Belgium: At the Crossroads of Europe
Belgium is a small, coastal country in Western Europe. It features the famous “Manneken Pis” (“Lil' Piddler”) statue in the centre of its capital city of Brussels, silky-smooth chocolate and is home to both the EU and NATO headquarters.
Both geographically and culturally speaking, the country lies at the crossroads of Europe. It borders Germany to the east, the Netherlands to the north, France to the south, Luxembourg to the southeast, the North Sea to the west and is across the sea from England. The country consists of three main regions: the Plain of Flanders in the northwest, the central plateau and the Ardennes uplands in the southeast. Its maritime temperate climate gives it four distinct seasons.
Belgium was inhabited by Celtic peoples in ancient times. Later it was divided up and successively ruled by the Romans, Gauls and Germanic peoples. On October 4, 1830, the country finally gained its independence. In the early 19th century it was one of the first countries in continental Europe to undergo the Industrial Revolution.
Despite its small size, Belgium has many unique tourist attractions all over the country, attracting visitors from around the world. The famous site of the Battle of Waterloo lies just south of Brussels. Napoleon Bonaparte led his army against a 140,000-strong, British-led, Allied army commanded by the Duke of Wellington here in June 1815. Napoleon was banished to a small island in the Atlantic Ocean after his disastrous defeat, and his life as emperor came to an end.
The most influential Flemish artist of the early Baroque period in the 17th century was Peter Paul Rubens. At 12 years old, he returned with his mother to his hometown—the port city of Antwerp in northern Belgium.
The medieval city of Bruges, known as the “most scenic city in Europe,” had one of the oldest and most elaborate city layouts and canal complexes anywhere on the continent. This port city has experienced periods of prosperity and hardship. It is an enjoyable place because of its simplicity.
Other well-known places in the country include the mountain town of Namur in southern Belgium, which features unique castles, and Spa, a town famed for its mineral water and “spa.”
“Did you know that the Smurfs come from Belgium?” asked a staff member of Wallonia Brussels International, the agency in charge of international relations for the French-speaking Community of Belgium. “The Smurfs really can be said to be spokespeople for Belgium.” During the exhibition, many visitors stopped in front of Belgium's booth to take selfies with Smurf statues. One person stated: “They're so cute and part of our childhood memories. But I had no idea they came from Belgium.”
As a Wallonia-brussels Federation staff member helped finish up the event, they explained: "This isn't our first time taking part in the ‘Colourful World—cultural Exhibition of Countries along the Belt and Road' event. Last year we brought a bunch of children's books, and they were a big hit. This year we're introducing other aspects of Belgium's unique culture.” Their booth contained lots of promotional materials introducing Belgian culture, art and higher education to visitors.
The staff member continued: “Events like ‘Colourful World' are really great. There's lots to do, and it's a window into the amazing cultures of different countries. You can make lots of friends here and learn about the features of different countries and regions. We're really honoured to come here and take part in the event.”