The history of Belgium is wrapped up in the histories of Netherlands and Luxembourg as well. It wasn’t until the 19th century that today’s borders for these three countries were finally settled. Because of this, the historical events that led up to modern day Belgium also included much of the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
The first people to create settlements in Belgium were likely the Romans. In fact, it was Julius Caesar who first called the land Belgae, and this gradually morphed into the Belgium of today. After first invading in 57 BC, Rome was able to hold the area for 500 years.
Upon the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Franks took control. They held loose control until about the 9th century AD, when Vikings began frequent raids, which led to the feudal structure that dominated the 9th and 10th centuries. Technically, France and Germany owned the land at this time, but it was local counts that held the real power. Some of these, the counts of Flanders, held the most power. The Flanders people were traders in cloth, and this led to economic prosperity that gave rise to a powerful and rich merchant class.
Dukes continued to rule the land well into the 14th century. Of these, Philip the Good, who ruled from 1419 until 1467, was the richest and most powerful. In fact, he was known as the richest man in Europe at the time, and under his leadership Belgium’s first university was founded. His reign ended when Charles V of the Habsburg line took over much of Europe and ruled until 1555. After his rule, the Protestant Reformation brought a period of turbulence to the area. After this time, the basic borders of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands were drawn, and Belgium came under Spanish rule as part of the Spanish Netherlands.
Brussels was the capital of the Spanish Netherlands, and Spain drove Protestants out in 1585. Many of these Protestants were members of the skilled working class, and this pushed the country into economic poverty. Religious pursuits became important during this time, and the Jesuit order began to grow. Many of the country’s most elaborately designed churches were also built during this period. In 1713, the war of Spanish Succession brought Spanish Netherlands under Austrian control.
This was a peaceful change for the region. Protestants were again allowed in the land as the Enlightenment opened the door to more independent thinking. In 1794, a short battle put France in control of the area, and the Catholic Church faced a period of repression. Conscription, which was highly unpopular, led to a peasants’ revolt. By 1815, France was defeated in the decisive Battle of Waterloo, and the Congress of Vienna created the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Forcing the dissimilar people of the region into one united country was destined for failure, and in 1830, the Belgian revolution began. By January of 1831, the European powers decided to recognize the independence of Belgium. That same year, King Leopold was crowned king, ushering in an industrial revolution and a period of tension between the Flemish and French speakers in the country.
During World War I, Belgium fought hard against German occupation under Leopold II. However, his son, Albert I, was not as forceful in his opposition of German occupation during Word War II, and the country’s Jewish and gypsy populations were nearly decimated. In 1944, the country was liberated, and by the 1950s, under the leadership of the young king Baudouin I, they finally came together as a unified and peaceful nation.
- There are three main communities in Belgium, the Dutch-speaking Flemish of the north, the Walloons in the south, and the bilingual city of Belgium. There is also a small German-speaking community in the east.
- The people of Belgium are quite modest and enjoy hosting people in their homes.
- Belgium is known as having one of the best quality of life levels in the world. People receive a housing allowance and excellent health care, and they enjoy good food and a quality education system.
- The people of Belgium greatly value their homes and their families, which can be seen by the amount of money they spend on their homes.
- There are over 800 types of beer brewed in Belgium, and on average, the people consume about 150 liters of the drink per person per year.
- In Belgium, failing to vote is against the law.
- The Belgian motorway system can be seen from the moon. It is the only man-made structure that can be seen, and this visibility is due to the lights on the motorway.
- Over 97 percent of the homes in Belgium have cable TV, which is the highest rate in the world.
- The saxophone was invented in Belgium by Adolphe Sax in the 1840s.
- Brussels – The capital city of Belgium, Brussels entices with its friendly coffee shops, tantalizing chocolate and historic architecture.
- Bruges – This is one of the country’s most popular locations, and it gives you the chance to step back in time to the medieval ages, where market squares and castles were abundant.
- Antwerp – The second-biggest city in Belgium showcases the artistic and fashionable side of Belgium.
- Ostend – If you want to spend part of your time in Belgium lounging on the beach this beach resort is the place to go.
- Ghent – Ghent offers the art and fashion of other parts of Belgium, but without the crowds.
- Ypres – This location houses several reminders to the trauma of World War I.
- La Roche-en-Ardenne – In this quiet little town you will find a ruined castle, excellent food and lively bars. It is actually one of the most popular summer resorts in the Ardennes.
- Leuven – If you want to experience Belgian beer, this is the town to visit.
- Tongeren – The destination for history lovers, here you can see historic architecture and also enjoy antiquing.
- Spa – This was Western Europe’s original health resort, and it still welcomes people who want to relax on their Belgium vacation.
How to Get Cash
- Cash is the most valued currency in Belgium, and they use the Euro as their main currency. You may be able to use credit cards at top hotels and restaurants, as well as chain stores, but not with local vendors.
- The best place to have your money changed is at a bank, which typically charge the lowest fees. You can change your cash and traveler’s checks.
- Exchange bureaus will also exchange your money, however, their fees will be significantly higher. You can find exchange bureaus in most major cities, in airports and at train stations.
- ATMs are hard to find in Belgium, but they can be found in big cities in the city center, as well as at the international airports.
- If you run into an emergency, look for a Western Union or similar money transfer company. Keep in mind that the fees for these companies may be quite high.