The Royal Palace of Brussels is the official palace of the King and Queen of the Belgians in the centre of Brussels. However it is not used as a royal residence, as the king and his family live in the Royal Palace of Laeken on the outskirts of Brussels.
The facade we see today was only built after 1900 on the initiative of King Leopold II. The first part of the present-day building dates from the end of the 18th century. However, the grounds on which the palace stands were once part of the Coudenberg Palace a very old palatial complex that dated back to the Middle Ages. Charles Alexander of Lorraine had a new palace built on the nearby site of the former palace of the Nassau family, now part of the Royal Library of Belgium. The old palace garden was redesigned as a public park. On the north side a new building for the Council of Brabant was built by the French architect Gilles Barnabé Guimard, which today houses the Belgian Federal Parliament and is known as the 'Palace of the Nation'. On the other side of the park (the building plot of the present-day palace) the middle axis of the park continued as a street between two newly built mansions. One served as the residence of the Abbot of the nearby Coudenberg Abbey, while the other was inhabited by important government members.
After the Congress of Vienna in 1814, Brussels became (together with The Hague) the joint capital of the new established United Kingdom of the Netherlands. It was under the rule of William I of the Netherlands that the street was covered and the two mansions were joined with a gallery. The newly created 'palace' received a new neo-classic facade designed by Tilman-François Suys with a peristyle in the middle, and a balcony with a wrought iron parapet surrounding the entire first floor.
The street running alongside the new palace was widened and thus the Place des Palais or Paleizenplein was created. The new square was called 'Square of the Palaces' in plural, because another palace was built on the left side of the Royal Palace. This new building (1823) was designed as the residence of the Crown Prince called the Prince of Orange (the later King William II of the Netherlands). Today it houses the Royal Academies of Sciences and Arts of Belgium. The rooms and 'Salons' of the old mansions were incorporated in the new Royal Palace and were only partly refurnished. Some of them survived al the 19th and 20th century renovations and are still partly intact today. A major addition to the interior decoration from the time of William I is the so-called 'Empire room' which was designed as a ballroom. It has a very refined cream and gold decoration designed and executed by the famous French sculptor François Rude.
After the Belgian revolution the palace was offered to Leopold of Saxe-Coburg when he ascended the throne as the first King of the Belgians. Just like his predecessor William II he used the palace mainly for official receptions and other representational purposes and lived in the Royal Palace of Laeken. During his reign (until 1865) little was changed to the palace. It was his son and successor Leopold II who judged the building to be too modest for a king of his stature, and who kept on enlarging and embellishing the palace until his death in 1909. During his reign the palace nearly doubled in surface. After the designs of his architect Alphonse Balat, imposing rooms like the Grand Staircase, Throne Room and the Grande Gallerie were added. Balat also planned a new façade but died before the plans could be executed.
It was only after 1904 that the new façade was executed after new plans by Henri Maquet. The pediment sculpture shows an allegorical figure of Belgium flanked by groups representing Industry and Agriculture, by Belgian sculptor Thomas Vinçotte. The new design included a formal front garden separating the building from the Place des Palais.
In the palace an important part of the royal collection is found. This consists of mainly state portraits and important furniture of Napoleon, Leopold I, King Louis Philippe and Leopold II. Silverware, porcelain and fine crystal is kept in the cellars used during state banquets and formal occasions at court. Queen Paola added modern art in some of the state rooms.
During state visits, the royal apartments and suites are at the disposal of visiting heads of state. Ambassadors too are received here with state ceremony. New Year's receptions are held for NATO, ambassadors of the EU and politicians. Royal wedding banquets take place in the palace, and after their death, the body of the deceased king lies in state here. If the king is currently in the country, the flag is hoisted on the central building. If he is present inside the palace then the Honor Guard stands at the front of the palace. An honour guard is always present.References:
Hochosterwitz Castle is considered to be one of Austria's most impressive medieval castles. The rock castle is one of the state's landmarks and a major tourist attraction.
The site was first mentioned in an 860 deed issued by King Louis the German of East Francia, donating several of his properties in the former Principality of Carantania to the Archdiocese of Salzburg. In the 11th century Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg ceded the castle to the Dukes of Carinthia from the noble House of Sponheim in return for their support during the Investiture Controversy. The Sponheim dukes bestowed the fiefdom upon the family of Osterwitz, who held the hereditary office of the cup-bearer in 1209.
In the 15th century, the last Carinthian cup-bearer, Georg of Osterwitz was captured in a Turkish invasion and died in 1476 in prison without leaving descendants. So after four centuries, on 30 May 1478, the possession of the castle reverted to Emperor Frederick III of Habsburg.
Over the next 30 years, the castle was badly damaged by numerous Turkish campaigns. On 5 October 1509, Emperor Maximilian I handed the castle as a pledge to Matthäus Lang von Wellenburg, then Bishop of Gurk. Bishop Lang undertook a substantial renovation project for the damaged castle.
About 1541, German king Ferdinand I of Habsburg bestowed Hochosterwitz upon the Carinthian governor Christof Khevenhüller. In 1571, Baron George Khevenhüller acquired the citadel by purchase. He fortified to deal with the threat of Turkish invasions of the region, building an armory and 14 gates between 1570 and 1586. Such massive fortification is considered unique in citadel construction.
Since the 16th century, no major changes have been made to Hochosterwitz. It has also remained in the possession of the Khevenhüller family as requested by the original builder, George Khevenhüller. A marble plaque dating from 1576 in the castle yard documents this request.
A specific feature is the access way to the castle passing through a total of 14 gates, which are particularly prominent owing to the castle's situation in the landscape. Tourists are allowed to walk the 620-metre long pathway through the gates up to the castle; each gate has a diagram of the defense mechanism used to seal that particular gate. The castle rooms hold a collection of prehistoric artifacts, paintings, weapons, and armor, including one set of armor 2.4 metres tall, once worn by Burghauptmann Schenk.