Hello Belgium…What is it?…Where is it?
Everyone knows Belgium but no one knows where it is except of course the Belgians themselves. And yet in 57 BC, the great Julius Caesar wrote about this Gallic tribe, “Horum omnium, fortissimi sunt Belgae…*.
That’s a good start, isn’t it? For the last two millennium, this small country of 35 000 km², with 10 000 000 inhabitants, at the heart of Europe, has witnessed the passage of foreign troops, Spanish, Bourguigonne, Austrian, French, Dutch, etc.
The Belgian politely said hello and watched the marching armies pass by.
One day, however, he had enough of his country being considered as a perpetual battle ground where kings and emperors came to try out their warring skills. He got really angry. Trop is te veel !
So the Belgian decided to go for independence and he won. This was in 1830.
Everyone out! Allow us to squabble among ourselves, we are grown up enough!
The country experienced economic, scientific and social development at dizzying speed. There were the business leaders such as Empain, Nagelmackers, Franki, Ernest Solvay, Adolphe Sax, Zénobe Gramme…all headed by Léopold II, King of the Belgians and of the Congo. At the end of the 19th century, Belgium was among the five largest economic powers on earth.
Since the Middle Ages, this country full of dynamic individuals, has been known for its sense of luxury craftsmanship, trade and construction. In addition to their joie de vivre, the Belgians have a rich tradition of pictorial art. Just think of the brothers Van Eyck, the Breughel family, Pierre-Paul Rubens, etc.
The works of all these great Flemish painters can be found in the best museums in the world. During two world wars, Belgium and its people were always held up as an example – courage, tenacity, subtlety and the ability just to get on with it. But even during the most difficult times, the Belgians never lost their sense of humour, their cheekiness and friendly nature.
The Belgian cuisine offers a multitude of specialities which you will find by running through this website. The Belgian has barley and hops in his very soul
The cultivation and fermentation of these cereals are an open book to him. There are more than 800 different beers in Belgium. This is what the Belgian waters his insides with from Liège to Ostend and from Arlon to Antwerp. Brussels, capital of the country, is also the capital of the European Union. And what could be more natural – after centuries of having hoards from the four corners of the continent passing through. If it is true that this varied territory has to put up with political and linguistic complications, it has done well out of them. All these differences vanish around a dish of mussels and chips at Chez Léon.
Belgium has always had a predilection for the arts. The low country of Jacques Brel consists of many small explosive and creative dynamos. There are examples from literature with writers such as Verhaeren, Maeterlinck, Simenon and his famous Inspector Maigret, Hugo Claus, Johan Daisne, Françoise Mallet-Joris, Stanislas-André Steeman, Guido Gezelle, Hendrick Conscience, Michel de Ghelderode, Charles Plisnier, Ernest Claes and in the modern age, Amélie Nothomb and Didier Van Cauwelaert. However, there are too many to mention so if you’re interested, look them up in a literary reference work. Belgium pleased André Breton, and it was the centre of the Surrealist movement with Magritte and Paul Delvaux, without forgetting James Ensor. Nowadays we have Folon, Alechinsky, Paul Bury, Reinhout and Somville. There are examples of modern art which have managed to attract international attention.
The Belgians are world champions when it comes to comic strips. The Comic Strip is also part and parcel of Belgomania. Hergé, Franquin, Jijé, Tibet, Peyo, Vandersteen, Morris, Will, Roba, Sleen, Walthéry….who help us imagine the adventures of Spirou, the clever groom, Tintin the boy reporter, Gaston the most adorable idiot, Natacha the sexiest air hostess, the all blue Smurfs, Lucky Luke surrounded by the wily Dalton brothers and the fabulous Marsupilami…
This little kingdom is also the centre of song and music
Brel, the magician of words and tenderness, Annie Cordy, Maurane, Adamo, Pierre Rapsat, Will Tura, Philippe Lafontaine, Arno, Plastic Bertrand, Helmut Loti, Lara Fabian…
Without forgetting the most famous harmonica player, Toots Thielemans, who goes all over the world with his good humour and his harmonica and plays at the best jazz venues. Once again, it is impossible to mention all these talented celebrities. For the ones we have forgotten, we have left a little space where anyone can fill in their favourite: ” …………………………………………………… “.
As far as film and TV are concerned, we have Olivier Minne, Christine Ockrent, Marie Gillain, Benoît Poelvoorde, the Dardenne brothers (who won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival twice), Olivier Gourmet, Natacha Regnier, Cécile de France….
In the world of sport, we think of Paul Frère, the gentleman driver, Jacky Ickx Mr. 24 hours of Mans, and Eric Vandepoele, Sylvain Geboers, Joël Robert and Stefan Everts who have won so many and therefore countless cross-country motorbike competitions. On the tennis scene there are Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin who are at the pinnacle of the women’s tennis. The Saive brothers, who are still playing, have won the most important table tennis trophies. We would also like to salute Tom Boonen who with his multicoloured jersey, became world cycling champion in 2005.
Yes sir, all these people are Belgians
And we must not forget to mention King Eddy. Merckx the Great who at the end of his cycling career, had 525 victories under his belt.
On 21 July 1969, man walked on the moon and Eddy Merckx won his first Tour de France. Forget about the moon, this is yet another example of a Belgian victory.
* “among them all (Cesar was referring to the people of Gaul), the most courageous are the Belgians”. Wasn’t he just a little bit right?