Belgium //

East of the centre: the EU quarter and Le Cinquantenaire


Brussels by no means ends at the petit ring. King Léopold II pushed the city limits out beyond the course of the old walls, grabbing land from the surrounding communes to create the irregular boundaries that survive today. To the east, he sequestered a rough rectangle of land across which he ploughed two wide boulevards to link the city centre with Le Cinquantenaire, a self-glorifying and markedly grandiose monument erected to celebrate the golden jubilee of Belgian independence, and one that now houses three sprawling museums, two specialists and the more general Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire. There’s no disputing the grandness of Léopold’s design, but in recent decades it has been overlaid with the uncompromising office blocks of the EU. These high-rises coalesce hereabouts to form the loosely defined EU quarter, not a particularly enjoyable area to explore, though the strikingly flashy European Parliament building is of passing interest, especially as it is just footsteps from the fascinating – and fascinatingly eccentric – paintings of the Musée Antoine Wiertz. If, however, you’ve an insatiable appetite for the monuments of Léopold, then you should venture further east to Tervuren, where the king built the massive Musée Royal de L’Afrique Centrale on the edge of the woods of the Forêt de Soignes.

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