Belgium is a small country (11,730 square Miles, the size of Maryland) with a population of 10 million. It has been a constitutional monarchy since 1830. There are three languages (Dutch, French and German). However, English is widely spoken. The three regions (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels) have self-government in many spheres. Belgium has retained its old-world charm in the preservation of its ancient buildings and historical traditions.
Full country name: Kingdom of Belgium
Area: 30,510 sq km
Population: 10.3 million
Capital City: Brussels
People: 55% Flemish, 33% Walloons (French Latin) and about 10% foreigners
Language: Dutch, French
Religion: 75% Roman Catholic
Government: federal parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarch
Belgium is situated to the south of the Netherlands, east of Germany and to the north of France. When traveling to Belgium you will be reminded to this location constantly.
Belgium is a federal state divided into three regions: Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north, Wallonia in the south where the language is French, and Brussels, the bilingual capital, where French and Dutch share official status. There is also a small German-speaking minority of some 70 000 in the eastern part of the country.
Belgium’s landscape varies widely: 67 kilometres of seacoast and flat coastal plains along the North Sea, hills in the centre and the uplands forests of the Ardennes region in the southeast. Geographically Belgium can be subdivided in three regions: Low-Belgium (up to 100 meters altitude), Middle-Belgium (of 100 up to 200 meters altitude) and Hoog-Belgium (from 200 meters up to more than 500 meters altitude).
Low-Belgium start in the west at the coast, sandy beaches and dunes, which extend themselves in a straight line concerning a distance of approx. 65 kilometres. Behind the coast the polders lie, a very fertile country that has been drained and safeguarded against the strong tide by the dunes. Between the western polders and the rivers the Leie and the Schelde lie the Flemish plain, a sandy region with a few hills. To the east the Kempen, a landscape with mainly pine forests, meadows and corn fields.
Mid-Belgium lie behind the Flemish plain and the Kempen and increase gradually to the Samber – and Meuse-valleys. These two loam-plateaus form the most fertile ground of Belgium. Brabant is strongly urbanised, but the Zoniën-forest are still a remainder of the ancient coal forest, which extended themselves into the Roman era concerning a large part of the country. Mid-Belgium include further in the west Henegouwen and in the east Haspengouw. These are also fertile regions with extended lands and pastures.
Hign-Belgium is thinly populated and here you will find most of the forests, starting at the south of the Samber and the Meuse with the Condroz-plateau. Between the Vesder and the Meuse the country of Herve, which is pre-eminently arranged because of the rich, wet clay ground for pastures and therefore for livestock-farming.
Brussels hosts several international organisations: most of the European institutions are located there as well as the NATO headquarters.
Independent since 1830, Belgium is a constitutional monarchy. The two houses of Parliament are the Chamber of Representatives, whose members are elected for a maximum period of four years, and the Senate or upper house, whose members are elected or co-opted. Given its political make-up, Belgium is generally run by coalition governments.
Among the best known Belgians are Georges Rémi (Hergé), creator of Tintin, writers Georges Simenon and Hugo Claus, composer and singer Jacques Brel and cyclist Eddy Merckx. Painters like James Ensor, Paul Delvaux and René Magritte are the modern-day successors of Rubens and the other Flemish masters of yesteryear.
Belgium is famous for its chocolates, which are appreciated the world over. Its favourite dish is mussels and chips (French fries) which, according to legend, are a Belgian invention.
Belgium invented the praline in 1912 and soon became known for making the best chocolates in the world. But 100 years on, the supremacy of local chocolatiers is under threat from international competition.