Europe, Belgium, Brussels

Brussels: From pissing statues to giant molecules

No Comments 6 August 2010

Brussels: From pissing statues to giant molecules

Capital of Belgium and—increasingly—of Europe, Brussels straddles the physical and mental borders between Flanders and Wallonia. The Monkey was happy to visit this cosmopolitan city during his time in Belgium during 2002. Here are a few of his photos from Brussels.


Manneken Pis, Brussels, Belgium
The Monkey isn’t sure what to make of a city whose best known symbols are a giant molecule and a urinating child. Just about every visitor to Belgium seeks out Manneken Pis, the rather irreverent little fellow that’s been peeing on a central Brussels street corner since the 17th Century. The Monkey feels that one of the more bizarre jobs in Belgium must be that of the person responsible for sorting through the cherub’s extensive wardrobe of donated clothes and then dressing him on a daily basis. In this shot he’s decked out in flashy designer threads.

Staadhuis, Brussels, Belgium
The Monkey dealt with some overcast weather in Brussels better than his photographer did. Here, the Monkey rests in the Grand-Place, the plaza at heart of old Brussels. Behind him, the mammoth and beautiful building is the City Hall (Hotel de Ville in French and Stadhuis in Dutch). Construction on the building began in 1402. The size of the building and its 92 meter tower sought to emphasize the prestige of Brussels at a time when it vied with other cities, particularly Leuven, for primacy. To this day the building serves as the Brussels Mayor’s office.

Palace of Justice, Brussels, Belgium
The Monkey cowers at the sight of Brussels’ imposing Palace of Justice. Sitting atop a hill, the Palace comes into view from points all over the city. Still serving as Belgium’s Supreme Court, some sources claim that it was the largest building constructed in the 19th Century! For those wondering, this photo is just a side view of the Palace; even a wide angle lens wouldn’t fit the front facade in at any sort of close range.

Atomium, Brussels, Belgium
The Monkey was eager to visit Atomium, the bizarre building that has become an international symbol of Brussels. Designed in 1955, Atomium was to be the exhibition hall for the Belgian metallurgical industries at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. Noting his clients, the clever designer A. Waterkeyn proposed a scale model of a steel molecule (165 billion:1 scale!) that would consist of a steel structure and aluminum sheathing. Visitors would be whisked to the top sphere (Atomium is 102 meters tall) by a high-speed elevator, from whence they would descend through escalators inside the tubes from exhibitions in one sphere (or atom) to another.

In a move that should be lauded, the rather odd concept was accepted, and the giant molecule was erected. Long after the conclusion of Expo 58, the utterly unique Atomium is still attracting visitors.

Atomium, Brussels, Belgium
Each sphere of the Atomium represents one atom, has a diameter of 18 meters, weighs 2400 tons, and contains two levels of exhibition space. As you can see from this photo, by the time of the Monkey’s May 2002 visit the Atomium was in need of some restoration and clean-up. The Monkey was pleased to learn that such works were later put in progress, and when the restoration was completed in 2006, the spheres were back to their gleaming selves, just as they were in 1958.

Atomium, Brussels, Belgium
The Monkey gets a different angle on the Atomium from inside the grounds of the Mini Europe display, which plays counterpoint to Atomium in that it features miniature scale models of buildings and sites from around Europe. You can see another photo of Mini Europe below.

Atomium and Mini Europe, Brussels, Belgium
The Monkey visits one of Belgium’s most recognizable buildings, Brussels’ Atomium. The miniature buildings behind him are typical of the Dutch stepped gable style prevalent in the Flemish north of Belgium.



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Belgium

   FAST FACTS


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Population:

10,403,951 (2008)

Land area:

30,278 sq. km.

Capital:

Brussels (pop. 949,070; 2005)

Economy:

In 2006, Belgium ranked 9th in the UNDP Human Development Index and 18th in total GDP, with a per capita GDP of $37,384.34. Public debt accounts for 84.6 percent of total GDP, while 15.2 percent of Belgians are beneath the poverty line.

Main language(s):

Dutch (Flemish), French

Monkey's name:

Aap, Le Singe

Fun fact:

Of all Belgium’s famous comics, no character is more famous than Tintin. The comic showcased the adventures of the journalist Tintin and his trusty dog Snowy as they travelled to exotic places from the Tibet and the Yucatán to the surface of the moon, exploring and solving crimes along the way. Penned and drawn by Belgian artist Hergé, the series first appeared in newspapers in 1929 and later expanded to books. One measure of Tintin’s popularity is the fact that his books have been translated into over 60 languages worldwide.



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