World Heritage Sites are places recognized by UNESCO to be of importance to either cultural or natural heritage.
Cultural heritage is represented by monuments, such as architectural works, monumental sculptures, inscriptions, or sites, such as groups of buildings or archaeological sites. And natural heritage is represented by places of importance from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty, such as natural features and sites, geological and physiographical formations and habitats of threatened species of animals and plants.
Belgium’s capital has the honour of housing no less than four heritage sites, with two additional ones being on the tentative list.
1. La Grand-Place
Considered by some the most beautiful square in the world, the Grand-Place was one of the first Belgian sites to be featured on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1998.
The reason behind its inclusion is its representation of a remarkably homogeneous body of public and private buildings, dating mainly from the late 17th century. The Grand-Place is an outstanding example of the eclectic and highly successful blending of architectural and artistic styles that characterizes the culture and society of this region.
2. Townhouses by Victor Horta
Four major townhouses – Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel Solvay, Hôtel van Eetvelde and Maison & Atelier Horta, designed by one of the earliest initiators of Art Nouveau, the architect Victor Horta, were included on the list in 2000.
The buildings are some of the most remarkable pioneering works of architecture of the end of the 19th century, displaying human creative genius and representing representing the highest expression of the influential Art Nouveau style in art and architecture. The stylistic revolution showcased by their design is characterised by their open plan, the diffusion of light, and the brilliant joining of the curved lines of decoration with the structure of the building.
3. The Sonian Forest
The Sonian Forest covers 4,400 hectares, but only a few regions of it, about 270 hectares, are recognised by UNESCO. These are part of the larger Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe natural heritage site. 94 regions from 18 countries form the protected area, which was included on the UNESCO list in 2007.
The beech forests are indispensable for the understanding of the history and evolution of the genus Fagus which, given its wide distribution in the Northern Hemisphere and its ecological importance, is globally significant.
4. The Stoclet House
The Stoclet House, or the Stoclet Palacem was a private mansion built by architect Josef Hoffmann between 1905 and 1911 in Brussels, for banker and art lover Adolphe Stoclet. It was recognized as a cultural heritage site in 2009.
Created under the supervision of architect and interior designer Josef Hoffmann, the Stoclet House is a masterpiece of the creative genius of the Vienna Secession Movement, through its aesthetic and conceptual programme, originality and exceptional quality of decoration, furniture, works of art and garden. It is a remarkably well conserved symbol of constructive and aesthetic modernity at the beginning of the 20th century.
5. Tentative list
Each country can submit places they consider worthy of the status of cultural or natural heritage. At the moment, Belgium has 18 sites on its tentative list, two of which are in Brussels.
Palais de Justice
The Justice Palace is the most important court building in Belgium and maybe the most grandiose construction in the country. It has been on the tentative list since 2008.
The largest building of the 19th century, the Justice Palace was designed by architect Joseph Poelaert in 1862. Having used the most efficient industrial techniques at that time, the composition in plan and elevation of the building, directly inspired by the work of 19th century archaeologists, shows a boldness and an originality which will never be imitated, being one of the first proven applications of the golden ratio.
Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
Designed and built by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer between 1846 and 1847, the ensemble of glazed shopping arcades was also submitted to the tentative list in 2008.
The Royal Galleries are the first covered galleries to have been created by political will and carried out with financial guarantees and the support of the authorities. The construction expresses the new reality of a capitalist society resulting from the industrial revolution. Established in the centre of a medieval block, it marks by its dimensions and its luxury the triumph of a new social order.