Brussels started life as a village toward the end of the 10th century. It was ruled over by various kings of Flanders through the ages, most notably Charles V, Archduke of the Habsburgs and Holy Roman Emperor. The city grew gradually around its increasingly magnificent Grand'Place, but it really began to flourish following Belgian independence in 830. By the end of the 19th century it had established itself as one of the liveliest cities in Europe.
In 1958 it was chosen for its central location and political neutrality to be the European Economic Community's new headquarters, an honour which was a precursor to its current hosting of many of the European Union's administrative and political arms. As a by-product of Europe's increasing integration, more and more international businesses have invaded the city, all wanting to be close to the hub of power. The result is a clash of old and new: swaths of steel-and-glass office buildings set only a few steps from cobblestoned streets.
But this contradiction has always been part of the city's strength—and charm. Here, it seems, architectural harmony has never been a major influence on building design. A step-gabled medieval town house may sit right beside something made of brick from the 1950s, and the only thing separating that from an anonymous concrete structure might be a swirling Art Nouveau creation designed by Victor Horta. This architectural randomness is so synonymous with the city that it's even been termed "Brusselization" by some.
In terms of population, diversity is now the capital's greatest strength; one-third of the city's million-strong population are non-Belgians. You're just as likely to hear Arabic or Swedish spoken on the streets as French or Flemish.
With such a mishmash of ideas and images, Brussels can seem a little slapdash at first glance. And while the city might not appeal to everyone at first, it's definitely a place that's worth getting to know better. And to know the city is to love it.