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Belgium

Belgium

Belgium is a small Western European nation best known as the headquarters of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

It’s also the site of medieval towns, Renaissance architecture, and very delicious chocolate and waffles.

belgium-flag

Quick Facts

Capital: City of Brussels

Population: 11 million

Key Cities: Ghent, Bruges, City of Brussels, Antwerp

Official Language: French, German, Dutch

Major Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox

Geography

Bordering Countries: France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands

Size: 11,787 sq. miles

Lowest point: De Moeren at -10 ft.

Highest point: Signal de Botrange at 2,277 ft.

Belgium is a small country in Western Europe that is roughly the size of the state of Maryland.

It borders the North Sea and has three main geographical areas: the coastal plains, the central plateau, and the Ardennes uplands.

ardennes

Inland from the coastal plains, the land is mostly flat, and many canals and dikes protect Belgium from flooding. There are also valleys, caves, gorges, rivers (three major), and lakes.

To the east of the Meuse River, forested hilly areas of land rise to the mountains of the Ardennes Region. The highest point is Signal de Botrange, the remains of an ancient volcano.

signal-de-botrange

Summers in Belgium are cool, and winters are moderate (average). Belgium is often windy, especially in the winter. Rain falls throughout the year, with a dryer period from April to September.

In total, Belgium is home to more than 35,000 species of plants, animals, and fungi. Almost 70 percent of these species are animals.

However, many of these animals are insects: 500 species of beetles, 4,500 species of flies and mosquitoes, 2,400 species of butterflies and moths, and more.

Non-insect animals found in Belgium include wild boars, wolves, deer, wildcats, birds like sandpipers and pheasants, muskrats, hamsters, and beavers.

History

Belgium was originally settled by a Celtic tribe called the Belgae, which is how the country got its name. In 100 BC, the Belgae were conquered by the Roman Empire.

The Belgae were described as fierce, brave warriors. They tried to revolt against the Romans, but the empire was too powerful.

When the Roman Empire eventually fell, Belgium was invaded by Germanic tribes.

germanic-tribes

During this time, the northern part of Belgium spoke German and absorbed German culture. Meanwhile, the southern part continued to speak Latin and practice Roman customs.

Throughout history, Belgium was ruled by many different empires, including the Spanish and the Habsburg Empire of Austria.

Belgium became the center of European industries such as textiles, commerce, and art. Some of the country’s largest cities were considered world leaders.

During the Napoleonic Wars, Belgium was captured by France in 1795.

After Napoleon was defeated, Belgium was given to the United Kingdom of Netherlands in treaty negotiations.

napoleonic-war

The Belgians revolted against the Dutch and gained their independence in 1830. During both World War I and World War II, Belgium was invaded by Germany before regaining their independence.

Because of differences in culture and language in Belgium, there is a border that formally separates the country.

In Flanders to the north, there is the Dutch-speaking Flemish community (about 60% of the population).

In the southern Wallonia region and the capital Brussels is the French-speaking community (almost 40% of the population).

There’s also a tiny German-speaking minority (about 1% of the population) in the eastern regions of the province of Liege.

liege

Economy

Belgium’s major industries are engineering and metal products, motor vehicle assembly, transportation equipment, processed food and beverages, chemicals, basic metals, textiles, glass, and petroleum.

It’s also considered the diamond capital of the world.

Belgium’s top agricultural products include:

Sugar beets

Barley

Corn

Potatoes

Grain

grain

Tobacco

Beef

Veal

Pork

Milk

Assorted fruits and vegetables.

Belgium is one of the ten wealthiest countries in the world.

The capital city of Brussels is especially wealthy, but there is major inequality between the rich and the poor.

brussels-rich

The Euro is Belgium’s national currency, along with 14 other European nations.

Culture

In addition to the major languages of French, German, and Dutch, the language of Luxembourgish is also spoken in the Belgian province of Luxembourg, which borders the actual country of Luxembourg.

There are also several French, German, and Flemish dialects spoken in various parts of the country.

About 58% of Belgians are Roman Catholic, and Catholicism is especially common in Flanders.

Belgian food, like Belgium itself, is a mix of cultures. Around the world, Belgium is best known for its waffles, chocolate, and fries.

waffles

Bread and potatoes are the traditional Belgian food staples, and most meals include pork, chicken, or beef. Seafood is popular in the northern cities.

One especially popular seafood dish is waterzooi, a broth of vegetables and meat or fish.

Leeks, white asparagus, cheese, and butter also commonly appear in Belgian foods.

A celebration called Carnival is held each year in the capital city.

This is a time of fun, food, music, and dance before the Roman Catholic period of Lent.

If you ever visit Carnival, you’ll see colorful street parades, costumed residents, live music, decorated homes, and plenty of food.

belgium-parade

There’s also an international film festival called Cinema Novo held in Bruges each year, and Meyboom, the oldest traditional festival in the country.

The event is celebrated outdoors in August and includes giant puppets, brass bands, traditional folk music, dancing, and lots of food and drink.

Famous Belgians

Tony Parker- basketball player

Audrey Hepburn- actress

Jean-Claude Van Damme- martial artist/actor/director

jean-claude-van-damme

Gotye- singer

Kim Clijsters- tennis player

Fun Facts

One thing that can unite all of Belgium is the national soccer team (called football in Belgium), the Red Devils.

the-red-devils

Wander into the average Belgian supermarket, and you’ll probably find more than 10 different types of potatoes and 30 different types of waffles, plus what’s considered the best chocolate in the world.

French fries weren’t invented in France—they were invented in Belgium.

Belgians eat French fries with a variety of different sauces, but the most popular is mayonnaise.

More Europe facts.