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Fascinating Facts

British people often make fun of Belgium, as if it was a faceless country with no significant contribution to human wealth.  Well, think twice! In this section you will certainly go from surprise to surprise.  Click on the links on the right hand side to discover more!

Some examples of unique facts about Belgian people:

The Bank of England was founded by a Walloon protestant whose family had fled from Europe to escape religious persecution. His name was John Houblon , and his portrait is on the £50.00 notes.

John Joseph Merlin, from the town of Huy, was the first person to invent the roller skate, wearing his first pair to a masquerade party at Carlisle-House in London in the 1760’s.

The saxophone was invented by Adolphe Sax, a Belgian from the town of Dinant.

There is no other country in Europe with as many street and music festivals all year round as Belgium.

Dance anthem “ Pump up the Jam ”, which reached No. 1 in the US and No. 2 in the UK in 1989 was by the Belgian band Technotronic . Their new version of the mega hit has just come and is hitting the dance floors the world over.

Catholic priest Monseigneur Georges Lemaître, born in Charleroi in 1894, actually invented the Big Bang theory which was published in 1927 in the Annals of the Brussels Scientific Society.

The most translated works in the world after the Bible are the books of Liege -born Belgian author Georges Simenon of Inspector Maigret fame.

William the Conqueror imported the Bloodhound to England. It was in fact a special breed of dog from St Hubert in Wallonia, Southern Belgium.
William's mother was Arlette de Huy, she was proceeding from Huy, a small town located on the River Meuse and in the Pince-bishophood of Liège.

One of the very first feminist in the world was a priest named Lambert Le Bègue (the stuttering Lambert) - He founded the béguinages in Liege one century before they were replicated in Germany, Netherlands and Flanders . The very name Béguines (given to the women who were observing the rules of religious life without being nuns) and Beguinages come from his nickname.

The internationally renowned Belgian restaurants chain "Le Pain Quotidien" (French for "the Daily Bread") was founded in Brussels by Walloon chef Alain Coumont. All Belgian products served and sold in the restaurants are made in Wallonia and in Brussels, the French speaking parts of Belgium, and the very concept of those common tables is proceeding from the traditional villages cafés and warm-hearted welcoming attitude, which so are typical of Wallonia's Belgian Ardennes.

Fascinating Facts about Huy

Huy is the birthplace of:

Arlette (or Herleva) (c1003-c1050), the mother of Duke William II of Normandy, who invaded England in 1066 and became King William I “the Conqueror” of England.

Peter the Hermit (c1050 — c1100), a popular preacher who whipped up support for the First Crusade in France, the Low Countries and Germany. He went to the Holy Land with the Crusaders and preached a famous sermon to the Crusader army shortly before it attacked and took Jerusalem on 15 July 1099. A legend says that he returned to Huy and founded the abbey at Neufmoustier in 1100, dying there in 1115.

Alain Coumont (b1945), the founder of Le Pain Quotidien (“Our Daily Bread”), a rapidly-expanding chain of organic café-baker’s shops that now has more than 80 branches in 10 countries.

Jean-Joseph Merlin (1735-1803), the inventor of the roller-skate, as well as musical instruments and automata.

Luc Baiwir (b1958) the composer, whose best-known work is his Symphonie des Ages, commissioned by the Royal Wallonia Opera in 2000. He is famous for his huge stadium concerts of electronic music.

According to the historian Jo Gérard, chips (frites, French-Fries) which make up half of the Belgian national dish, were first cooked in Huy. In support of his claim, he offers a 1781 family manuscript which describes how the poor of the Andenne district (which includes Huy) used to catch small fish in the River Meuse and fry them as a treat. In the winter, when the river froze and it was not possible to fish, they would cut potatoes into fish-shaped pieces and fry them in the same way as they fried fish. The writer in 1781 states that this practice was already current more than a hundred years previously.

Fascinating Facts about Spa

Spa has given its name to thermal treatment centres all over the world. Its origins go back into the mists of time. In Ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder wrote “ In Tongaria, a region of Gaul, there is a famous spring whose water sparkles with bubbles and has a distinct aftertaste of iron. The water is an excellent purgative; it cures tertiary fevers and dissipates kidney stones. When the water boils, it bubbles furiously and leaves behind a red residue” (Book 31, Chapter 8). Apparently, the local Celtic Druids also knew of the spring’s medicinal properties and had venerated it for ages. However, Spa did not really develop as a centre for curative holidays until the fourteenth century, when the rich and famous from around the world came here and boosted its fame.

