Last month I went back to Brussels for a weekend. Thanks to Eurostar, I am now only 2 hours away from excellent chocolate, delicious beers and, incidentally, friends and family (and cats!).
Saturday 21st July happened to be Belgium’s National Day. Although my homeland is one of the least nationalistic countries I know, the day is the occasion of some sort of celebrations: some black-yellow-red flag waving, some chips eating, firemen letting small children try their luck as hose operators (and in so doing managing to wet innocent passers-by, me included), etc.
As in previous years, the Law Courts or “Palais de Justice” as they are known in French, were open to the public. These were built between 1866 and 1883 (17 years!) in the eclectic style, by architect Joseph Poelaert.
Not only is it Belgium’s most important Court building, but the Brussels Law Courts are also famous for their size: the biggest building constructed in the 19th century, it is bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The building is currently 160 by 150 meters, and has a total built ground surface of 26,000 m². It has 8 courtyards with a surface of 6000 m², 27 large court rooms and 245 smaller court rooms and other rooms (says Wikipedia).
All this is well and good, but why is that relevant to a blog dedicated to the arts? Well, the Law Courts are at the origin of a curious “artistic” insult…
In the 19th century, in order to build the Palais de Justice, a section of an adjacent neighbourhood (the “Marollen”) was demolished, while most of an adjacent park was also expropriated. As a result of the forced relocation of so many people, the word “architect” became one of the most serious insults in Brussels.
This is probably more charming that your usual sexual/scatological insult… I should, however, point out that “architect” as an insult is not commonly used nowadays, and I wouldn’t particularly advise you to try it next time someone upsets you in Brussels: your opponent may not catch the historical relevance.
I will close this post on a slightly sad note. A building of such monstrous proportions as those of the Law Courts of course incurs huge maintenance costs (during our July visit, my friend and I wondered how much the heating bills amounted to). Due to the costs, it seems that the building has fallen into a worrying state of decay in recent years, not to mention the frequent escaping of prisoners.
I do, though, really hope the Belgian state will decide to invest the necessary funds to maintain the building: it is part of our history and… it is not ugly, actually.