Luxembourg's history reads a bit like the storybook background its
landscape suggests. Though the area's occupation actually extends
back further than the Roman era, present-day Luxembourg stems from
the loins of Count Sigefroid of Ardennes, who raised a castle here
in 963 AD and sowed the seeds of a dynasty that's spawned rulers
By the end of the Middle Ages, Sigefroid's city had the Burgundians,
Spanish, French, Austrians and Prussians all waging bloody battles
to conquer and secure it.
Besieged, destroyed and rebuilt more than 20 times in 400 years,
it grew to become the strongest fortress in Europe, after Gibraltar.
Listed as a French 'forestry department' during Napoleon's reign,
Luxembourg was included in the newly formed United Kingdom of the
Netherlands, along with Belgium, in 1814.
It fragmented 16 years later, when Belgium broke off from the Netherlands,
taking half of Luxembourg along for the ride. This division heated
up the Grand Duchy's desire for independence, and in 1830 the Dutch
portion became present-day Luxembourg.
The 1867 Treaty of London reaffirmed this autonomy. Soon after,
the country declared itself neutral in international affairs and
- an appropriate symbol of its nascent neutrality - torched its
much contested fort.
The discovery of iron ore around 1850 ushered Luxembourg into
the 20th century and pushed the country to the frontline of European
economic influence. (Steel exports continue to make up roughly a
quarter of the country's export trade.)
When the industry slumped in the mid-1970s, the Grand Duchy reacted
quickly by wooing big spenders from abroad with favorable banking
and taxation laws. In 1948, after Nazi occupation during WWII, Luxembourg
gave up its position of neutrality to join in various economic,
political and military organizations, including NATO and the United
The formation of Benelux - an economic union between Belgium, the
Netherlands and Luxembourg - was among the more prominent of these
groupings. It also served as a model for today's European Union,
of which Luxembourg was a founding member.
Luxembourg's cuisine is similar to that of Belgium's Wallonia region
- plenty of pork, fish and game - but also features some heavy German
influence in local specialties like liver dumplings with sauerkraut.
Its beer (like that of neighbouring Belgium) is not too shabby;
neither are the Moselle Valley's fruity white wines.
Few Luxembourg natives are internationally famous in the arts,
which probably explains why Edward Steichen, a pioneer in American
photography, is held in such high regard in his homeland.
While the capital has a few good museums and galleries, few of the
native artists seem to exhibit beyond the country's border. Expressionist
painter Joseph Kutter brought modern art to Luxembourg. Roger Mandersheid
is a respected contemporary writer who often publishes in Luxembourgish.