Society of Friends of Belgium in America


About Belgium

Well situated between France and Holland, the kingdom of Belgium encompasses all the best that Europe has to offer in an area no bigger than Maryland. Within the span of one day you can take a romantic cruise down a canal in Bruges, hunt for diamonds in Antwerp, enjoy waffles on the beach in Oostende, frolic in a festival in Binche, get lost in a castle in Namur, discover antiques at an outdoor market in Liege, and explore a fine art museum in Brussels. A dense train network connects all of Belgium and makes navigation simple and comfortable for travelers.

Often called the Essence of Europe, Belgium is both multicultural and multilingual. Flanders in the north, a flatland criss-crossed by canals, is proud of its medieval art cities, Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent. To the south in Wallonia, you will find the rolling hills of the Ardennes, countless castles, and the cities of Liege, Namur, and Tournai. The city of Brussels is one of the world's great cosmopolitan capitals, home to both the European Union and NATO, as well as a wealth of international trade and finance companies.

Belgium's history has always been linked to both commercial and cultural exchange, and much of its character is due to its role as the great meeting place of Western Europe. It would be difficult to name a European country who didn’t want to stake their claim in Belgium at one time or another. Traces of the Austrians, Spanish, French and Dutch can still be seen in its architecture and in the lifestyle of its people. You will see superb examples of art and architecture past and present - Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, and Art Nouveau.

History of Belgium

From the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages

The name Belgium comes from a Celtic tribe, the Belgae, who settled ancient Gaul around 900 BC. In 52 BC, Julius Caesar conquered the Belgae's territory, Belgica, putting Belgium under Roman rule.

As the Roman Empire went into decline, a group of Germanic tribes called the Franks began settling in what is now Belgium. In time most of the Roman region of Gaul, including Belgium, became part of the Frankish empire. The Frankish king Charlemagne is sometimes regarded as the founder of the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted from 800 to 1806 and included Belgium. Sometimes the Holy Roman Emperor had no real authority; sometimes he had a lot.

The Frankish empire was divided up after Charlemagne's death. His grandson Lothair's portion of the empire included most of Belgium. The remainder became part of France. Eventually much of Belgium split into self-ruling feudal principalities.

In the late 1300s Belgium fell under the rule of Burgundy. Although Burgundy is now part of France, at that time it was an independent kingdom. In 1477 the heir to the throne of Burgundy, Mary of Burgundy, married Maximilian of Austria, who later became the king of Germany and the Holy Roman Emperor. They had a son, Philip, who inherited Mary's kingdom after her death in a riding accident, placing Burgundy -- and Belgium -- under the rule of Austria's royal Habsburg family.

Philip, called "the Handsome," later married Juana the Mad, daughter of Spain's legendary rulers Ferdinand and Isabella. Like his mother, Philip died young, leaving behind a son, King Charles I of Spain, who was also Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and, of course, the ruler of Belgium, which was then part of the Netherlands. The next two centuries were a time of great religious upheaval, and there was much conflict between Protestants and Roman Catholics in the Netherlands.

Belgians were used to self-government, but in the 1780s the Habsburg emperor Joseph II tried to centralize the government in Vienna. His opponents rejected the monarchy and declared a new United States of Belgium, but Austria soon suppressed this rebellion. The Belgians accepted Joseph's great-nephew Charles as their grand duke.

But just few years later Belgium was taken over by French revolutionaries. It remained under French control until 1815, when French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by British and Prussian forces at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium. A United Kingdom of the Netherlands was created, and Belgium, known as the Southern Netherlands, was part of this kingdom. That didn't last long, either.

Leopold I and Leopold II

Dutch king William I was unpopular in Belgium, and the people revolted. Belgian independence was declared, and Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha -- a German prince who was the uncle of Britain's Queen Victoria -- was elected to be Belgium's first king. On July 21, 1831, now Belgium's Independence Day, he took the throne as Leopold I. He was a good ruler and helped the new nation prosper.

