Palais Royal de Bruxelles
A resplendent vision of grandeur, the Royal Palace of Belgium is a testament to its history, builders, and legacy. It sits in the heart of Brussels, the capital of Belgium, and serves as the official palace of the Monarchy. While the King does not reside at the palace, it plays host to many government offices, grand events, and visiting foreign leaders. The King grants audiences and deals with important matters of state in this palace.
A window into the past
The palace as we see it today is not the original structure. The Coudenberg Palace, dating back to the 11th century, stood at this site until the mid-eighteenth century when a devastating fire left it in ruins. Nearly fifty years later, King William II commissioned architect Tilman-Francios Suys to build four buildings atop the ruins. Two were connected by a typical neoclassical peristyle. When Leopold of Saxe-Coburg ascended the throne, he moved the residence of the royal family to the Castle at Laeken. The palace at Brussels would henceforth be used for official gatherings of state.
King Leopold II, perhaps the most infamous Belgian monarch, ordained highly ambitious renovations to the Royal Palace to benefit his status. The extent of the building was nearly doubled, making the facade fifty percent longer than that of Buckingham Palace in London. Under his patronage, architect Alphonse Balat created numerous imposing spaces in the palace – the Grand Staircase, Throne Room and the Grande Galerie are a few. He also designed a new facade but died before it could be executed. His successor, Henri Maquet, designed and executed a true neoclassical facade. The pediment featured a sculpture by Thomas Vincotte representing Belgium flanked by Industry and Agriculture, echoing the sentiment of national pride. A new formal garden was also added to separate the Palace from the ‘Place des Palais’. This spate of renovations ended with the death of King Leopold II in 1909. A few minor changes by architect Octave Flanneau between 1930 and 1934 left the palace in the state we see it today.
A symbol of power and grace
The Royal Palace is exemplary of the neoclassical style of architecture prevalent throughout Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. True to its form, the design of the palace consists of simple geometries and symmetry. The separation of the various parts of the structure, and a lack of naturalistic ornamentation speak of the era the palace was built in. The long peristyle, towering Corinthian columns, the sculpted pediment in a stone facade, simple arches, and classic Greek motifs are iconic markers of neoclassicism. The simplicity of the elements used, however, cannot be mistaken for a lack of grandeur. The sheer scale of the building, and the fact that it remains graceful at such a volume, are a testament to its splendor and majesty.
The imposing entrance leads to the Grand Staircase – a lobby in pale stone with a vast marble staircase and adorned with gilded motifs, mirrors, and bay windows. The space truly is a fitting first glimpse into the architecture of royalty.
From here, visitors move into the Large Antechamber, where the stunningly detailed frieze narrates the political history of the kingdom. Walls of pale white and gold detailing are richly complemented by a parquet floor.
The Empire Room is one of the oldest spaces in the palace. The relief work seen here is a remnant of times before the monarchy. An installation of special significance here is the ‘Les Fleurs du Palais Royal’, which is a series of eleven pots containing earth from the country’s provinces and the capital city Brussels. This is the room where dignitaries are presented to the King.
The Small White Room, Venice Staircase, Goya Room, Coburg Room, and indeed, most other spaces in the palace are known for the peerless artworks they house. Originals by revered artists hang on every wall, making a tour of the palace a rich sensory experience.
The jewel in the crown is, aptly, the Throne Room built in the reign of King Leopold II. Large-scale low reliefs by artist Auguste Rodin depict the economic activities of Belgian provinces. An oakwood parquet floor gleams beneath chandeliers of bronze and gold in this prestigious masterpiece that is the Throne Room.
A befitting statement of opulence, the palace continues to inspire awe in every visitor nearly a hundred years after it was opened to the public. There is an innate grandeur in the simplicity of form and richness of material – this masterpiece surely proves that. A study in neoclassicism, the Royal Palace offers a trove of wisdom to those who seek.
The palace and the city
The Royal Palace is situated in the heart of Brussels. Perfectly opposite the palace, with the Brussels Park separating them, lies the Palace of the Nation, the seat of the federal parliament. This almost poetic arrangement is a symbol of the constitutional monarchy of Belgium.
The Place de Palais separates the palace from the park, which is a key element of the urban fabric of the city. Being the city’s largest public park, it is flanked by major roads that connect different quadrants of the city. Historical monuments such as the Place Royale, Church of St.James, Royal Chapel, and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts surround the park. Indeed, the planning of this part of the city centered around these monuments and the remains of the old Coudenberg Palace that lie beneath them.
With the Palace open to visitors for over two months every year, the surrounding areas see a significant amount of tourist traffic. The city has evolved around this region, in response to the needs of those who flock to the historical landmark.
An ode to a glorious era
The palace is a glorious reflection of the legacy of the Belgian Monarchy. Here is a royal family loved by the people – indeed, every sovereign is formally known as the King or Queen of the Belgians, tying them to the people over the territory. The Palace is well-loved and cherished by the entire nation which owes its existence and independence to the same rulers who are represented by this masterpiece.