BELGIUM – The Country

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Belgium (Dutch: België, French: Belgique, German: Belgien) is a low-lying country on the North Sea coast in the Benelux. With the majority of West European capitals within 1,000km or 622 miles of the Belgian capital of Brussels, and as a member of the long-standing international Benelux community, Belgium sits at the crossroads of Western Europe. Its immediate neighbours are France to the southwest, Luxembourg to the southeast, Germany to the east and the Netherlands to the north.

Understand

Belgium is a densely populated country trying to balance the conflicting demands of urbanization, transport and industry with commercial and intensive agriculture. It imports large quantities of raw materials and exports a large volume of manufactured goods, mostly to other EU countries.

History

Belgium is the heir of several former Medieval powers, previously named Belgae (or Belgica reference to the Roman Empire period), and you will see traces of these everywhere during your trip in this country.

After the collapse of the Carolingian Empire in the 9th century, the territory that is nowadays Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg, was part of Lotharingia, an ephemeral kingdom soon to be absorbed into the Germanic Empire; however, the special character of “Lower Lotharingia” remained intact in the feudal Empire: this is the origin of the Low Countries, a general term that encompasses present-day Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

The widely autonomous fiefdoms of the Low Countries were amongst the richest places in Medieval Europe and you will see traces of this past wealth in the rich buildings of Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Leuven, Tournai, Mons, etc. These cities progressively fell under the control of a powerful and ambitious family : the Dukes of Burgundy. The whole realm of the dukes extended from the Low Countries to the borders of Switzerland. Using wealth, strategy, and alliances, the Dukes of Burgundy aimed at reconstituting Lotharingia. The death of the last Duke, Charles the Bold, put an end to this dream. However, the treasures of the Dukes of Burgundy remains as a testimony of their rules in Belgian museums and landmarks.

The powerful Habsburg family then inherited from the Low Countries. Reformation is the reason that Belgium and Netherlands were first put apart: the northern half of the Low Countries embraced Protestantism and rebelled against the Habsburg rule, while the southern half remained faithful to both its ruler and the Catholic faith. These two halves roughly corresponds to present-day Belgium and Netherlands.

Belgium was called Austrian Netherlands, then Spanish Netherlands, depending on which branch of the Habsburg ruled it. The powerful German emperor and Spanish king, Charles V, was born in the Belgian city of Ghent and ruled from Brussels. Many places in Belgium are named after him, including the city of Charleroi and even a brand of beer. Every year, the Brusselers emulate his first parade in their city in what is called the Ommegang.

Belgium was briefly a part of the Napoleonic Empire. After Napoleon’s defeat, a large Kingdom of the Netherlands was created, comprising the whole of the Low Countries. However, the religious opposition still remained and the split was aggravated by political differences between Belgian liberals and Dutch aristocrats. Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830 after a short revolution and a war against the Netherlands.

It was occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II and has many war graves near the battle zones, most of them are around Ieper (in English archaically rendered as Ypres, with Yperite another name for mustard gas due to intensive use there in the first World War). It has prospered in the past half century as a modern, technologically advanced European state and member of NATO and the EU. Tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemings of the north and the French-speaking Walloons of the south have led in recent years to constitutional amendments granting these regions formal recognition and autonomy.

Terrain

Flat coastal plains in northwest, central rolling hills, wooded hills and valleys of Ardennes Forest in southeast.

Climate

Temperate; mild winters, cool summers; rainy, humid, cloudy. Average annual temperature between 1976-2006: 10°C

Electricity

Electricity is supplied at 220-230V, 50Hz. Outlets are CEE7/5 (protruding male earth pin) and accept either CEE 7/5 (Grounded), CEE 7/7 (Grounded) or CEE 7/16 (non-grounded) plugs. Older German-type CEE 7/4 plugs are not compatible as they do not accommodate the earth pin found on this type of outlet. However, most modern European appliances are fitted with the hybrid CEE 7/7 plug which fits both CEE 7/5 (Belgium & France) and CEE 7/4 (Germany, Netherlands, Spain and most of Europe) outlets.

Travellers from the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland and those many other countries using 230V, 50Hz but using different plugs, simply require a plug adaptor to use their appliances in Belgium.

Travellers from the US, Canada, Japan and other countries using 110V, 60Hz may need a voltage converter. However, some laptops, mobile phone chargers and other devices can accept either 110V or 230V and so only require a simple plug adaptor. Check the voltage rating plates on your appliances before connecting them.

Content on this page is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license. A list of contributors and more information is available at the original article on Wikitravel.




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