Leopold's first wife was Princess Charlotte, daughter of Britain's King George IV. She had died in childbirth. The year after he ascended the throne, Leopold married Princess Louise, the daughter of France's King Louis Philippe. After Leopold's death in 1865, their eldest son became King Leopold II. His only son died in childhood, so upon his death in 1909 the throne passed to his nephew, King Albert I.

The Heroism of King Albert I

Albert's wisdom as a constitutional monarch was widely respected. He promoted modern reforms in Belgium and its African colony. He also tried to modernize the Belgian army, but the parliament wouldn't cooperate, which was unfortunate for Belgium. In 1914 Germany demanded permission to send its army through Belgium to attack France. Albert courageously refused, and Germany immediately invaded and occupied Belgium. Throughout World War I, Albert and his army fought for the Allied cause. King Albert is recognized as one of the heroes of the war.

A patron of the arts, Albert was also interested in mechanics, engineering and aviation. His wife Elizabeth, a Bavarian duchess, shared many of his interests. They had three children: Leopold, Charles, and Marie Jose. One of King Albert's many hobbies, mountaineering, brought his life to an early end on February 18, 1934, when he went rock climbing alone and fell to his death.

Interesting facts...

Spa is a city in Belgium where all other spas get their name from. Luxury spas are located throughout Belgium where you will surely get the royal Spa treatment.

The saxophone was invented in Belgium by Adolph Sax in 1846. There are numerous jazz festivals throughout the year celebrating our love for jazz music.

There are more castles per square mile in Belgium than anywhere else in the world. Some of our castles are moated and others have labyrinth garden mazes to get lost in.

Brussels is headquarters to the European Union (EU) & NATO. With this much international activity, it's no wonder English is widely spoken.

Actor Audrey Hepburn, probably most famous for her role in the film Breakfast at Tiffany's, was born Edda van Heemstra Hepburn- Ruston in Brussels.

Belgian endive was accidentally discovered by a Belgian farmer in 1830. All endives sold in the US are imported from Belgium.

Belgian Rene Magritte was a surrealist painter. He developed a style which used misleading realism to create provocative fantasies around commonplace situations.

Belgium produces 172,000 tons of chocolate per year in over 2,130 chocolate shops. Our chocolate has pure cocoa flavor because we don't use vegetable shortening.

There are over 400 different types of beer in Belgium running the gamut from white to raspberry beer. Most beers have their own glass in which only that beer may be served.

Learn More About Belgium

Visit Belgium - The only official site of the Belgian Tourist offices in the Americas. Everything you want to know about Belgium when planning a trip such as hotel information, climate, visa and much more.

Brussels, the capital region

Brussels Life - Your key to the best of Brussels.

Brussels Creativity - This website takes you on a virtual tour through Brussels, to discover the "art of living" through Brussels' monuments, restaurants, designers, and most importantly - shopping.

The Official Site of the Belgian Monarchy


Belgium Newspapers

De Standaard

Le Soir

La Libre Belgique

Financieel Economische Tijd

Leopold III and King Baudouin

King Albert's eldest son became King Leopold III. The very next year, tragedy struck the royal family again when the new king's wife, a Swedish princess named Astrid, died in a car accident.

When World War II erupted, Germany invaded Belgium once again. Leopold tried to resist, but in the end he surrendered to the Germans and became their prisoner, which made him very unpopular in some circles. In 1941 he married a commoner, Mary Liliane Baels, to whom he later gave the title of princess. They had three children.

After the defeat of the Nazis, King Leopold went into exile in Switzerland. His brother Charles served as regent. In 1950, more than half of the Belgian people voted to let Leopold resume his role as king, but his opponents continued to protest, and in 1951 he formally abdicated in favor of his eldest son, Prince Baudouin. Leopold III died in 1983.

