- Grand' Place/Grote Markt
- The Grand' Place—the heart of Brussels—has served as the city's central commercial, governmental, meeting, and judgment place. The marshy ground here was gradually drained and a sandbank in the vicinity of today's Hôtel de Ville offered a suitable site on which to build residences, which appeared in growing numbers in the 11th and 12th centuries. Buildings were largely constructed of thatch and timber, with some made of stone. Merchants who had first arrived to service the small court that developed around the castrum set up markets on a piecemeal basis; those that developed are recalled in surrounding street names—herring (hareng/hareng), butter (beurre/boter), cheese (fromage/kaas), brewing (brasseurs/brouwers)— that began as nearby lanes which were irregularly laid out.Beginning in the 13th century, residents collected pebbles from the Senne River and adjoining streams and laid them down to provide a patch of hard ground for use by traders and stallholders. Stones were laid on stones and, over time, the square was solidified and enlarged. The original square of cobblestones now lies buried 1.22 m (4 ft.) beneath today's surface.Early open-air markets gave way, in the 14th century, to the first covered markets—halls for bread, meat, linen, and so forth—that reflected the city's growing wealth.Paralleling its status as the center of commercial life, the Grand' Place served as the setting for political meetings, public proclamations, and judicial proceedings. The amman resided on the square. In 1301, municipal officials purchased the storehouse De Meerte, located on the current site of the clock tower of the Hôtel de Ville, in which to hold meetings and house offices. Construction of the Hôtel de Ville began in 1401 and prospering craft guilds, their members grown more powerful politically, followed.Improvements were ongoing. Stone structures replaced wooden ones. In the 15th century, efforts were begun to improve the alignment of the buildings around the square. From 1636 to 1645 the west side was repaved in stone from the Renard to the Brouette guildhalls. The bombardment of 1695 led to massive destruction followed by wholesale reconstruction on a more splendid scale. Alignments were again made more exact. In 1793-1794, French troops destroyed the statuary on numerous guildhalls and plundered the meeting rooms. From 1863 to 1923 gradual reconstruction of all of the buildings on the Grand' Place took place.The Grand' Place has served as the center stage for events, mundane and magnificent, tragic and triumphal, throughout the city's history. Tournaments, joyeuse entrées, executions, ommegangs, rallies, concerts, and specialty markets have been held here. Annual commercial fairs were run until 1833. The flower and bird markets remain a tradition. A reenactment of the ommegang takes place in July and the Carpet of Flowers display is held in even numbered years.
Historical Dictionary of Brussels. Paul F. State.