Graffiti was once frowned upon. Today, it’s an emerging form of art that has produced several international artistes of repute. Street art plastered across the streets, walls and buildings have become a tourist attraction internationally.
Mexico City, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Prague and several other cities have a thriving street art culture. Art is sometimes used to attractively cover up crumbling buildings and give old, neglected walls a facelift. It livens up neighbourhoods and transforms the urban landscape.
Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is no exception to street art and murals. We were bowled over by the huge, colourful paintings on building walls. On our recent trip, we spent a day walking around the beautiful cobbled streets of Brussels, pausing at some of its popular attractions, before taking in sights of the colourful murals and street art.
The Grand Place, situated in the heart of the city, is a huge and impressive square that’s surrounded on all four sides by extremely tall, spired buildings. We spent several minutes just taking in the panoramic 360-degree views and the sheer grandeur of the place. The buildings date back to the late 17th Century, and are covered with Baroque gables.
The narrow cobblestone paths lead to the much-loved iconic Belgian symbol — the Manneken Pis. The bronze statue of a young, naked boy urinating into a fountain’s basin was created in the early 1600s. Legend has it that the boy named Julien found enemies trying to use gun powder to attack the city of Brussels. He put out the burning fuse by urinating on it and thus became a hero. There are other such statues as well — Jeanneke Pis (girl pissing) and Zinneke Pis (dog pissing).
We then wandered through the high-end shopping street called Les Galeries Royales Saint Hubert, a beautiful glass-roofed shopping arcade, lined with cafés, and stores selling luxury labels.
Our next stop was the highly impressive 11th-Century historic church — the Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula. Constructed on a hill, the first view, as we approached the church, was spectacular. We learn that it took nearly 300 years to be completed, with each Brabant king adding a specific structure. It is dedicated to and named after Brussels’ patron saints Michael and Gudula. The church building is nearly 100 metres in length and we went around admiring the various statues — noted among them are those of the 12 apostles, Gothic architecture, beautiful glass-stained windows, stone columns, and the grand ceiling. Over the centuries, the church has been witness to several coronations and royal weddings — every pillar and every wall is steeped in history.
Take your pick
Close to the Manneken Pis, we spot a huge painting of the young and intrepid reporter Tintin, his faithful dog Snowy, and his good friend and fellow adventurer Captain Haddock on a building wall. The project of paying tribute to Belgian cartoonists began in 1991; titled the Comic Book Route, it had 10 murals back then. Today, there are nearly 60 murals of Belgian cartoon characters painted on building walls throughout the city.
The Broussaille Wall features a couple walking cheerfully through the streets. We also saw the Victor Sackville Wall, where a British spy of the same name is shown with his lady. Brussels’ street art culture also has Herge’s other cartoon characters — Quick and Flupke, the two naughty boys hiding from the police — splashed on a wall.
We walked past Olivier Rameau’s Wall, a festive mural that shows colourful celebrations in a fantasy land. The popular cartoon of Smurfs, the little blue heroes created by cartoonist Peyo, is near Brussels Central Station.
A day in Brussels is a chance to try their famous gastronomic delights like waffles, chocolates, fries, while viewing the spectacular and colourful murals.