On June 30, 1960 King Baudouin proclaimed the Belgian Congo's independence. On December 15, 1960 he married Fabiola-Fernanda-Maria de las Victorias-Antonia-Adelada de Mora y Aragon, a Spanish aristocrat who had worked as a nurse. Queen Fabiola, who is still alive, speaks Spanish, French, Dutch, English, German, and Italian. She is the author of children's stories and some of her royalties go to a children's charity. She works for many causes, including improving the plight of poor women worldwide. She and Baudouin had no children.

King Baudouin briefly abdicated in the 1990s rather than sign a law he disliked. This angered many Belgians, who felt that the king should keep his beliefs to himself. Some people hoped that he would abdicate permanently. Still, he resumed his throne, and there was great public sadness when he died of heart failure on July 31, 1993 during a vacation in Spain.

Today's Royal Family

Badouin was succeeded by his brother Albert II. Albert and his wife, Queen Paola, have been married since 1959. She is from a princely Italian family, the Ruffo di Calabrias. She enjoys crafts and does humanitarian work. Albert and Paola have three children: Philippe, Astrid, and Laurent. Philippe was born in 1960, Astrid in 1962, and Laurent in 1963.

King Albert was the head of the Belgian Red Cross for a number of years. He works to promote the economy and is interested in environmental issues. He's also interested in sports and is honorary president of the Belgian Olympic Committee. He created a great stir in the 1990s by speaking out about scandals rocking Belgium and calling for reform of the justice system to make it more humane and effective.

Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant, is the heir to the throne. He speaks both French and Dutch. He was a pilot in the Belgian air force, trained as a paratrooper, and became a colonel in 1989. He studied constitutional history at Trinity College, Oxford in the United Kingdom and graduated from Stanford in California as a Master of Arts in political science. Since 1992 he has received an allowance from the government of Belgium. He is the honorary president of the Belgian Foreign Trade Office.

In 1999, at the age of 39, Philippe married Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz, a 26-year old speech therapist from an aristocratic family. When Philippe inherits the throne, Mathilde will become the country's first Belgian-born queen. Their first child, Elisabeth, was born in 2001. She was joined by two brothers, Gabriel and Emmanuel, born in 2003 and 2005.

Princess Astrid studied art history in the Netherlands, and also attended school in Switzerland and Michigan. She is president of the Belgian Red Cross. In 1984 she married Archduke Lorenz of Austria-Este, who is now a prince of Belgium. They have five children: Amedeo, Maria Laura, Joachim, Luisa Maria, and Laetitia Maria. Prince Amadeo was born in 1986, Maria Laura in 1988, Joachim in 1991, Luisa Maria in 1995, and Laetitia Maria in 2003.

Prince Laurent is a captain in the Belgian Navy. He promotes environmental causes and animal welfare, and encourages young musicians. He married British land surveyor Claire Coombs in April 2003. They have three children: a daughter, Princess Louise, born in February 2004, and twin sons, Aymeric and Nicolas, born in December 2005.


Brussels is the ultimate European city. As the headquarters to the EU (European Union) and NATO it is often referred to as The Capital of Europe. It is an international metropolis – a mosaic of languages, cultures, and traditions. Aside from the splendid and varied architectural styles of the city, Brussels also hosts over 80 museums, numerous tourist attractions, a vibrant nightlife, and more restaurants than you could count.

The starting point for any visit to Brussels is the Grand Place. The Grand Place, with its ornate baroque and gothic guild houses, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. Built as a merchants market in the 13th century, it serves as the city center and a great place to enjoy Belgian hospitality at one of the many terrace cafes. It is also a venue for many concerts & events throughout the year and during the warmer months has a vibrant, daily flower market.

Shopping in the distinctive fashion boutiques, lingering over a delicious lunch in a bistro or a top restaurant, people watching from a street cafe, or picking up a unique antique on the Sablon - Brussels is a city you can call your own.


The Society of Friends of Belgium in America operates under the auspices of
the Ambassador of Belgium to the United States and the Consul General of Belgium in New York.



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