Officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU’s headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.
Belgium covers an area of 30,528 square kilometres, and it has a population of about 11 million people. Straddling the cultural boundary between Germanic and Latin Europe, Belgium is home to two main linguistic groups, the Dutch-speakers, mostly Flemish (about 60%), and the French-speakers, mostly Walloons (about 40%), plus a small group of German-speakers. Belgium’s two largest regions are the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in the north and the French-speaking southern region of Wallonia.
The Brussels-Capital Region, officially bilingual, is a mostly French-speaking enclave within the Flemish Region. A German-speaking Community exists in eastern Wallonia. Belgium’s linguistic diversity and related political conflicts are reflected in the political history and a complex system of government.
Historically, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg were known as the Low Countries, which used to cover a somewhat larger area than the current Benelux group of states. The region was called Belgica in Latin because of the Roman province Gallia Belgicawhich covered more or less the same area. From the end of the Middle Ages until the 17th century, it was a prosperous centre of commerce and culture. From the 16th century until the Belgian Revolution in 1830, when Belgium seceded from the Netherlands, many battles between European powers were fought in the area of Belgium, causing it to be dubbed the battleground of Europe, a reputation strengthened by both World Wars.
Christianity, in particular catholicism, is the biggest religion in Belgium with about 67% of the population adhering to Catholicism; the second largest group being atheism with about 27%. Apart from Catholicism, other religions recognised by the Belgian state are Islam, Judaism, the Protestant Church, the Anglican Church and the Orthodox Church.
Belgium has a separation between the Church and State, and freedom of religion. Consequently, the State cannot force someone to adhere to a certain religion nor can it ask someone to which he or she adheres.
- 43% of Belgian citizens responded that they believe there is a God.
- 29% answered that they believe there is some sort of spirit or life-force.
- 27% answered that they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life-force.
25 facts about Belgium (that we bet you didn’t know…)
- In 1066, Huy, Belgium became the first European city to receive a charter of rights, making it the oldest free city on the continent.
- Brussels sprouts really do come from Belgium and have grown in the Brussels area for over 400 years.
- Although the exact number is disputed, Belgium makes over 800 different beers. Belgians drink an average of 150 litres of beer per year per person.
- Belgium produces 220,000 tons of chocolate per year. That’s about 22kg of chocolate per person in Belgium.
- Luckily Belgians don’t eat all of that chocolate. The Brussels’ International Airport is the World’s biggest chocolate selling point.
- Belgians tend to be liberal thinkers. They legalised euthanasia in 2002, and gay marriage in 2003.
- Belgium has one of the lowest proportions of McDonald’s in the developed world. It has 7 times fewer McDonald’s restaurants than the USA and 2 times less than France.
- A 2007 European Report stated Belgium has the lowest salary gap between men and women in the EU after Malta. Belgium has the highest proportion of female ministers in the world (55% in 2000) and was one of the first to have a female parliamentarian, in 1921.
- Belgium has compulsory education up to 18 years old. This is one of the highest in the world.
- Belgium also has enforced compulsory voting.
- Belgians pay some of the highest tax rates in the world, around 40% of their gross earnings. Taxation represents 45.6 % of the country’s GDP.
- Belgium grants the most new citizenships per capita in the world after Canada. 1.6 million people in Belgium are immigrants or children or grandchildren of immigrants. That’s 15% of the population.
- Belgium has the highest density of roads and railroads in the world. It is the country with the 3rd most vehicles per square kilometre after the Netherlands and Japan. Because of the quantity of lights, the Belgian highway system is the only man-made structure visible from the moon at night.
- The longest tramway line in the world is the Belgian coast tram (68 km), which operates between De Panne and Knokke-Heist, from the French border to the Dutch border.
- Spa, Belgium is home to Europe’s first modern health resort, opened in the 18th century and Europe’s first casino, “la Redoute”, opened in 1763.
- Belgium is also home to Europe’s oldest shopping arcades, the Galeries St Hubert in Brussels, opened in 1847.
- Belgium was the scene of Napoleon’s final defeat, at Waterloo, south of Brussels.
- The Law Courts of Brussels is the largest court of justice in the world (26,000 m² at ground level). It is bigger than Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
- Nemo33, in Brussels, is the world’s deepest swimming pool, reaching 35 metres in depth. It is a practice ground for scuba divers.
- Most people have heard of the comic strip Tintin, but did you know that in 70 years of existence, 200 million books of “The Adventures of Tintin” have been sold worldwide. Belgium also has more comic makers per square km than any other country in the world, even Japan.
- The saxophone was invented in Belgium, in the early 1840′s by Adolphe Sax (1814-1894), in the city of Dinant.
- The Body Mass Index (BMI) was developed by the Belgian Adolphe Quetelet, and is still used today to determine a person’s ideal weight.
- In the 15th century, Belgians were credited with inventing oil painting.
- 80% of billiard players use Belgian-made balls.
- Brussels was a famous hideout for Europeans in Exile. Karl Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto with Friedrich Engles between 1845 and 1848. Victor Hugo was also exiled here and completed Les Misérables while visiting Waterloo in 1861.