The Kingdom of Belgium lies in the delta region of the Rhine Meuse and Scheldt rivers of northern Europe. Historically, this area is known as the Low Countries and includes the Netherlands. The monarch of Belgium has some powers defined by its constitution but the government is largely a parliamentary democracy with two legislative houses. Voting is mandatory in Belgium resulting in extremely high voter turnouts.
Originally a part of France prior to the Roman times, what is now Belgium has been fought over by many countries in almost countless wars. The country was established as an independent state in 1831 and celebrates its independence on July 21 each year.
The people of Belgium fall into to two large ethnic groups with many other ethnicities and languages represented. The Flanders region, northern Belgium, is largely populated by people who speak the Flemish language (similar but not identical to Dutch) and makes up about 60 percent of the population. Wallonia, a southern region of Belgium, is largely a French enclave. Officially, Belgium lists Flemish and French as its official languages with one language defined as the official language for publications in each region. There are also smaller regions of the country where German is commonly heard and some residents speak English as a second language.
Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium but serves as the headquarters for the European Union. The city is the biggest in Belgium and has undergone expansion and reconstruction since the end of World War II. Brussels, as the capital city, utilizes both French and Dutch languages in all signs and communications. The city is also renowned for its architectural attractions. Grand Place and the Royal Palace are often must-sees for travellers. The Cinquantenaire Park area includes many notable art museums and features an arch in the centre of the park. The park and arch were built in 1880 to commemorate the nation’s 50th anniversary.
Antwerp, Belgium is the largest city in the Flanders section of Belgium. The city is also noted for its architecture although many historic buildings were destroyed or damaged during World War II. Visitors often find the churches of Antwerp particularly interesting. The St. James Church, Cathedral of Our Lady and the Church of St. Peter all have distinctive structures and great artwork. For animal enthusiasts, the Antwerp Zoo is among the oldest in the world. Art lovers usually check out the Royal Museum of Fine Arts and the home of Peter Paul Rubens which has been turned into a museum dedicated to the artist’s life.
Sports fans also enjoy Belgium. The country has a particular fascination with tennis and cycling with participants excelling in both sports. The Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix also brings the world of auto racing to the country. Historically, the country also hosted the 1920 Summer Olympics at Antwerp.
Visitors generally eat well when travelling in Belgium. The country is noted for a number of regional varieties of waffles all falling under the broad category of Belgian Waffles. Belgian chocolate and beer are also noted for quality. The nation produces more than 1,000 varieties of beer ranging from mass produced products to small scale craft breweries.
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