Brussels' location on the shores of the Senne placed it on an important trade route between Bruges, Ghent and Cologne. As a result, the town grew rapidly into a city between the 11th and the 13th centuries. During this period, the Grand Place took shape, and the commercial centre expanded to the Upper Town. Belgium passed from Frankish overlords into the control of the French in the Medieval period. It then passed relatively quickly between the Spanish, the Austrians and then to the Dutch in 1815, and as a result there is a blend of architectural styles present in the city today.
However, tensions mounted at the prospect of being ruled by the Dutch, and Brussels became the centre of the Belgian Revolution in 1830, which saw the country establish its independence and a monarchy with relative ease. After a troubled beginning to the 20th century, Brussels rose from the ashes to become the political centre of a new age, thanks in no small part to its location in the centre of Western Europe.
Brussels is still a testament to its history today, as a lot of the medieval streets, lively squares and beautiful buildings have remained intact. No visit to Brussels would be complete without a visit to the Grand Place, the geographical, commercial and historical heart of the city. Though the Grand Place dates back to the 11th century, the ancient market square remains the civic centre even today, and it offers the finest surviving example in one area of Belgium's ornate 17th century architecture. The Grand Place is home to the elegant Maison du Roi. It has served both as the residence of the ruling Spanish monarchs, and also as a guild-house of breadmakers. Today the building is open as a museum featuring stunning tapestries and paintings from the 16th century, and is well worth a visit.
Another of Brussels' most famous sights is Manneken Pis, a statue of a little boy urinating, on Rue de l'Etuve, just a short walk from the Grand Place.