Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Building of the Day: The Hôtel de Ville, Brussels

The centerpiece of the Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium is the Brussels Town Hall which is known in French as the Hôtel de Ville and, in Dutch, the Stadhuis. This monumental Gothic building with its graceful spires and elegant statues has been an important feature of Brussels since the Fifteenth Century. The original section of the building (the left wing) was constructed from 1402 to 1420 under the direction of Jacob van Thienen. Originally, there were no plans to expand the building in the future. However, when craft guilds were added to the politics of Belgium, a need to enlarge the building became urgent.

By 1452, the building had taken the form we see today with the present tower being completed in 1455. The tower is a magnificent work of art, narrowing to an octagonal base adorned with intricate fretwork and tracery. The entire structure is graced by allegorical statues and figures of nobles and saints. The original sculptures have been taken to the safer climate of a museum, and were replaced with copies. 

Photo by Ed Holden.
The central tower and archway are noticeably off-center. Legend has it that the architect, upon noticing this error, leapt to his death from the tower. However, this proves to be apocryphal given the long period of time during which the building was expanded. Nevertheless, it’s the quirk which gives the building much of its charm and energy.

The 1695 Bombardment of Brussels saw a vicious fire rip through the entire of the Hôtel de Ville, destroying the city’s records. The interior was entirely rebuilt, and, by 1712, two new wings were added to the rear of the structure. The building was substantially redecorated in 1868 with the addition of lavish tapestries and artwork. Since then, the Hôtel de Ville has remained relatively unchanged. Today, it’s a grand monument to the artistry and ingenuity of a remarkable people.

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