The late medieval Grand' Place, or Grote Markt in Flemish, is one of the most glorious sights of urban Europe. A first glimpse
of Grand' Place, whether by day or floodlit at night, should stop even the most jaded in their tracks. These are buildings
that seem wrought from nature, yet their symmetry and elegance is ravishing. Any debate about the competing merits of traditional
or Modernist architecture melts away in the face of such adventurous style. Even the fast-food stores, bars and cafés that
have taken over the ground-floor premises shrink into insignificance.
What you see in Grand' Place today are some of the finest examples of Flemish Renaissance and Gothic architecture, most of
which are 17th-century replacements of older wooden-framed guild houses. The originals were destroyed in 1695 during a devastating
bombardment of Brussels by the troops of a spiteful Louis XIV. The citizens rebuilt the heart of their city in a bold act
of defiance. The Town Hall (Hôtel de Ville) is the focus of Grand' Place. Its soaring tower dominates the Brussels skyline;
its carved facade is crammed with dukes, duchesses, monks, saints and sinners.
The guild houses, which make up the other sides of the square, are named and represented by gilded statues, bas reliefs,
motifs and classical orders. They are a riot of exquisite forms and symbols. Look for No. 7, Le Renard (The Fox), the Haberdasher's
guild house; and No. 6, Le Cornet (Horn), the guild house of the Boatmen.
Opposite the Town Hall is La Maison du Roi (The King's House), known also as the Broodhuis (Bread House) and home to the City
of Brussels Museum (Musée de la Ville de Bruxelles). On the east side of Grand' Place is the restored facade of the house
of the Dukes of Brabant, six individual houses united by the cool elegance of a single Renaissance facade.
Finally, in the southeast corner to the left of the Town Hall, is No. 10, L'Arbre d'Or (The Golden Tree). This is the headquarters
of the Brewers' Guild, the Knights of the Mash Staff, and also houses a Brewery Museum. Next door is Le Cygne (The Swan),
complete with a graceful swan motif and rounding off the magnificent Grand' Place with a flourish.