What a wonderful moment to visit the Royal Palace of Brussels. You’ve seen it hundreds of times, you probably passed right in front of it—there’s no way you could miss it. You might have even looked at it closely, wondering what was behind those doors. And…we all know you may have taken a selfie in front of it! I’ve always wondered how they maintained security without big gates like in other countries. Are all residents of Belgium respectful of the monarchy, or do they just not really care? The Royal Palace of Brussels is open this year between the 23rd of July and the 28th of August. So, let’s have a look at a few things you might find during your visit!
While it may look like it’s been there forever, the appearance of the building has actually changed quite often over the years through different regimes. It was the residence of many important political figures in the region: the Dukes of Brabant under the name of the Palace of Coudenberg until the 12th century; Charles of Lorraine, governor of the Habsburg Netherlands until 1794; Emperor Napoleon until 1814; and William I, King of United Kingdom of the Netherlands until 1830.
The arrangement of this huge square is very important for the monarchy. On the opposite side, you’ll find the Palace of the Nation, the seat of the federal parliament. This symbolises the position of the Belgian monarch within the Belgian constitution. From the beginning, the Belgian government chose to have a king who has pledged allegiance to the Belgian government. The current King, Philippe, was accepted as the new ruler of the country in 2013 when his father abdicated. The Prime Minister’s cabinet, in consultation with the parliament, can also advise the Belgian Royal Family if a better choice must be made. That happened after the Second World War when Prince Charles, Count of Flanders, was chosen to serve as regent of the country for 6 years. More recently, Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant at that time, was passed over following the death of his uncle, King Baudouin, in 1993. The government determined that Philippe was too young at the time, and Prince Albert became King Albert II of the Belgians.
The Palace of Brussels is the King’s working place. He comes there every morning during the week to work on public matters, to receive the representatives of political institutions, foreign guests (heads of state, ambassadors, etc.) and other guests. There can you find the staff of any member of the Belgian Royal Family including King Philippe’s cabinet and Queen Mathilde’s secretariat. The palace also features reception rooms where various activities are organized (work meetings, lunches, roundtables, televised speeches, concerts, etc.). Since 1965, the Royal Palace of Brussels has been opened to the public after the National Holiday on 21 July.
Leopold II asked Alphonse Balat to transform this provincial residence into a magnificent palace that could compete with the most ancient royal courts of Europe. Balat changed the façade to link two more buildings with a colonnade in a neoclassical style. He erected a large staircase, a vestibule that crossed the building, the throne room and new ball rooms. The King’s architect decided to show the power of the monarchy by adding a huge dome on the top of the building. The façade is 50% longer than Buckingham Palace in London, and the surface area doubled during Leopold II’s reign.
So, what is inside the Royal Palace of Brussels? Let’s open the gates!
Marble and white stones—and plenty of light! You get an incredible feeling entering the Vestibule, a delightfully pure entrance. A big gallery that opens onto the front gardens. And of course—two portraits featuring the reigning king and queen.
For the Main Staircase, Alphonse Balat was smart. He played an ingenious game using gilded mirrors and windows, reflecting the interiors of the Palace and making them look bigger. This genius used domes and arcades to amplify the volume and the height. The Minerva symbolizes Peace, holding a sprig of laurel, the victorious young Belgium.
What could be more refined than white and gold? In this household, there are many styles. Welcome to the Empire Room and the White Rooms. The Empire Room belongs to the original part of the Palace. It was used as a ball room under the Austrian occupation. There, you can find gilding and the low reliefs representing dancing angels making music. The White Rooms are decorated with the portraits of Queen Louise-Marie, the first Queen of the Belgians and her parents, King Louis-Philippe and Queen Marie-Amélie de Bourbon. The original decoration and the Empire furniture have been preserved to the present day.
Another notable room is the Mirror Room. Originally, the gallery was supposed to have paintings representing Africa and the Belgian colony of the Congo. The decoration started under Leopold II, but when Albert I ascended the throne, he asked to hang different mirrors on the walls. This great room features red, grey and white marbles. The ceiling is made of white stucco, but the middle is a piece of work by Jan Fabre. In 2002, the artist was called to the Palace by Queen Paola. The Queen was also a big fan of modern art. This work was entitled “Heaven of Delight”. The ceiling is decorated with over 1.6 million Jewel beetle carcasses. In my opinion, this vibrant green gives a contemporary and a magical touch to the place.
Last but not least, the heart of the Belgian Monarchy: the Throne Room. It’s in this room that some of the most important moments of Belgian history have played out: the wedding of King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola, the abdication of King Albert II, the 18th birthday of Princess Elisabeth or the annual Christmas concert. This is also where the Prime Minister pledges allegiance to his Sovereign and represents him in his political activities. Built under King Leopold II, parquet in oak and exotic woods, bronze and gilded chandeliers confer a monumental and prestigious appearance to the Throne Room. The French sculptor Auguste Rodin decorated the central gallery with four bas-reliefs. Rodin also worked on the stock exchange building of La Bourse in the center of our capital.
During your visit, you’ll come across a huge number of rooms, so here’s a short list: the Anti-chamber, the Empire Room, the Venice Staircase, the Goya Room, the Coburg Room, the Louis XVI Room, the Pilaster Room, the Marshals’ Room, the Marble room, the Large Gallery and the Thinker Room.
This year, you’ll find an exhibition about King Baudouin with his personal belongings, including exclusive objects, never shown before and used by the King during his 42-years-reign. The 2nd exhibition will focus on science and current themes: global warming, maritime research and polar missions. The entrance to the Palace is free of charge. You might have to pay 2 euros for an audio guide. The money will go directly to charity funds.
How to book your ticket? More info here: https://www.koninklijk-paleis-palais-royal.be/en/reservations
Curious about the Royal Family? More info here: https://www.monarchie.be/en#royal-family