The royal district in Brussels gathers the buildings that have successively been the sovereigns’ urban residences since the end of the Middle Ages.
Today, the Place des Palais, the Place Royale and the Place du Musée link these historic seats of power in a concentration of the capital’s cultural wealth.
Coudenberg-Former Palace of Brussels
Under the reign of Charles Quint (Charles the Fifth) (1515-1555), the old medieval residence of the Dukes of Brabant was considerably enlarged by the construction of an imposing chapel, added onto the large ceremonial hall built by Philippe le Bon, Duke of Burgundy, his great-grandfather. His sister, Mary of Hungary also commissioned a remarkable gallery that opened onto the gardens.
Their descendents, the Archduke Albert of Austria and Isabelle of Spain further enlarged and embellished the palace in the 17th century. On 7th February 1731, a terrible fire reduced most of the architectural complex to ashes. It was never re-built, but the remains have been preserved and are partially accessible below the Royal Palace.
The Palace of Charles de Lorraine
In 1756, the new Governor General of the Austrian Netherlands, the imperial Prince Charles de Lorrain, brother of Emperor François 1st, bought the old townhouse of the Counts of Nassau and transformed it into a neoclassical palace, to which was added, around 1780, the new Place Royale, built over the levelled ruins of the old palace. From the French period, the buildings were transformed into a museum, whilst the chapel was given to the Protestant Church of Brussels. The buildings were subsequently enlarged and significantly modified up until the 20th century in order to house part of the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts (Royal Museums of Fine Arts) and the Royal Library. A neoclassical-style façade and the restoration of some of the interior bear witness today to the lifestyle of the court in Brussels during the 18th century.
The Royal Palace of Brussels
Two town houses for a palace
Fifty years after the fire of 1731, as part of the development of the Place Royal, a number of town houses were built around the Place des Palais. The house of the plenipotentiary minister di Belgiojoso was the seat of Austrian power until the Netherlands became part of the French Republic. In 1795, the Prefect of the Department of the Dyle moved into the house and the First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte stayed there in 1803. The neighbouring house was initially used by the Austrian Secretary of State, followed by Commander in Chief Bender and then, under the French Regime, for the services of the Receiver General. In 1816, it was decided to turn the two houses into a single palace which was devolved as the Brussels residence of the sovereign of the new United Kingdom of the Netherlands, King William 1st.
A new royal palace
Work began in 1818. The façade was completed in 1826 and the interior in 1829, on the eve of the Belgian Revolution. King William 1st moved into the east wing, whilst his second son, Prince Frederic, lived in the west wing. In 1830, the first King of the Belgians, Leopold 1st, took up residence, also in the east wing and, around 1855, his eldest son and heir to the throne moved into the west wing. Work to enlarge and embellish the palace, which had been conferred to the architect A. Balat and then H. Maquet, continued throughout the reign of Leopold II (1865-1909) and was completed with the current façade, which bears his monogram. The gardens and the enclosure of the estate bear the monogram of his successor, King Albert I.
Entrance: Place des Palais. Visits each summer (from 22 July to early September). www.monarchie.be
The princely residences
Palais des Académies (Palace of the Academies)
Built between 1823 and 1825, where the city ramparts stood, this neoclassical residence with clean lines was commissioned by William 1st of the Netherlands from the architect Charles Vander Straeten, as the urban residence for his eldest son Prince William of Orange-Nassau, who lived here from 1828 until the Belgian Revolution of 1830. After becoming state property, it was used for military and then museum purposes, prior to housing, from 1876, the Royal Academy of Science, Letters and Fine Arts, founded by Empress Marie-Therese in 1772, and the Royal Academy of Medicine, founded by King Leopold I in 1841. In the 20th century the corresponding Dutch language academies established themselves there, as well as the Royal Academy of French Language and Literature.
BIP (Brussels Information Place)
Around 1778, the north-west corner of the Place Royale was built over the ruins if the old palace chapel (at no.10) and the Hôtel d’Hoogstraeten (at nos. 11 and 12). The buildings set out around the open court of honour on the square were occupied between 1821 and 1828 by Crown Prince William of Orange-Nassau before being assigned to the Cour des Comptes (the revenue court) from 1897 to 1984. The building on the Rue Royale, was occupied in the 19th century by the Café de l’Amitié (on the park side of the corner) and by the Librairie (Bookshop) Muquardt (on the Place Royale side). At the start of the 20th century, Lloyds Bank renovated the entire building and opened a huge room of counters on the ground floor. Since the 1980s, the building has been allocated to the Brussels-Capital Region.
Rue Royale, 2-4. Entrance free every day from 9h to 18h www.biponline.be