adolphe Sax, Toots Thielemans and Eugène Isaye, writers and poets Georges Simenon, Amélie Nothomb and Jacques Prévert, cartoonists Hergé, Franquin, Roba and Philippe Geluck, grammarian Maurice Grévisse, sportsmen Eddy Merckx, Jacky Ickx, Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters and actors and directors Benoît Poelvoorde, Emilie Dequenne, Virginie Efira and the Dardenne brothers, to name but a few, are all Belgians of origin.
The gastronomy is raised to the status of art in Belgium and each region has its unmissable recipes such as carbonnades, waterzooi, notices, Liège balls, tarte al jote, stoemps, chicons au gratin.. .. Belgium is also a country of cheeses, fries and caricole merchants, enough to satisfy everyone.
The Belgian chocolate and the special beers of which the Trappists have an international reputation. The tourists also appreciate crackers and ceramics, sugar and grape rolls, marzipan, speculoos, waffles from Liège or Brussels or the cheese pie, the specialties that can be enjoyed at breakfast or afternoon tea.
The tourism is an important economic factor for Belgium and more than 10 million tourists visit the country each year.
The coastline and its immense sandy beaches as well as the beautiful Ardennes forests are the most popular destinations but travelers also appreciate the charm of the cities.
Bruges nicknamed the Venice of the North, Ghent, Brussels and its Grand-Place, Namur, Dinant or Liège ... so many cities that contain architectural and historical treasures.
The natural heritage is also very important and visits to the Grotta de Han, Spy Cave, Westhoek or Zwin are essential.
And after a day of sightseeing, nothing is comparable to the tasting of a cold beer to choose from among the hundreds of beers, krieks and gueuzes brewed in Belgium.
Belgium is a festive country and we no longer count the number of ducasses, fairs, braderies, festivals and carnivals that allow Belgians and tourists to have fun throughout the year in a good-natured atmosphere.
Belgium is a small country, of course, but of unexpected richness.