History of Brussels
According to folklore, Saint Gorik built a small chapel on an island in the Zenne, the river that still flows through Brussels, around 580 A.D. However, the official founding of Brussels dates to 979, when the first permanent fortification was built.
In the middle of the 11th century, city walls were erected and for much of the Middle Ages, Brussels thrived, thanks to its strategic location along the Bruges-Ghent-Cologne trade route. However, in 1695, Brussels was attacked by the French king Louis XIV and more than 4,000 houses, including the Grand' Place, were destroyed.
Various foreign powers then controlled Brussels, until Dutch emperor William I was forced to leave in 1830, when the Belgian revolution took place in Brussels following a performance of Auber's La Muette de Portici at La Monnaie opera house. Finally, the country gained independence and, on 21 July 1831, the first Belgian king, Leopold I, ascended the throne, with Brussels being named capital of the new kingdom.
Leopold I oversaw a long period of rebuilding; the city walls were demolished allowing for urban renewal and considerable expansion. In addition, as if to emphasise its independence and newly-found importance, lots of international congresses were organised and scientific organisations founded; foreign artists, philosophers and scientists (including Karl Marx, Victor Hugo and many more) all found their way to Brussels.
In the 20th century, Brussels suffered considerable damage during the Second World War. However, once the war was over, the city continued to develop. Since 1970, Belgium has been split into three semi-independent regions, Flanders and Wallonia, and the Brussels-Capital region, each with its own government. The city has also become the de facto capital of the European Union and NATO, of which Belgium is a founding member.