Bruegel’s Brussels in ten hotspots
At the peak of his career, Pieter Bruegel the Elder moved from Antwerp to Brussels because he wanted to be as close as possible to his wealthy clients. One of those clients is highly likely to have been the renowned Cardinal de Granvelle. Not only was he a cunning politician, but he was also one of the biggest art collectors of the day.
At that time, Brussels had already become the epicentre of political power. In 1515, it became the official residence of Emperor Charles. He ruled from the colossal Coudenberg Palace that rose majestically over Brussels. You can still visit what remains of this historic building today.
1. First admire Bruegel’s paintings on display at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium.
2. Visit the remains of Coudenberg Palace where Emperor Charles lived; an ideal destination for a rainy day. Even the very youngest will have a great time, thanks to a tailor-made route specially for them.
3. Discover the old city
The Zavel (Flemish) or Sablon (French) is a neighbourhood and hill in the historic upper town of Brussels that would have been very familiar with Bruegel. In the 16th century, leading noble families – such as the Egmont, Culemborg and Brederode families – took up residence at the top of Zavel hill and in Wolstraat. Other families, such as the Lalaing and Thurn and Taxis families, later followed suit. As a result, in the 17th century, the Zavel grew to become one of the most aristocratic and prosperous neighbourhoods in the city. This may well have been the reason why Bruegel set up his painting studio in this area. If you are there at the weekend, be sure to visit the Zavel antiques market (Saturdays from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. and Sundays from 9am to 2pm).
4. Stand in the middle of the Grand Place and admire the different architectural styles. The square, renowned for its aesthetic and historic opulence, is surrounded by the town hall, the Broodhuis and the many guild houses. The Grand Place in Brussels is considered to be one of the most charming squares in the world. This was also the view shared by the great French writer Victor Hugo, who once lived there. The Grote Markt in Brussels has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1998.
5. The Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon (De Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ten Zavelkerk)
The Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon was built in the late Gothic style in the 15th century. This impressive building is one of the last significant Gothic buildings in the capital city. In the corner between the choir and the transept, Frans von Thurn und Taxis (an important noble family) had a family burial chapel built, which was dedicated to St. Ursula. He ordered a series of four tapestries to decorate the chapel. One of these tapestries can still be seen at the Brussels City Museum, located in the Broodhuis on the Grote Markt.
6. Brussels City Museum
Brussels City Museum is a museum that is dedicated to the history of Brussels. It houses an extensive collection of paintings and sculptures from a variety of periods, tapestries from the 16th and 17th centuries, retables from the 15th and 16th centuries, models (including a city layout from the 13th century), as well as more recent objects, such as the vast collection of clothes worn by the Manneke Pis.
7. The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula with its stained glass windows designed by Bernard van Orley, an important painter and illustrator from Brabant and a member of the Northern Renaissance. He was also a leading designer of tapestries and stained glass windows.
8. Eglise Notre Dame de la Chapelle
Visit the church where Bruegel got married and was buried. Afterwards, you can explore the lively Marolles neighbourhood, also known as the Bruegel district. Here, you can spend hours browsing in the many antiques and curiosities shops or visit the daily flea market on the Place du Jeu de Balle.
You can also visit Bruegel’s house via Hoogstraat (Hoogstraat 132).
9. Take a walk to the Brussels Stock Exchange where the money, and thus the power, could be found.
10. Admire the unique collection of tapestries at the Art & History Museum (KMKG) in Cinquantenaire Park.
In Bruegel’s time, tapestries were worth more money than paintings.
Would you like to experience more of Bruegel in Flanders?
Visit the Museum Mayer Van den Berg, with its unique ‘De Dulle Griet’. Plan your visit.
Visit the Museum of Fine Arts where works by Pieter Bruegel the Younger are on display. Plan your visit.
Many of the buildings, objects and sights you'll come across in Bokrijk look as though they have just walked out of a Bruegel painting. Visitors to the major exhibition ‘The World of Bruegel’ (from April 2019) will be fully immersed in the life and work of the great master. Plan your visit.