The town hall of Brussels, Belgium, is one of the most impressive buildings of its kind in Europe. The city it serves is smaller than most people imagine.
What became the Brussels town hall was begun in the early 15th century when Brussels was one of four capitals of the Duchy of Brabant, a state of the Holy Roman Empire. The Gothic building originally included a short belfry on one end and was expanded in 1444 by adding a larger section adjacent the belfry. In 1454, the belfry was replaced by a 310-foot-tall tower featuring an open octagonal pinnacle topped by a sixteen-foot-tall gilded statue of Archangel Michael, the patron saint of Brussels. Michael, the only angel referred to by name in the Old and New Testaments and the Quran, is slaying a dragon thought to represent Satan. An improbable local legend says the tower’s architect jumped to his death when he recognized the tower was off-center. Brussels’ town hall is located along the west side of the Grand Place, a lively public square surrounded by guild halls and museums. One of the museums holds 137 statues of nobles and saints originally displayed on the town hall’s façade, now replaced with replicas.
When Belgium split from the Netherlands in 1830, Brussels became the new country’s capital and the Brussels town hall served briefly as the seat of government. Today, the town hall holds the offices of the Mayor of the City of Brussels, whose 170,000 residents speak both French and Dutch. The City of Brussels is one of 19 independent municipalities comprising the Brussels-Capital Region, a polyglot urban area with a population of 1.2 million. Despite its relatively small size, the City of Brussels is the home to the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, making it the unofficial capital of Europe.