Spa had the first casino in Europe, owned by the Prince-Bishop of Liège, and known as La Redoute, which opened in 1763. A theatre was added to the building in 1769, followed by a ballroom in 1770 and the Waux-Hall (Vauxhall) pleasure gardens in 1776.

Natives of Spa are called Spadois. Spa has attracted many famous people over the years, including Georges Krins the leader of the orchestra on the SS Titanic, who famously played the hymn “Nearer My God To Thee” as the ship was sinking. He studied at the Liège Conservatory, before joining the Grande Symphonie de Spa, moving to Paris in 1910 and then to the Ritz Hotel in London, from where he was recruited by the White Star Line to play on board the Titanic. He died in the wreck of the Titanic in 1912 and his body was never recovered. A public collection in Liège raised over 2,000 francs (around €4,000 today) for a memorial to Krins, but it was never built due to the German occupation in the First World War.

Agatha Christie the English detective-story writer was a frequent visitor, and made Spa the birthplace of her detective Hercule Poirot, who investigates crimes in 33 novels and 54 short stories, published between 1920 and 1975.

Emperor Joseph II visited Spa in 1781 and described it as “the café of Europe” due to the cosmopolitan nature of its visitors, who would assemble to discuss current affairs in the Pump Rooms and other places.

King Henry VIII of England took the waters at Spa, as did Casanova, Tsar Peter the Great of Russia and Alexandre Dumas père. Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 film Barry Lyndon refers to Spa and contains many scenes set in eighteenth-century Spa.

Avant-garde Belgium

Over the ages, Belgium and the Belgians have often been at the cutting edge of innovation, for example:


The Béguinages, religious communities for women founded in Liège by charismatic and controversial preacher Lambert Le Bègue (Lambert the Stammerer) in the twelfth century, at a time when nearly all such communities were for men only. Lambert Le Bègue is also renowned for his reformist attitude well ahead of the time of Martin Luther. Some of his letter are kept at the Museum Hunterianum in Glasgow.


The Paris métro was designed and built from 1900 onwards by the Belgian Baron Empain’s pioneering company which built electric railways and tramways all over the world.

The luxury Orient Express, best-known of a series of long-distance trains operated by the Wagons-Lit Company, founded by the Liège bornGeorges Nagelmackers in 1872.


Art Nouveau flourished in Brussels avant-garde spheres from 1890's to 1914. The leader of the Art Nouveau movement was Brussels architecte Victor Horta. After the WWI, he was in search of purest lines and concept and he took a major part in the launch of the Art Deco movement, which is typical of the 30s'.


Surrealism is a very Belgian thing. And it certainly is in many respects, including politics. Brussels and Wallonia can pride themselves in sheltering two major surrealist movement group, internationally acclaimed. There were the group of Hainaut surrealists and the group of Brussels surrealists. Despite the differences in politics and phylosphy of the movement, they both share strong support and friendship from internationally acclaimed painter René Magritte, who was born and lived in Hainaut, Wallonia, before setting down in Brussels for the second part of his life.


Flat ballet shoes were introduced by French-Belgian dancer Marie-Anne de Cupis de Camargo in the 1700’s, which revolutionised the art form as well as fashion!


The guide to French usage Le Bon Usage, written by Belgian schoolmaster Maurice Grévisse in 1936 because he couldn’t find the sort of grammar book he needed on the market: it remains a best-seller today.


The French publishing-house Actes Sud, founded by the Belgian Hubert Nyssen in 1978, was among the first to translate major works of modern literature in other languages into French and publish them in France.

The creation of the strip cartoon and animated cartoons had much to do with the skill of many Belgian artists. Belgium remains a centre of the “9th Art” with many new artists following the example of the early greats.


The ground-breaking “mockumentary” film C’est arrivé près de chez vous - in English: Man Bites Dog, directed by the Belgians Belvaux and Bonzel in 1992 which used hand-held cameras and scenes of graphic violence to create an ultra-realist atmosphere. This film is a cinema history milestone according to American director Martin Scorcese.

Moral questions:

In 2002, Belgium became the second country in the world to legalise euthanasia in certain specific circumstances, where doctors can assist terminally-ill patients to die, in the name of the right to die in a dignified manner.
The writer Hugo Claus, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, opted for euthanasia in 2008.

Belgium introduced marriages for gay and lesbian couples in 2003 (the second country in the world to do so). The civil ceremony is legally-recognised, is exactly the same as that for heterosexual couples, and is available to anyone legally resident in the country. By 2005, over 2,500 gay and lesbian couples had married in Belgium.

More coming soon!...

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Belgian Tourist Office Wallonia 217 Marsh Wall London E14 9FJ Tel: 0207 531 0390 info@belgiumtheplaceto.be