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Heritage Days are a golden opportunity to peek into the capital’s historic buildings
Over the weekend September 15 and 16, some 80 sites across Brussels will open their doors to the public. This year the annual event shines a light on the often-overlooked work of engineers, under the banner “The Art of Construction”. Many of them are usually off-limits, and all of them are of interest for their architecture and engineering feats.
Visitors can explore archaeological remains, climb defensive walls, tour churches, bridges, locks, factories and market places, check out town, concert and exhibition halls and nose around sports facilities, offices and student accommodation. Two circuits are available if you want to take in more than one site, both accessible by public transport or bike. Don’t forget, this weekend it’s Car-Free Sunday, too.
Curiosity seekers are also encouraged to take part in more than 50 ancillary activities, from bike rides to walking tours and boat trips around the port and canals. All events are designed to raise the question of how a building works, focusing on the work of engineers, who continually came up with solutions to the construction problems of their day. Today, with the building industry under increasing environmental pressures, this peek into the capital’s architectural past has perhaps never been so pertinent.
The hub of the two-day event is the neo-Renaissance former market hall and now culture centre, Halles Saint-Géry. In addition to an information point, the iron-and-glass structure houses two exhibitions: How Does That Stand and International Photographic Experiment of Monuments. The latter is Belgium’s contribution to a Europe-wide heritage initiative that showcases the work of young people.
Make sure you grab a programme for a full and detailed list of all the sites that are split into two sections: Brussels and communes. On the former’s cultural list is the Monnaie opera house with a backstage tour of the architectural marvel and its numerous renovations. Another building that is not always accessible to the masses is The Brussels Parliament in Rue du Lombard. The oldest part, Hôtel de Limminghe, dates from the 18th century. Open to the public but possibly not familiar to all, is the Bains de Bruxelles swimming pool (pictured). The 1950s building in Rue du Chevreuil is a complex structure on five floors, consisting of two pools, plus administrative and leisure facilities.
Neo-Flemish Renaissance architecture is an interesting feature of such diverse buildings as the Institut Cooremans in Place Anneessens and KVS theatre in Rue de Laeken. While the former was purpose-built in 1876 and fuses practicality and style, the royal Flemish theatre was converted from a former naval dockyard on the condition that the original 1780 facade was preserved. It now forms the rear of the iconic balconied building.
Another structural marvel is De Markten, the Dutch-language cultural centre in Place du Vieux marché aux Grains. Built in 1854, it features the then revolutionary iron frame and brick arch structure that was developed in England to protect mills from fire. Alternatively, head out to Auderghem to descend into the church-like ice caves in Chaussée de Wavre, once used for storage. Now owned by Brussels Free University (VUB), they have been successively restored to their former chilly splendour.
Photo credit: Bains de Bruxelles (c) A. de Ville de Goyet