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Prime Minister Charles Michel
» Dutch, French, German
» Federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy
» 30,528 km2 (140th)
» 11,198,638 (75th)
» $434.503 billion (32nd)
» Per capita $38,826 (20th)
» $534.775 billion (23rd)
» Per capita $47,787 (17th)
» Euro (€)c (EUR)
» CET (UTC+1)CEST (UTC+2)
Belgium officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal monarchy in Western Europe.
It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU’s headquarters as well as those of several other major international organisations such as NATO. Belgium covers an area of 30,528 square kilometres (11,787 sq mi) and has a population of about 11 million people.
Straddling the cultural boundary between Germanic and Latin Europe, Belgium is home to two main linguistic groups: the Dutch-speaking, mostly Flemish community, which constitutes about 59% of the population, and the French-speaking, mostly Walloon population and Brussels inhabitants, which comprises 41% of all Belgians. Additionally, there is a small group of German-speakers who are officially recognized.
Belgium’s two largest regions are the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in the north and the French-speaking southern region of Wallonia. The Brussels-Capital Region, officially bilingual, is a mostly French-speaking enclave within the Flemish Region.
A German-speaking Community exists in eastern Wallonia. Belgium’s linguistic diversity and related political conflicts are reflected in its political history and complex system of government.
Historically, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg were known as the Low Countries; it once covered a somewhat larger area than the current Benelux group of states.
The region was called Belgica in Latin, after the Roman province of Gallia Belgica, which covered more or less the same area. From the end of the Middle Ages until the 17th century, the area of Belgium was a prosperous and cosmopolitan centre of commerce and culture.
Belgium’s strongly globalized economy and its transport infrastructure are integrated with the rest of Europe. Its location at the heart of a highly industrialized region helped make it the world’s 15th largest trading nation in 2007. The economy is characterized by a highly productive work force, high GNP and high exports per capita. Belgium’s main imports are raw materials, machinery and equipment, chemicals, raw diamonds, pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, transportation equipment, and oil products. Its main exports are machinery and equipment, chemicals, finished diamonds, metals and metal products, and foodstuffs.
The Belgian economy is heavily service-oriented and shows a dual nature: a dynamic Flemish economy and a Walloon economy that lags behind. One of the founding members of the European Union, Belgium strongly supports an open economy and the extension of the powers of EU institutions to integrate member economies. Since 1922, through the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Belgium and Luxembourg have been a single trade market with customs and currency union.
Steelmaking along the Meuse Riverat Ougrée, near Liège.
Belgium was the first continental European country to undergo the Industrial Revolution, in the early 19th century. Liège and Charleroi rapidly developed mining and steelmaking, which flourished until the mid-20th century in the Sambre and Meuse valley and made Belgium among one of the three most industrialized nations in the world from 1830 to 1910. However, by the 1840s the textile industry of Flanders was in severe crisis, and the region experienced famine from 1846 to 1850.
Brussels, the country’s vibrant capital, is a modern world city with a highly international character.
It combines massive post-modern buildings in its European Quarter with impressive historic monuments, such as the World Heritage listed Grand Place, surrounded by guild houses and the Gothic town hall. There’s Laken Castle and the large St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, dedicated to the cities patron saints. The Royal Palace is a more recent but no less grand structure. One of the city’s most famous landmarks is the Atomium, a remarkable steel structure and remnant of the 1958 World’s Fair. And yet, with all those magnificent sights at hand, many travellers’ favourite is a tiny bronze fountain in the shape of a peeing boy: the curious Manneken Pis.
Perhaps the most popular of the Belgian cities is Bruges. Much of the excellent architecture that arose during the town’s Golden Age, roughly the 14th century, remains intact and the old centre is a valued UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among its most prominent landmarks is the 13th-century belfry, where the carillonneur still rings the bells on a daily basis. With countless other noteworthy monuments, Bruges is a highly popular destination and get a bit overcrowded during holidays. And then there’s Ghent, which in ages past was one of the wealthiest cities in Northern Europe. Although larger and much busier than Bruges, its excellent medieval architecture can definitely compete. Its beguinages, belfry and former cloth hall are World Heritage Sites. Or visit Antwerp, the country’s current place to be as it is a hotspot of the Belgian fashion, clubbing, arts and diamonds scenes. Nevertheless, the city’s timeless old centre is right up there with the others, boasting the countries most stunning cathedrals. Other pleasant cities with good sights includeLeuven, with the oldest Catholic University still in use, Mechelen and Liège.
For hiking, biking and camping, head to the rugged hills of the Ardennes with their tight forests, caves and cliffs. They are home to wild boar, deer and lynx and hide a number of friendly villages, lots of castles and a few other notable sights. The impressive caves of Han-sur-Lesse, the castle of Bouillonand the modern Labyrinth of Barvaux are some of the best picks. The city of Namur makes a great base from where to explore the Ardennes and has some fine sights itself too. The city is beautifully located along the rivers Meuse and Sambre and from the ancient citadel you’ll have a great view over town.
- Mostly known for its key role in European Union administration, the small nation of Belgium might leave you surprised by its rich and gorgeous heritage. It boasts a number of fascinatingly historic cities packed with medieval and Art Nouveau architecture and famous for their long traditions in arts, fashion and fine dining. If you’ve seen the best of them, the Belgian countryside offers anything from sandy beaches to the densely forested hills and ridges of the Ardennes.
- Brussels, the country’s vibrant capital, is a modern world city with a highly international character. It combines massive post-modern buildings in its European Quarter with impressive historic monuments, such as the World Heritage listed Grand Place, surrounded by guild houses and the Gothic town hall.
- There’s Laken Castle and the large St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, dedicated to the cities patron saints.
- The Royal Palace is a more recent but no less grand structure. One of the city’s most famous landmarks is the Atomium, a remarkable steel structure and remnant of the 1958 World’s Fair.
- And yet, with all those magnificent sights at hand, many travellers’ favourite is a tiny bronze fountain in the shape of a peeing boy: the curious Manneken Pis.
- The Walloon Brabant province, a few kilometers south of Brussels, is certainly worth a visit.
- There you can visit the Lion’s Mound in Waterloo or the beautiful Villers Abbey in Villers-la-Ville.