- The earliest population figures for Brussels are unknown. From a tiny riverside settlement, the town grew to about 20,000 inhabitants by the second half of the 14th century. Growth was steady given development of Brussels as a commercial and administrative center. Hundreds of merchants and craftsmen left Leu-ven in the mid-14th century following a downturn in the cloth trade there, and the Burgundian regime saw tradesmen and civil servants arrive in the wake of the ducal court. However, expansion was slow in view of high mortality rates. Plague was a recurrent visitor from the 13th through the 17th centuries.Numbers rose to about 39,000 in the 1460s to approximately 50,000 by 1700. The first official census in 1755 showed 57,370 residents. These were modest figures by European capital city standards and attest to the fact that the southern Netherlands, though densely populated, were largely rural.Economic reverses and political turmoil, notably during the wars of religion and the Brabant and French revolutionary periods, witnessed population declines. In 1800, numbers stood at 66,297, mounting to 99,522 by 1831. Rising figures through the 19th and early 20th centuries reflect annexations of adjacent territory by the city more than they do large influxes of newcomers, although industrialization and the city's status as national capital did draw emigrants from outlying rural districts.In 1846, the first census after independence revealed 118,239 city residents and 211,634 in the 18 surrounding communities of the agglomeration. These latter remained largely agricultural boroughs through the 19th century, except for Saint-Josse-ten-Noode and, to a lesser extent, Anderlecht. By 1910, metropolitan Brussels accounted for about 10.3 percent of Belgium's population, up from 3.7 percent in 1830. City figures peaked at 200,433 in 1930, reflecting incorporation of Laeken, Neder-over-Heembeek, and Haren. Outward movement to communes beyond the central urban region began slowly with population declining within Brussels and Saint-Gilles after 1930. Post-World War II movement showed a marked trend toward the south and southeast. Urban renewal has produced a slight movement back to the central city in recent years, with districts such as Sablon and Saint-Géry proving attractive.Postwar years witnessed the arrival of growing numbers of expatriates and immigrants, both white-collar workers to staff international organizations, companies, and European Union institutions and blue-collar laborers, generally from southern Europe, Turkey, and North Africa, to fill unskilled positions. By the turn of the 21st century, foreigners accounted for approximately one-third of the metropolitan area's population.Area figures peaked at 1,079,181 in 1967 and have declined slightly but steadily since 1970 following a negative natural growth rate and a negative migration balance, despite the inflow of foreigners. The population of greater Brussels in 2000 stood at approximately 965,312. The population density stood at 6,031 to the square kilometer. See appendix B for the population of the city of Brussels, ca. 1400-2000.
Historical Dictionary of Brussels. Paul F. State.