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  Wikipedia: Belgium

Wikipedia: Belgium
Belgium
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Belgium (België in Dutch, Belgique in French, and Belgien in German) is a small country located in Western Europe, bordered by the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, France, and the North Sea.

Koninkrijk België
Royaume de Belgique
Königreich Belgien
(In Detail) (Full size)
National motto: L'union fait la force (French)
Eendracht maakt macht (Dutch)
(Translation: Unity provides strength)''
Official languages Dutch, French, German
Capital Brussels
King Albert II
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt
Area
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 136th
30,510 km2
6.20%
Population
 - Total (2002)
 - Density
Ranked 77th
10,309,725
338/km2
Independence
 - Declared
 - Recognised
From the Netherlands
1830
1839
Currency Euro¹, Belgian euro coins
Time zone UTC +1
National anthem La/de Brabançonne
Internet TLD .BE
Calling Code 32
(1) Prior to 1999: Belgian franc

History

Main article: History of Belgium

Geographically and culturally, Belgium is at the crossroads of Europe, and during the past 2,000 years has witnessed a constant ebb and flow of different races and cultures. Consequently, Belgium is one of Europe's true melting pots with Celtic, Roman, Germanic, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Austrian cultures having made an imprint.

The earliest named inhabitants of Belgium were the Belgae. They were (mostly) celtic tribes, living in northern Gaul and submitted by Julius Caesar in 54 BC as described in his cronicle "De Bello Gallico". After the Roman Empire collapsed (5th Cent. A.D.), Germanic tribes invaded the Roman province of "Gallia". One of these people, the Franks finally installed a new kingdom under the rulers of the Merovingian Dynasty. Clovis was the most famous of these kings : he converted to Christianity and ruled from northern France, but his empire included today Belgium. Christian scollars, mostly Irish monks preached christianity and started conversion work under the pagan invaders. The Merovingians were rather short-lived, as the Carolingian Dynasty took over : after Karel Martel countered the Arabian (muslim)-invasion from Spain (721 AD - Poitiers), their famous king Charlemagne / Karl der Grosse / Karel De Grote brought a huge part of Europe under his rulership and was crowned as the "Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire" by the pope himself (800 AD.)

European Feudalism became the base to military, political and economical stability. Christianity florished under the protection of these rulers and by the founding of religious communities and monasteries, churches and pilgrimages.

… to be continued later by McPaul …

The region was later associated with the Netherlands, under Burgundian then Spanish rule, until the Protestant provinces took their independence (see Netherlands). Then followed Austrian rule, a few years of French rule under Napoleon. After Napoleon's demise, in 1815, Belgium was reunited with the Netherlands until the Belgian revolution in 1830, which established an independent Belgian state.

Being invaded twice in the 20th century, in the First World War, and Second World War, both despite a declaration of neutrality, made Belgium give up its longstanding policy of neutrality, and join NATO.

Politics

Main article: Politics of Belgium

Since the country's federalisation there are many governmental entities; apart from the Federal Government there is a subdivision according to language in communities, with the French speaking Community, The Flemish Community and the German-speaking Community, and another subdivision (see also the next section) with the Walloon Region, the Flemish Region and the Brussels-Capital Region. However, the Flemish Community and The Flemish Region have been joined together to form one government, see Flanders.

  • Federal government: Jurisdiction over matters of national interest. (e.g. the Military)
  • Community governments: Language, culture and education. (e.g. Schools, Libraries, Theatre, etc.)
  • Regional governments: Land and property based issues within their area (zoning, housing, transportation, etc.)

For example, a school building in Brussels would be regulated by the regional government of Brussels. The school as an institution however would fall under the regulations of either the Flemish government, if the primary language of teaching is Dutch, or the French Community government, if the primary language is French. It's a complex but peaceful compromise that allows distinctly different cultures to live together.

