Located in front of the Parc de Bruxelles or Brussels Park, in the centre of Brussels, the Royal Palace of Brussels, one of the most famous buildings in the Belgian capital, is the official administrative palace of the King where he works and receives the foreign dignitaries. It also hosts the King’s cabinet, the General Secretariat, the Military household and the Queen’s Secretariat. Apart from the King and the Queen, the other members of the Royal Family also have their offices in the palace.
The construction of the Royal Palace began at the beginning of the nineteenth century, on the ruins of a very old palatial complex dating back to the 11th century, which was first built on the Coudenberg hill as a home of the Dukes of Brabant and probably looked like a fortified castle. Subsequently, it was rebuilt, renovated, improved and extended in the following centuries, with the increased wealth and prestige of the Dukes of Brabant and their successors. Unfortunately, this prestigious complex was destroyed by a fire on 03 February 1731.
Almost fifty years after the disaster, there were four separate buildings on the site of the ruins of the old palace complex and during the 19the century, two of them were connected by a colonnade by King William II of the Netherlands. After the Belgian revolution Leopold I ascended the throne, who likes his predecessor William II, used the palace for official purpose only and did nothing to change the building. However, his son and successor Leopold II judged the building to be too modest for a king and kept on enlarging and embellishing the palace until his death in 1909.During his reign the palace nearly doubled in surface and added the Grand Staircase, the Throne Room and the Grande Gallerie, designed by Alphonse Balat. He also designed a new façade but died before the plans could be executed. However, the new façade was executed only after 1904, following new plans by Henri Maquet. The huge, impressive and splendid new façade is often mentioned as fifty percent longer than that of the Buckingham Palace in London. The sculpture on its pediment depicts an allegorical figure of Belgium, flanked by figures representing Industry and Agriculture, created by the Belgian sculptor Thomas Vincotte.
The impressive Royal gates of the palace lead to the Ceremonial Vestibule, decorated with the life-sized portraits of King Philippe, who ascended the throne on 21 July 2013, his wife Queen Mathilde and the busts of the former Belgian Kings and Queens. The Vestibule opens up to the majestic Grand Staircase with its beautiful domed ceiling. The broad white marble staircase, creating contrast with the green marble balustrade and decorated with the statue of Peace, in the form of the Roman goddess Minerva, leads up to the huge Anti-chamber that overlooks the Place des Palais and gives access to the royal balcony, from where the Royal Family greets the crowds on specific occasions.
Built under the reign of King Leopold II, the magnificent Throne Room with its gold and white decoration is the largest room in the Palace. Its gigantic chandeliers are said to be inspired by the chandeliers of the now non existing Tuileries Palace of Paris and it houses four imposing low reliefs by Auguste Rodin in the centre. Originally, it served as a ballroom during the reign of Leopold II and Albert I. During the state visits, gala banquets were also held in the Throne Room and it could serve more than 200 guests at long tables decorated with excellent tableware. During the First World War, King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth opened it to the Red Cross to be used as a hospital.
The Empire Room, situated in the oldest part of the palace, was originally the ballroom of the Austrian Imperial representatives. The room was enlarged during the reign of William I and the decorative female figures above the mirrors, created by Jean-Louis Van Geel, date from that period. The gilded and low reliefs on the walls depict dancing angels and playing music. Together with the Empire Room, the Small and Large White Rooms constituted the apartment of state of the Austrian Minister. Preserved with the original decorations of the 18th century, these rooms have often been used as the setting for the official photographs taken to mark the important events of the Royal Family.
Construction of the comparatively less glamorous, but one of the most talked about Hall of Mirrors was started by Leopold II, who decorated the walls with marble and copper and completed by King Albert I, with mirrors on the wall. However, the ceiling of the room, originally intended to feature the allegorical scenes evoking Africa, left undone. In 2002, Belgian artist Jan Fabre was commissioned by Queen Paola to create a work of art in the vacant space and he covered the ceiling and one of the chandeliers with his wonderful fresco, Heaven of Delight, made out of the glowing shells of one million six hundred thousand jewel-scarab wing cases.
The Marble Room, the former dining room of King Leopold II, leads to the Large Gallery, with its ceiling painted by Charles-Léon Cardon. Originally it was the usual passageway for the Royal Family to go to the Throne Room and today, it is mostly used to host diners and receptions.
Apart from the above, there are many other decorated rooms in the palace, which include among others, the Pilaster Room, which was originally a waiting Room and then turned into a dining room for the high dignitaries. The Marshals’ Room was originally the audience room of King William I and contains a clock that consists of different dials for showing the time, date, day of the week, month and Zodiac signs. The Goya Room owes its name to its tapestries, the Dance, the Water Carrier and the Little Blind Boy, which were woven based on a drawing by Francisco de Goya and gifted to King Leopold I by Queen Isabelle II of Spain. While the Coburg Room is decorated with the portraits of King Leopold I and many other members of the Coburg family, Louise XVI Room was used as an anti-chamber and like the Pilaster Room, the Marshals’ Room and Blue Room, it also dates from the days of King William I.
However, among all the rooms, there is another one that needs to be mentioned, due to the purpose of its use. The Thinker’s Room, named after the clock decorating its chimney and embossed with a bronze reproduction of Michelangelo’s Il Pensieroso, which means the thoughtful one or the Thinker, is completely different from the other rooms for its specific use. The Room provides the space for the deceased members of the Royal Family for lying in state.
Traditionally, the Royal Palace opens its doors to the public for a few days during the summer, from 23 July to 25 August, when it can be visited for free of charge.