These colors don’t run! Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Well, the pseudo-Muslims are at it again, killing innocent people and trying to turn one of the world’s great faiths into a whacked-out death cult. It’s been 24 hours since the Brussels attacks and now people are mourning, the politicians are posturing, and the police are hunting down suspects. A few extra bombing runs against Islamic State are probably being planned too.
It is, sadly, all too predictable. We’ve seen this before and we will see it again. So I’d like to buck the vibe and take a look at what Brussels has to offer visitors. It’s a beautiful European capital that’s all too often overlooked by people headed to more popular destinations such as London and Paris. That’s a shame, because I’ve visited Belgium several times and have always enjoyed my visits to the city. It’s a fun place with great food, awesome beer, and plenty to see. The fundamentalists haven’t changed that and never will. Here are five things you won’t want to miss.
At the start of World War One, the armies of Europe were still thinking in the terms of the nineteenth century. Many soldiers sported colorful uniforms more suitable for the age of black powder, radio operators broadcast in the clear not thinking anyone would be listening, generals still advocated cavalry and bayonet charges and sneered at newfangled inventions such as the airplane, and forts were considered the best way to defend a country.
Belgium was officially a neutral country. Still, it feared invasion from its more powerful neighbors. It built a string of forts at Liège and Namur to protect against attack from the Germans and French respectively. When the Germans attacked Belgium in their daring sweep to take Paris, they brought heavy siege artillery in order to deal with these forts.
When we think of the Western Front during World War One, we tend to think of the static killing grounds of trench warfare. While this was true for many grueling years of war, during its first months in 1914, WWI was a war of movement.
The German offensive in August 1914 involved a sweep through Belgium in an attempt to take Paris and knock France out of the war before its ally, Russia, could mobilize. What the Germans didn’t expect was the fierce resistence put up by the Belgians. Its small but determined army slowed down the German advance, aided by a string of outdated but stubbornly defended forts.
In my last post, we looked at some of the medieval arms and armor at The Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History in Brussels, Belgium. The impressive medieval collection is only one part of this huge museum, which covers all periods of Belgian history. The Napoleonic and World War Two sections are extensive, but of most interest to me were the Colonial and World War One sections. You won’t find much about Belgian colonial wars outside of Belgium and the small nation had a unique role in the First World War.
Belgium may have been small, but it had colonies in Africa, China, and Guatemala, as well as economic interests in many other areas. The Colonial hall follows the history of Belgian military interventions in these regions.
Europe is filled with many fine museums showcasing medieval arms and armor. Famous collections such as the Tower of London or the Hofburg in Vienna get top billing, but there are dozens more. One interesting collection can be found at The Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History in Brussels, Belgium.
The medieval section is well laid out with displays running chronologically. Armor and weapons from the same half-century are displayed together, giving the visitor a good overall idea of the military technology of that time.
The Napoleonic era has always fascinated me for its visuals — the massive armies, the colorful costumes, and the sweeping scope of some of the battles. These terrible conflicts produced some of the finest military art in European history and I discovered a remarkable example of it when I visited Waterloo, Belgium, last week.
Preserved on the battlefield is a rare example of a panorama. A popular form of entertainment in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, these large paintings are now rare. They were usually of epic scenes such as battles or Biblical stories or famous cities, and would be placed on the inside of round buildings to provide a 360 degree viewing experience. Others were set up on stage and unrolled like a scroll in front of the audience, each part relating a sequence of the story.
The Waterloo panorama is set in a round building and is 110 meters long and 14 meters high. It was painted by Louis Dumoulin and his assistants in 1912, just as those newfangled moving pictures were beginning to make panoramas obsolete.