Belgium's neighbours France, Germany and England. Conquered by German
tribes, Christianised by the 7th century and carved up during the
Frankish Empire in 1100, much of Belgium enjoyed a golden age of
prosperity and artistry under the French Duke of Burgundy during
the 14th century.
With the demise of Bruges due to British competition and a silted
river, Antwerp soon became the greatest port in Europe. The golden
age began to tarnish in the mid-15th century when the Low Countries
(present-day Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) were inherited
by Spain, igniting a long battle against Catholic Spanish rule.
The fanatically Catholic Philip II of Spain sent in the Inquisition
to enforce Catholicism.
Thousands were imprisoned or executed before full-scale war erupted
in 1568. The Revolt of the Netherlands lasted 80 years and in the
end Holland and its allied provinces booted out the Spaniards.
Belgium and Luxembourg stayed under Spanish rule. Napolean's defeat
at the Battle of Waterloo near Brussels led to the creation, in
1814, of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, melding Belgium
and Luxembuorg into the Netherlands. But the Catholic Belgians revolted,
winning independence in 1830.
Despite Belgium's neutral policy, the Germans invaded in 1914.
Another German attack in 1940 saw the entire country taken over
within three weeks. King Leopold III's questionably early capitulation
to the Germans led to his abdication in 1950 in favour of his son,
King Baudouin, whose popular reign ended with his death in 1993.
Childless, Baudouin was succeeded by his brother, the present King
Postwar Belgium was characterised by an economic boom, later accentuated
by Brussels' appointment as the headquarters of the European Union
(EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Belgium
of today is home to a vast army of diplomats, and with them has
come a rampant form of internationalism - followed closely by bland
skyscrapers and intimidatory restaurants.
While the country's number one city is being busily groomed to
suit the rest of Europe, the Belgians themselves remain nonchalant
- the true spirit of Belgium will always emanate from its people
and its past.
Festival's play an important part in Belgian life. One of the most
famous festivals is the three-day carnival at Binche, near Mons,
held just before Lent. During the carnival, noisemaking and dancing
are led by "Gilles," men dressed in high, plumed hats and bright
Another famous pageant is the Procession of the Holy Blood, held
in Brugge in May. December 6 commemorates Saint Nicholas's Day,
an important children's holiday.