This week I would like to introduce Belgium from a geographical standpoint, rather than a cultural one. I will give you an overall view of Belgium, then focus more specifically on Brussels so you get an idea of where I live! As I explained in my first post, Belgium is a country divided by language borders. While it is somewhat comparable to the north and south in the United States, in the US there is no language barrier. Such is the case in Belgium.
Settlements on the land of present day Belgium date back to before 500 BC in the time of Etruscan rule. Throughout the centuries Belgium was not yet a defined country, and passed as a territory between different empires. In more recent years the land was conquered or traded by dominant European powers. From 1482 until 1713 Belgium was a Spanish territory. Following this it was taken by Austria until 1795 when it came under French rule. The Dutch were the last to claim Belgium as a territory, until in 1830 Belgium established itself as its own country for the first time in history. This means that Belgium is a very young country, with less than 200 years since its independence. Due to the number of countries that laid claim on Belgian territory, its land size was slowly picked down to the tiny country it is today. Another result was the spread of varied languages throughout the country, which is why it is a French and Dutch speaking country today.
In my first post I explained a bit about the separation of north and south, but I would like to give a more detailed explanation. Belgium is divided into four different territories, Francophone Wallonia to the south and Flemish-speaking Flanders to the north. Brussels, which is considered to be both Dutch and French speaking is located in the northern region, although functions as the countries capital, the country’s political headquarters, and its own region. It is said that the importance of Brussels to both the north and south is the only aspect holding the two together as a country. Each has varied political beliefs, and even to a certain extent, its own cultural norms. In my time here I have been lucky enough to visit towns in both Wallonia and Flanders. In Flanders I have been to Bruges and Antwerp, as for Wallonia I have been to Waterloo and will be visiting Liege soon!
As for Brussels, it is an amazing place of cultural diversity due to the high amount of immigration. It is not uncommon to hear more than two different languages in any given day, which is such a contrast to the United States where it’s uncommon to hear a language other than English. Brussels is known for its varied sections within the city primarily inhabited by a given culture or ethnicity. For example, Belgium has a Chinatown and a neighborhood that is dominated by Indian immigrants. Within Belgium there are a total of 19 different municipalities, or regions. The region in which I live is called Ixelles, and is located close to the city center. My school is located in Etterbeek, which is a short half an hour tram ride from my house. Within Ixelles I live two blocks from what is considered the nicest shopping region in all of Brussels. I spend many of my days off exploring the area and discovering new parks, monuments, museums and shops.
Throughout Belgium there are a number of statues and other public works of art, as well as tourist attractions. My favorite touristy things I’ve seen so far are Grand Place, which is the most famous area of Brussels, Manneken Pis, a famous statue, and the Atomium, a monument left over from the 1958 World’s Fair. Belgium has such an expansive culture, largely due to its occupation by a number of stronger European powers throughout history. However, it is a country that finally liberated itself and created its own culture with the various other cultures it was exposed to. With Brussels as its thriving capital, this country is definitely one of fascinating language, political, and cultural borders, all of which combine to create the Belgium I have come to love and have the pleasure of sharing with you!
In what way is the Geography and separation of regions in Belgium similar to the United States? What do you think the United States would be like if we had two or three national languages?