Belgium: European Cultural Utopia
EUROPEAN CULTURAL UTOPIA
For historians, the Kingdom of Belgium is one of the earliest European countries to undergo an industrial revolution in the early 19th century. For fans of literature, it is the home of Maurice Maeterlinck (1862–1949)—the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and author of The Blue Bird ( L'oiseau bleu). For movie buffs, it is the birthplace of the film star Audrey Hepburn (1929–1993). For children, it is the home of both the Smurfs and the cartoon character Tintin—a quickwitted Belgian reporter and adventurer. Belgium has left indelible marks in the hearts of many different people of all ages.
Belgium is situated at the crossroads of Europe both geographically and culturally. The country is located on the west coast of Europe, bordering Germany to the east, the Netherlands to the north, France to the south, Luxembourg to the southeast, and Great Britain across the North Sea to the
west. Belgian culture and art are heavily influenced by the European continent, but have in turn influenced Europe and even the rest of the world.
Belgium can be regarded as a cradle of culture and art. Apart from the cultural and artistic representatives mentioned above, the country has produced numerous other leading figures. For example, in terms of painters, there are 16th century Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525–1569), 17th century Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), renowned realist painter James Ensor (1860–1949), and surrealist painters Rene Magritte (1898–1967) and Paul Delvaux (1897–1994). There are writers such as the famous poet Emile Verhaeren (1885–1916) and George Simone (1903–1989)—the most prolific writer of the 20th century. In terms of scientists, there are Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564), the founder of anatomy; Leo Baekeland (1863–1944), inventor of phenolic resin; Jules Bordet (1870–1961), winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology; and Ilya Prigogine (1917–2003), winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Belgium has even made significant contributions to the world of sports—jacques Rogge, former president of the International Olympic Committee, was born here.
It is not going too far to describe Belgium as a hot spot for culture and art. Of course, apart from its cultural and artistic reputation, the country's various tourist attractions are also world-renowned. There are nine World Heritage Sites in the country, including the Historic Centre of Brugge, the Plantin-moretus Museum in Antwerp, the Grand Place, the Cathedral of Notre-dame in Tournai and the Neolithic Flint Mines in Spiennes. The Belgian capital of Brussels is not only home to the world-famous battlefield of Waterloo, but also the renowned bronze statue—“manneken Pis”—on the Grand Place, hailed by many as the most beautiful square in Europe. Antwerp, a port city in the north of the country, is the birthplace of the famous painter Rubens, whose masterpieces are displayed in many of the world's top art galleries. Bruges, the well-preserved Belgian ancient city has been hailed as the “Venice of the North,” with its exquisite architecture and network of canals. Namur—a mountain city in the south has many castles with different styles. Belgium also has attractive natural scenery, a 65-kilometre-long coastline and wide beaches covered with fine sand. The hills and forests of the famous Ardennes are perfect places to enjoy nature in the summer and also ideal places to go skiing in winter. The town of Spa is famous around the world for its mineral water production and hot springs.
Of course, apart from its pleasant scenery, Belgium also attracts food lovers from Europe and farther afield. Some people have said that Belgian waffles are the country's greatest invention, which shows just how highly diners think of this local desert. The two countries most famous for chocolate are Switzerland and Belgium. Belgian chocolate tends to have an almond taste, with Godiva being the most famous brand in the region. Belgium has more than 350 varieties of beer, of which Lambic and Trappist are the most famous. The country's many other kinds of beer with their unique tastes are also well-worth sampling.