Cramped and populous, the Lower Town fans out from the Grand-Place in all directions, bisected by one major north–south boulevard, variously named Adolphe Max, Anspach and Lemonnier. Setting aside the boulevard – which was ploughed through in the nineteenth century – the layout of the Lower Town remains essentially medieval, a skein of narrow, cobbled lanes and alleys in which almost every street is crimped by tall and angular town houses. There’s nothing neat and tidy about all of this, but that’s what gives it its appeal – dilapidated terraces stand next to prestigious mansions and the whole district is dotted with superb buildings, everything from beautiful Baroque churches through to Art Nouveau department stores.
The Lower Town is at its most beguiling to the northwest of the Grand-Place, where the churches of Ste-Catherine and Ste-Jean-Baptiste au Béguinage stand amid a cobweb of quaint streets and tiny squares. The streets to the north of the Grand-Place are of less immediate appeal, with particularly dreary rue Neuve, a pedestrianized main drag that’s home to the city’s mainstream shops and stores, leading up to the clumping skyscrapers that surround the place Rogier and the Gare du Nord. This is an uninviting part of the city, but relief is at hand in the precise Habsburg symmetries of the place des Martyrs and at the Belgian Comic Strip Centre, the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée. To the south of the Grand-Place, almost everyone makes a beeline for the city’s mascot, the Manneken Pis, but much more enjoyable is the museum dedicated to Belgium’s most celebrated chansonnier, Jacques Brel.Read More
Tintin was the creation of Brussels-born Georges Remi, aka Hergé (1907–83). Remi’s first efforts (pre-Tintin) were sponsored by a right-wing Catholic journal, Le XXième Siècle, and in 1929 when this same paper produced a kids’ supplement – Le Petit Vingtième – Remi was given his first major break. He was asked to produce a two-page comic strip and the result was Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, a didactic tale about the evils of Bolshevism. Tintin’s Soviet adventure lasted until May 1930, and to round it all off the director of Le XXième Siècle decided to stage a PR-stunt reception to celebrate Tintin’s return from the USSR. Remi – along with a Tintin lookalike – hopped on a train just east of Brussels and when they pulled into the capital they were mobbed by scores of excited children. Remi and Tintin never looked back. Remi decided on the famous quiff straight away, but other features – the mouth and expressive eyebrows – only came later. His popularity was – and remains – quite phenomenal: Tintin has been translated into sixty languages and over twenty million copies of the comic Le Journal de Tintin, Remi’s own independent creation first published in 1946, have been sold – and that’s not mentioning all the Tintin TV cartoon series. Remi’s life and work are also celebrated at the Musée Hergé in Louvain-la-Neuve.