Have you taken a vacation to Europe? Are you looking for Europe vacation ideas? We have fun facts about Belgium in this post. Since you are a traveler, you are probably looking for destinations or vacations. Belgium is a small country located in Western Europe, known for its delicious chocolate, beer, waffles, and fries. They speak three official languages: Dutch, French, and German. They also speak English very well. Did you know that Belgium has more castles per square kilometer than any other country in the world]? Are you intrigued yet? As a fellow traveler, here are some fun facts to consider about Belgium.
Belgium's history and culture are not to be missed. Before heading to the European Union capital, read out brief history of his exceptional country.
Like so many European countries, Belgium has been occupied or ruled by others many times. Perhaps it all started with the Romans. The Habsburgs, Franks, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain and Austria, France, and the Netherlands have also ruled Belgium.
People have lived in Belgium for at least 100,000 years. Neanderthal sites prevail in eastern Belgium. The world's first Neanderthal was discovered in Engis, a suburb of Liège, in 1829.
Homo Sapiens remains have been found that are more than 30,000 years old. As glaciers moved across northern Europe 25,000 years ago, they forced humans to retreat south on either side of the Pyrenees. When the ice retreated 10,000 years ago, humans moved back to northern Europe.
Belgium gets its name from the original settlers of the area. They were a Celtic tribe called the Belgae. The Belgae lived in the area of Belgium until the Roman Empire conquered them in 100 BC. Rome ruled the natives for the next 300 years.
When the Roman Empire retreated, Germanic tribes invaded Belgium and established control. Northern Belgium felt a German influence during this time, with people learning the language and culture. Southern Belgium continued the Roman traditions and spoke Latin.
Many countries ruled Belgium until 1830. Their conquerors included the Holy Roman Empire, Franks, Habsburgs, Spain and Austria. The European industrial revolution began in Belgium. Textile production started in Flanders, iron processing in Walloon and large coal reserves mined from the south and east of Belgium. In 1720, the first steam engine in Europe went into action near Liège.
In 1795, Napoleon conquered Belgium. Soon after, control shifted to the Netherlands. In 1815, after Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo, 17 km south of Brussels, Belgium came briefly under Dutch rule and called the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. This didn't last long, however, as the Belgian people rebelled against the Dutch. In 1830, they gained their independence.
An Independent Nation
A German prince, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, was elected to become the first King of the Belgians. He was the uncle of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Belgium was now an industrial and a colonial power.
In 1865, Leopold II succeeded his father to the Belgian throne and reigned for 44 years until his death. King Leopold II is known for atrocities committed in the African Congo, which he renamed the Belgian Congo. Leopold II told the rest of Europe that he was going to improve the lives of the natives. Instead, he collected ivory and forced labor to harvest rubber. The Belgian Congo was 80 times larger than Belgium itself and had natural resources that Belgium exploited.
Colonial Rule and the Wars
Leopold's administration of the Congo included murder, torture and other forms of systematic brutality. This is a period of Belgium history that many would like to forget. But put in context, many European countries systematically murdered native populations and conquered their lands for similar reasons. It’s a dark part of European history.
- Dark blue: France
- Red: England
- Orange: Belgium
- Green: Italy
- Brown: Portugal
- Cyan blue: Spain
By 1939, England and France had the largest geographic footprint in Africa. And they were routinely exploiting natural resources like all other European nations. In 1960, the Belgian Congo gained its independence and has known many regimes and names. It’s currently called the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Despite its small size, Belgium became one of the major world powers, thanks to its thriving economy. In 1900, it had the highest GDP per capita in Europe. The country hosted four Universal Expositions before the start of World War I. Only the United States and France staged more. The first Universal Exposition after WWII took place in Brussels in 1958. One of today’s popular attractions in Brussels, the Atomium, was built for this Expo 58.
Germany invaded the Belgium in 1914. The German armies tore its way through the heart of Belgium on their way to Paris. But they were stopped just short of the French capital and the battles of the Western Front waged on for four more years.
Belgium again was occupied by Germany during World War II. But the Battle of the Bulge was the only major battle fought there. During the winter of 1944 to 1945, German forces tried to capture port cities in Belgium, including Antwerp. The Allied Forces held strong. When the Germans lost the Battle of the Bulge, their last hope of winning World War II vanished; their surrender was inevitable. Belgium was independent once again.
Because of Belgium many occupiers, it’s no surprise the citizens there speak many languages. Because of the differences in cultures in Belgium, there are informal borders that divides the country into different languages. In the north is the Dutch speaking area. In the south is the French speaking area. There’s also a small area in the east that speaks German.
Belgian children learn all three languages as they pass from elementary school, through middle school, and then secondary school.
Reasons to Visit
Tourists go to Belgium for many reasons, including beer, chocolate, waffles and lace. Brewers brew more than 800 varieties of beer. More than 220,000 tons of chocolate are produced every year. There are three main types of Belgian waffles.
Galettes are thin and soft waffles. Brussels waffles are made with a thin batter that makes them lighter. They’re in a rectangular shape. Belgians make Liège waffles with a batter that is more like bread dough; it’s thick and sticky. The dough contains chunks of sugar that caramelize and form a crispy, crunchy and golden coating. The dough is spread and pushed into the waffle maker. The end result is uneven edges and a denser, sweeter, and chewier waffle.
Today, Brussels is not only Belgium's capital, but it’s also the home of the European Union. NATO makes its headquarters in Brussels as do many other major multinational organizations.
When we visited Belgium, we made Brussels our base. From there we visited Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent and Dinant. Because it’s so close, we visited neighboring Luxembourg, too. You easily could visit the Netherlands as well. You should visit Belgium; there’s plenty to see!