Saturday, June 20, 2009

La Maison du Roi (Broodhuis)

The beautiful neo-gothic building with its many decorative architectural details is the "Maison du Roi" (King's House) in French or "Broodhuis" in Dutch. Located opposite the Town Hall on the Grand Place, it now serves as the historical City Museum of Brussels.

The Dutch name "Broodhuis" (bread house) indicates the origins of this building. In the 13th century a wooden building stood here that was used by the bakers to sell their bread. In 1405 a stone building replaced the original wooden bread hall. When the bakers turned to selling their products from house to house in the 15th century, the ancient bread hall began to be used more and more for administrative purposes by the Duke of Brabant, hence the French name "Maison du Roi". During the reign of emperor Charles V, the King's House was rebuilt in flamboyant Gothic style (1515-1536). In one of the rooms the counts of Egmont and Hoorne spent their last night before their execution by order of Filip II of Spain on the Grand-Place on June the 5th 1568.

After the French bombardment of 1695 the building was restored as far as necessary to keep it from collapsing. In the following centuries it was used for different purposes (e. g. as "Maison du Peuple" - the people's house - after the French revolutionists had taken over power in the country at the end of the 18th century).

In 1860 the mayor of Brussels had convinced the city authorities to buy the old King's House, which was then in a sorry state. The entire building had to be build up from scratch. The restoration was done in the then fashionable neo-gothic style. The architect was clearly influenced by the early 16th century town hall of the City of Oudenaarde.

In June 1887 the King's House became the City Museum of Brussels. On exhibition are original statues of the town hall, paintings, wall tapestries and different artifacts which have a relation to the history of the city. A favorite among tourists, the wardrobe collection of Manneken-Pis is housed on the second floor. Between 1918 and 1940, Brussels received around thirty "suits" that were used as a special costume for the little pissing statue that has become the mascot of Brussels. By the 1980s the museum counted more than 400, and today its collection numbers more than 800! Most of the costumes were donations from embassies, tourist offices, sportsmen, artists, bon vivants, associations, anyone who wished to honor Manneken-Pis with a suit or costume. The surprisingly small statue is located two blocks southwest of Grand-Place on the corner of rue du Chêne and rue de l'Etuve. Today the museum houses hundreds of statuettes of Manneken-Pis which present a selection of his costumes from all over the world (be sure to check out the "Elvis" costume, shown in use in the photo below).

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