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:
Varberg Fortress was built in 1287-1300 by count Jacob Nielsen as protection against his Danish king, who had declared him an outlaw after the murder of King Eric V of Denmark. Jacob had close connections with king Eric II of Norway and as a result got substantial Norwegian assistance with the construction. The fortress, as well as half the county, became Norwegian in 1305.
King Eric's grand daughter, Ingeborg Håkansdotter, inherited the area from her father, King Haakon V of Norway. She and her husband, Eric, Duke of Södermanland, established a semi-independent state out of their Norwegian, Swedish and Danish counties until the death of Erik. They spent considerable time at the fortress. Their son, King Magnus IV of Sweden (Magnus VII of Norway), spent much time at the fortress as well.
The fortress was augmented during the late 16th and early 17th century on order by King Christian IV of Denmark. However, after the Treaty of Brömsebro in 1645 the fortress became Swedish. It was used as a military installation until 1830 and as a prison from the end of the 17th Century until 1931.
It is currently used as a museum and bed and breakfast as well as private accommodation. The moat of the fortress is said to be inhabited by a small lake monster. In August 2006, a couple of witnesses claimed to have seen the monster emerge from the dark water and devour a duck. The creature is described as brown, hairless and with a 40 cm long tail.