Visit the world's largest courthouse in Brussels

Like any self-respecting capital, Brussels is packed with iconic sights. The Grand-Place and its town hall, the Mont des Arts, the Atomium and Saint Michelle and Gudule cathedrals are just some of the city's must-sees. But the most imposing building in Brussels is none other than the Palace of Justice. At 26,000 square metres, it is bigger than St Peter's Basilica in Rome. When it was built, it could boast of being the tallest building in the world. Today it still holds the title of the world's largest courthouse. If you're looking to discover one of Brussels' most emblematic buildings, stop off at the Palais de Justice. With its stunning architecture, imposing courtrooms and rich history, it's a must-see for travellers interested in history, culture and architecture.

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History of Parliament

Built by architect Joseph Poelaert between 1866 and 1883, it was in 1861 that Belgian Prime Minister Victor Tesh chose Joseph Poelaert to design the city's new courthouse. The end of the 19th century was marked by the need of rising nations to prove their power and superiority. From then on, everyone set about constructing buildings, each more impressive than the last. But the architecture of the 19th century is still marked by this building, which was the tallest in the world at the time! Measuring 116 metres high, it is even taller than the Atomium (102m).

For its time, it was an enormous undertaking, with a pharaonic budget of more than 50 million francs, representing the entire budget allocated to the work of the entire kingdom for one year, whereas the initial estimate was only 4 million francs. To this day, it remains a mystery why the architect was allowed to exceed the budget and the rules imposed for the construction of this colossal palace, often nicknamed "the mammoth" by local residents. It was inaugurated in 1883, even though the architect Poelaert was dead, he would not see his last work finished.

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Where to stay near the Palais de Justice.

⭐The Hotel Brussels

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The Hôtel Brussels

The Hotel Brussels is located in one of the tallest buildings in Brussels, less than 15 minutes' walk from the Grand Place.
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The architect's project was colossal: through this construction, he wanted to symbolise the synthesis of the history of humanity in a single building. What's more, the construction meant sacrificing part of the Marolles district, one of the most popular in the city. People were expropriated at derisory prices and saw their homes demolished. Poelaert himself lived in the district. When you visit the courthouse, you'll be amazed by its impressive architecture, which blends elements of different architectural styles, such as Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical. You can admire the sculptures, columns, balustrades and other decorative elements that adorn the building, as well as the frescoes that cover the ceilings and walls. There are no fewer than 250 rooms and 27 impressive courtrooms. You'll also find around 105 portraits of magistrates, public prosecutors, kings, dukes and lawyers, detailing the history of Belgian justice.

Interior of Palais de Justice

- © Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock

Anyone can enter the courthouse and admire the sights as they enter the building. In the main hall, you'll find offices where lawyers confer with their clients. But it's not uncommon to also see students studying for their lectures. Guided tours are also available. For 1 hour, you can discover the history of this emblematic building and unravel its mysteries.

Intérieur du Palais de Justice

- © Adam Zoltan / Shutterstock

Practical information

📍 Address: Place Peolaert 1, 1000 Brussels

Opening times : Open to the public Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm.

👉 For a guided tour:

To book your guided tour, you must register via the Arkadia website. Tours are organised every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon.

👛 Prices:

Wednesday - Adults: 13 euros / Under 26s: 10 euros

Saturday - Adults: 16 euros / Under 26s: 12 euros

Bookings and further information on the arkadia website

Intérieur du palais de justice

- © Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock

As you will have gathered, it is surely one of the most imposing buildings in Europe, steeped in history and with an eclectic Greco-Roman style. However, the people of Brussels know it best for its scaffolding, a veritable forest of steel that surrounds it and has stood there since 1984! It's as if the courthouse had been condemned to work forever. The renovations are as imposing as the grandeur of the palace itself. Brussels residents under the age of 40 have never seen the courthouse without its scaffolding, which now seems to be an integral part of the building.

At the time, the company in charge of the renovations apparently went bankrupt, and the matter was passed back and forth between the various Belgian administrations. State, region, city, the case got lost in all the different jurisdictions. And the longer it goes on, the bigger the workload becomes. Every year, the work is postponed and the costs multiplied. The first stage of the renovations will involve refurbishing and stabilising the scaffolding... What's more, as the monument is a listed historic monument, there are some specific requirements for its restoration. For example, around 15% of the stonework will have to be replaced. However, these stones must be original in order to comply with the obligation to protect the heritage. One thing is certain, however: the scaffolding will have to be removed by 2030 at the latest, to mark Belgium's bicentenary. In short, a Belgian-style story, as they know so well how to make it!

The palace scaffolding

- © Eric Isselee / Shutterstock

To finish your visit, don't forget to take a look at the magnificent panorama from the Place Poelaert, where the Palace of Justice is located. An absolutely magnificent skyline of the city of Brussels. At sunset, you can watch Brussels turn majestic shades of orange-pink.

by Val HANCOCK
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