Regions & Provinces

Main article: Regions and provinces of Belgium


Map

Belgium is divided into 3 federal regions; 2 regions are each divided into 5 provinces, together 10. Between brackets is the local name of each province, in either French or Dutch:

  1. Flanders (Dutch speaking; Vlaanderen in Dutch, Flandre or Flandres in French):
  2. Wallonia (French speaking; Wallonie in French, Wallonië in Dutch):
  3. The Brussels capital region (Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest in Dutch, Région de Bruxelles-Capitale in French, Die Region Brüssel-Hauptstadt in German).

Each province is further divided into smaller municipalities, called gemeenten in Dutch and communes in French (see List of Belgian municipalities and List of Belgian municipalities by population).

Geography

Main article: Geography of Belgium


Map

Belgium has an area of 30,510 sq km, around 315 times smaller than that of China. Belgium has three main physical regions: the coastal plain (located in the northwest), the central plateau (the name speaks for itself) and the Ardennes uplands (located in the southeast).

The coastal plain consists mainly of sand dunes and polders. Polders are areas of land, close to or below sea level, that have been reclaimed from the sea from which they are protected by dikes, or, further inland, fields that have been drained by canals.

The second physical region, the central plateau, lies further inland. This is a smooth, slowly rising area which has many fertile valleys and is irrigated by many waterways. Here we can also find rougher land, including caves and gorges.

The third physical region (called the Ardennes) is somewhat more rugged than the first two. It is a thickly forested plateau, very rocky and not very good for farming, which extends into northern France. This is where much of Belgium's wildlife can be found.

The two main rivers in Belgium are the Schelde and the Maas. These two rivers bring prosperity to Tournai, Gent, Antwerpen, Brugge, Liège. The highest point in Belgium is the Botrange, with a height of only 694 metres, and is located in the third physical region, the Ardennes.

Although generally flat, the terrain becomes increasingly hilly and forested in the southeast (Ardennes) region, where one can find Belgium's highest point, the Signal de Botrange at 694m.

The climate is cool, temperate, and rainy; summer temperatures average 25°C / 77°F, winters average 7.2°C / 45°F. Annual extremes (rarely attained) are -12.2°C / 10°F and 32.2°C / 90°F.

Economy

Main article: Economy of Belgium

Densely populated Belgium is located at the heart of one of the world's most highly industrialised regions. The first country to undergo an industrial revolution on the continent of Europe in the early 1800s, Belgium developed an excellent transportation infrastructure of ports, canals, railways, and highways to integrate its industry with that of its neighbours. One of the founding members of the European Union, Belgium strongly supports deepening the powers of the EU to integrate European economies. Belgium became a first-tier member of the Euro, the single European currency, in January 1999 and the Belgian franc was completely replaced by euro coins and banknotes in early 2002.

Belgium is known as "The heart of Europe". This is not only because of its geographical location, but also due to many international institutions having their headquarters in Brussels. This, in its turn, is because it has an excellent transportation system. It has a modern and toll-free road system, is connected to the European railway system, and Antwerpen is the second largest European port.

The economy in Belgium greatly depends on its imports and exports. Its main imports are: food products, machinery, rough diamonds, petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, clothing and accessories, and textiles, and its main trade partners are Germany, The Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the United States, and Spain. Its main exports are automobiles, food and food products, iron and steel, diamonds, textiles, plastics, petroleum products, and nonferrous metals. Trade is made together with Luxembourg, since these 2 countries created a customs and currency union in 1922.

Demographics

Main article: Demographics of Belgium

The population density, 336/km2, is one of the highest in Europe, after the Netherlands and some smaller countries such as Monaco.

There are three official languages, Dutch, French and German. More than half of the country is Dutch speaking (55%), French is the second largest (44%), German is spoken by a minority (1%). Brussels, the capital, is mostly French speaking, but officially French/Dutch bilingual as it is completely enclosed within the Flemish region and as it evolved from a Dutch-speeking place when the Belgian state came to independency (1830) to its today French character being the capital of the central administration of the - not yet federal - country.

