Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Brussels Palace of Justice

Brussels is arguably most famous for Manneken Pis, a tiny statue of a peeing boy that dresses up in a new outfit several times each week. If you're looking for something more imposing, make your way to the top of Galgenberg (lit. 'Gallows Hill'), where the thieves and murderers of Brussels once went to their final judgment. Here, overlooking the city core 20 meters below, stands the Palace of Justice. It stands at 104 meters (341 ft) tall and is 160 by 150 meters (520 x 490 ft) in diameter, which makes it the largest building constructed in the 19th century.

The Palace of Justice is the center of the Court of Appeal in the Brussels Region and the City of Brussels. It was built between 1861 and 1883 by the native architect Joseph Poelaert, who was assigned to the task by the ministry of justice after a design competition had failed to produce any acceptable designs.

Poelaert designed the building in the eclectic style, drawing on multiple sources of inspiration. The design is heavily influenced by classical antiquity, utilizing columns from all of the five classical orders as well as classically-inspired entablatures and door- and window frames. The building is also remarkable for being one of the very first buildings designed with the golden ratio, which has been incorporated into parts of the interior.

View of the cupola from the foyer below.

When the groundwork for the building was laid, much of the ancient Marollen district was demolished and the inhabitants relocated. This action was highly unpopular with the locals, who took to using "architect" as a curse word.

The building was partly destroyed when the Germans tried to burn it during their retreat from Brussels at the end of World War II. It was repaired by 1947, this time with an even taller cupola. More recently, a large-scale renovation of the facade has been going on since 2003. This is very visible, as the dome is now collared by unsightly scaffolding. The completion of this project will restore one of the true highlights of Brussels' scanty skyline to its former glory.

All photos in this post and more can be found on Wikimedia Commons.

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