The most set-off place in the world I have ever seen…old brick houses amongst vitreous skyscrapers…yeah, this is the European Quarter in Brussels, dear friends.
The European quarter in Brussels is made up of lively squares, original shops, exceptional green spaces, world-renowned museums and, on top of all that, the incredibly interesting and attractive offer from all the European institutions. It’s just a must!
Four important squares act as four great reference points when you are working your way around the European quarter.
The best place to start is Place du Luxembourg – Luxemburgplein. This classic example of a neoclassical station square is blessed with numerous terraces and restaurants on and around the square making it the major meeting point for young expats from the EU institutions, especially on a Thursday night.
Place Jourdan – Jourdanplein, which is being totally renovated as of 2017, is an international and local hub with terraces, cafés, nice restaurants serving local and international food.
Rond-point Schuman – Schumanplein (known as Schuman roundabout) on the other hand offers an incredible view of two of the three centres of EU decision-making. At night is the latter is beautifully which makes for a lovely evening stroll by the beautiful Europa building. You also get a view of Cinquantenaire park’s triumphal arch thrown in for good measure.
Place Jean Rey – Jean Reyplein is the new place to be when it comes to EU squares. Gourmet events and trendy shops and businesses have recently breathed new life into the square.
Your voyage of discovery through the European Union begins at Station Europe, or – for groups – the Atrium. From there you go on to the Parlamentarium, the House of European History, Esplanade Solidarnosc, visit the European Parliament hemicycle or wonder at the impressive architecture of European institution buildings such as the Europa building, the Paul-Henri Spaak building and the Berlaymont. Groups can book visits in the European institutions’ visitors’ centres. During these visits EU officials explain in detail how the European Union or a particular institution works, sometimes even tailoring their presentations to the group. Simply turning up and hoping for a visit isn’t possible and visits must be booked well in advance. However, Infopoint Europa, which provides documentation about the EU, is open to individuals and groups with no prior booking required.
Lovers of all architecture movements are in for a treat in the European quarter. You will find Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Belle Epoque gems on each of the four Squares, of which the most impressive and unmissable example is the Maison Saint-Cyr. Right next to Merode you will find the beautiful Cauchie House and few metres further are the gigantic buildings of Cinquantenaire park, built by King Leopold II to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Belgium’s independence. Last but not least, Leopold park is also home to fabulous examples of architectural heritage with, among others, the sublime Solvay library and the Eastman building. Let’s not forget the Berlaymont, the Europa building and the neighbouring Residence Palace.
Are you looking for a tasty bite to eat or a spot of shopping? Then look no further than one of the aforementioned squares. Jean Reyplein, for example, is home to Le Grand Central, one of the largest, and possibly the trendiest bar in Brussels. If you’re in the mood for some Belgian chips, then make a stop at Maison Antoine or if you prefer some Belgian-French cuisine for lunch then why not enjoy some in the stylish Art Deco setting of Residence Palace. You can also find more exotic cuisine at Oriento or El Turco. But the neighbourhood also offers a number of original or international establishments such as Pauzz, a Japanese-inspired nap café and massage parlour, or Librebook, a bookshop and culture café with literature from more than 20 countries.
The European quarter hosts a whole series of unmissable world class museums. In Cinquantenaire park you’ll find the collections of the Royal Museums for Art and History, which include pieces and objects from as far back as prehistory up to the 20th century, the hundreds of old timers exhibited in Autoworld and the dozens of planes, tanks, uniforms and other military items on show in the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History. The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences is know all over the world for its stunning dinosaur collection as is the Wiertz museum for its towering paintings by the eccentric Belgian painter.
Need a break from all the culture institutions and gastronomy? Then go down to one of the European quarter’s parks. Cinquantenaire park is made up of classical landscaped gardens with spacious and straight paths and lanes and exhibits great symmetry, built along a central axis. In the park, you will find an impressive triumphal arch and stunning hangars and arcades. Leopold park is a sublime landscaped park in an English-style and an open-air architecture museum. It’s a genuine oasis in the European quarter, with its ponds and hills.
The quarter’s land-use is very homogenous and criticised by some, for example former Commission President Romano Prodi, for being an administrative ghetto isolated from the rest of the city (though this view is not shared by all). There is also a perceived lack of symbolism, with some such as Rem Koolhaas proposing that Brussels needs an architectural symbol to represent Europe (akin to the Eiffel Tower or Colosseum). Others do not think this is in keeping with the idea of the EU, with Umberto Eco viewing Brussels as a “soft capital”; rather than it being an “imperial city” of an empire, it should reflect the EU’s position as the “server” of Europe. Despite this, the plans for redevelopment intend to deal with a certain extent of visual identity in the quarter.
Between the EU institutions lying there belong the Charlemagne building, the second largest building of the Commission. The most iconic structure is the Berlaymont, the primary seat of the Commission. It was the first building to be constructed for the Community, originally built in the 1960s. It was designed by Lucien De Vestel, Jean Gilson, André Polak and Jean Polak and paid for by the Belgian government (who could occupy it if the Commission left Brussels). It was inspired by the UNESCO headquarters building in Paris, designed as a four-pointed star on supporting columns, and at the time an ambitious design.
Across the Rue de la Loi from the Berlayont is the Europa building, which the Council of the European Union and the European Council have used as their headquarters since the beginning of 2017. Their former home in the adjacent Justus Lipsius building is still used for low-level meetings and to house the Council secretariat, which has been located in Brussels’ city centre and the Charlemagne building during the course of its history. The renovation and construction of the new Council building was intended to change the image the European quarter, and was designed by the architect Philippe Samyn to be a “feminine” and “jazzy” building to contrast with the hard, more “masculine” architecture of other EU buildings. The building features a “lantern shaped” structure surrounded by a glass atrium made up of recycled windows from across Europe, intended to appear “united from afar but showing their diversity up close”.
The European Parliament’s buildings are located to the south between Leopold Park and Luxembourg Square, over Brussels-Luxembourg Station which is underground. The complex, known as the “Espace Léopold” (or “Leopoldsruimte” in Dutch), has two main buildings: Paul-Henri Spaak and Altiero Spinelli which cover 372,000 m2. The complex is not the official seat of the Parliament with its work being split with Strasbourg (its official seat) and Luxembourg (its secretariat). However the decision making bodies of the Parliament, along with its committees and some of its plenary sessions, are held in Brussels to the extent that three quarters of its activity take place in Brussels. The Parliament buildings were extended with the new D4 and D5 buildings being completed and occupied in 2007 and 2008. It’s believed the complex now provides enough space for Parliament with no major new building projects foreseen.
Also the European External Action Service has been based in the Triangle building since 1 December 2010.
The Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions together occupy the Delors building, which is next to Leopold Park and used to be occupied by the Parliament. They also use the office building Bertha von Suttner. Both buildings were named in 2006. Brussels also hosts two agencies, the European Defence Agency (located on Rue des Drapiers/Lakenweversstraat) and the Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation – (in Madou Tower). There is also EUROCONTROL, a semi-EU air traffic control agency covering much of Europe and the Western European Union which is a non-EU military organisation which is merging into the EU’s CFSP.
And how I have already mentioned, amongst all these modern high-rise buildings and skyscrapers are located small brick houses with pubs, antiquarians, tiny private restaurants. What a contract, right? (well, not on the first photo yet haha)