Over 98% of the adult population is literate. School is obligatory from the age of 6 until the age of 18, but most Belgian students keep on studying until the age of 23. This makes Belgium's education system the second highest in Europe, after the UK.

Religion

Main article: Religion of Belgium

In Belgium the main religion is Roman Catholicism, which consists of between 75 and 80% of the Belgian population. Other religions practiced in Belgium are Islam, Protestantism, and Judaism.

Religion was one of the differences between the Roman Catholic south and the Protestant north of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which eventually broke up in 1830 when the south seceded to form Belgium. This accounts for the preponderance of Catholics there nowadays.

Culture

Main article: Culture of Belgium

This country is well known for its art, its great architecture, its beer, its food, and its chocolate.

Belgium has a variety of famous artists. These include Peter Paul Rubens, René Magritte, Jan van Eyck, Breughel, Memling, Ensor, Delvaux. René Magritte is probably the most famous Belgian artist. He, together with Paul Delvaux, are two major artists of the surrealistic style. Many great French authors went to Belgium for refuge. Another type of art is music. Belgium isn't behind in music either. For example, Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone in around 1840. He appeared on the former Belgian notes of 200 BEF.

In Architecture the name Victor Horta is well known. He was one of the originators of the Art Nouveau architecture, a style of architecture which had a major impact upon 20th century buildings.

Belgium has a large variety of museums, expositions. Some of the most impressive museums in Belgium are The Royal Museum for Fine Arts, in Antwerpen, which has an admirable collection of works by Peter Paul Rubens, and The Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels, which has a cinema, a concert hall, and artworks of many periods.

The national sport in Belgium is soccer. The national team is called the Red Devils, and they are ranked as 16th by FIFA. Belgians are fanatics of soccer, but that's not the only thing they're good at. Belgium has 2 female tennis players in the top 20; Kim Clijsters (#2) and Justine Henin-Hardenne (#1). Belgium also has been good in cycling. One of the greatest cyclists ever, Eddy Merckx, who won 5 Tours de France; five Tours of Italy, one Tour of Spain, two Tours of Belgium, and one Tour of Switzerland, was Belgian. We also have world champions in motocross and judo. As you can see, Belgium is also well represented in the sport's world.

A lot of gourmets think that Belgium has the 2nd best food in Europe, after French food. Everybody knows Belgian chocolate, for example. The praline was invented in Belgium, and there are brands like Neuhaus, Cote d'Or, Leonidas. In Belgium there are over 450 different kinds of beer. The beer with the most prestige is that of the Trappist monks. Technically, it is an ale and traditionally each abbey's beer is served in its own glass (the forms, heights and widths are different). The inhabitants of Belgium country have a reputation for loving French fries. The fried potato strips are sold at many small shops and stands (often at train stations) and are known locally as frieten in Dutch and frites in French (not identified as French, though).

Some is exported all over the world. Other less known snacks are speculaas (a sweet, crunchy cookie) and waffles. As main courses Belgians have mussels with french fries, endive prepared in a special way, Brussels sprouts, Gentse waterzooi (a casserole made up of chicken and vegetables).

Festivals play a major role in Belgium's cultural life. Nearly every city and town has its own festival, some that date back several centuries. And these aren't just tricks for tourism, but real, authentic celebrations that took months to prepare. Two of the biggest festivals are the three-day carnival at Binche, near Mons, held just before Lent (the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter), and the Procession of the Holy Blood, held in Brugge in May. During the carnival in Binche, "Gilles" lead the procession, which are men dressed in high, plumed hats and bright costumes.

Another part of Belgian traditions is the comic strip. Belgium has numerous cartoonists, such as Willy Vandersteen (Suske en Wiske), Hergé (Tintin), Morris (Lucky Luke), Peyo (The Smurfs), Marc Sleen (Nero).

See also: Music of Belgium

Miscellaneous topics

Reference

External links

nds:Belgien simple:Belgium


  

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
Modified by Geona