Belgium History, Languages, Customs, Traditions, Religious Beliefs



A short and entertaining walk on the history of Belgium, a country without its own language, adopting Flemish and French.

The Kingdom of Belgium is a country belonging to Europe, a member of the European Union, whose capital is Brussels . It is in 77th place in terms of population ( 11.4 million inhabitants), 135th in area (30,528 km 2 ). Its human development index is very high (22nd place) and its official currency is the Euro. It is a member of the Benelux economic union ( BE lgium, NE derlands and LUX emburgo ). 


The Romans conquered Belgium in 57 BC and was integrated into the Roman Empire as Gallia Belgica. However, in the 5th century AD, Roman rule collapsed and the Franks conquered Belgium. His first capital was in Tournai. In the 9th century the Franks ruled most of Western Europe. However, his empire was also broken.

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Then, in the 11th century, Flanders (more or less modern Belgium) emerged as a powerful semi-independent kingdom. It also became prosperous. In the 12th and 13th centuries the wool industry in Belgium boomed (the fabric was made using wool imported from England ).

Trade has also continued with France , Germany , Spain and Italy . Flemish (Belgian) cities such as Bruges, Ghent, and Ypres flourished.

However, the rich and powerful cities of Belgium came into conflict with the kings of France . The counts of Belgium were vassals of the French king and he was often at war with England . However, Belgium was dependent on English wool and merchants were unwilling to side with the French against the English . Furthermore, the French king hoped to integrate Belgium into his kingdom.

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The situation reached its peak in 1302 when the artisans of Bruges refused to pay a new tax. The French king sent soldiers to garrison the city. However, Pieter De Coninck, a weaver, and Jan Breydel, a butcher, led a rebellion on May 18, 1302.

They killed anyone who couldn’t pronounce the Flemish words schild end vriend. The Bruges uprising spread to the rest of Belgium and a French army was sent to crush it.

However, Belgian peasants and artisans crushed the French at the Battle of the Golden Spurs on July 11, 1302. (The Belgians disguised a swamp with scrub and the French knights fell into the trap). Afterwards, the Belgians collected 600 golden spurs. After the battle, France was forced to recognize the independence of Flanders.

In the 14th century, an area of ​​what is now called Burgundy was a powerful kingdom. In 1377 the Duke of Burgundy married Margaret of Flanders, the heir to the Count of Flanders. After the Count’s death in 1385, Flanders became part of the territory of Burgundy.

Under Burgundian rule, commerce continued to flourish. It was also a great time of achievement in art with such famous artists as Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441) and Hans Memling (1440-1494). Furthermore, the University of Leuven was founded in 1425.


Then, in 1477, Maria, heir to the Duke of Burgundy, married Maximilian of Austria. So Belgium came under Austrian rule . Maximilian’s grandson, Carlos I, became ruler of Spain , as well as Austria and Belgium. However, in 1566 that huge kingdom was divided. Carlos’s son, Felipe, became king of Spain and Belgium. So Belgium came under Spanish rule .

Meanwhile, in the 16th century, all of Europe was shaken by the Protestant Reformation, but the majority of the people in Belgium remained Catholic. Then in the late 17th century, the European powers fought for Belgium. In 1714, at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession, Austria received Belgium.

However, in 1794 the French army occupied Belgium. In 1795 Belgium was annexed by France . The French revolutionaries introduced a series of reforms, but in 1797 they also introduced compulsory military service. The result was a rebellion in 1798, but the French crushed it and remained in control.

At the beginning of the 19th century Belgium began to industrialize. Coal mining skyrocketed. So did the textiles and metallurgical industries. However, in 1815 Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. Later, the great powers redrew the map of Europe. Belgium and the Netherlands joined as one country.

However, the union was never going to work, as Belgium and the Netherlands were too different from an economic and cultural point of view. On August 25, 1830, rebellion broke out and at a conference in January 1831 the great powers agreed to recognize Belgian independence.


On July 21, 1831, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg became king of Belgium and reigned until 1865. During his reign, Belgium continued to industrialize, but the tension between two linguistic groups, the Flemish and the Walloons, was increasing.

Leopold II reigned from 1865 to 1909. He hoped to make Belgium more powerful and in 1885 he took control of an area called Belgian Congo. However, Africans were treated with appalling cruelty and in 1908 the Belgian government took control from Leopold. He died in 1909, but Belgium ruled the Congo until 1960.

Belgium suffered greatly during the two world wars. In 1914 Belgium was neutral, but the Germans invaded anyway. The Belgians bravely resisted, but almost their entire country was invaded and the Germans treated them brutally.

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Belgium was neutral again in 1940, but once again the Germans invaded the country. However, the Allies liberated Brussels on September 3, 1944. After the war, Belgium was devastated.

However, Belgium soon recovered from World War II and in 1957 was one of the founding members of the EU. Brussels is now the headquarters of the EU. Furthermore, Belgium joined the euro in 1999. At the end of the 20th century, Belgium became a prosperous society. Television started in Belgium in 1953.

Today Belgium is a prosperous country, although unemployment was 7.3% in 2017. Today, the population of Belgium is 11.5 million.


Belgium Official language

what language is spoken in Belgium? or officially spoken language in Belgium is the most asked question.

The official languages ​​of Belgium are the following three:

  • The Flemish (59% = 6.7 million), change in Dutch, which is spoken in the northern part of the country (region bordering Netherlands ).
  • The French (40% = 4.6 million), spoken in the south (border with France ).
  • The German (1% = 0.1 million) in a small area east of Liège bordering Germany.

Bilingualism is much more popular for Flemings, given that 60% of them speak French, while Walloons hardly know Flemish (20%), resulting in a total bilingual population of 65% (7.4 million) . The only place where both languages ​​are official is in Brussels.

The most common minority languages ​​are Italian, Arabic, Turkish and Spanish. According to the European barometer, 38% (4.3 million) of the Belgian population speak English as a foreign language.


Despite the fact that Wallonia has a larger area than Flanders (more than 3,000 km 2 ), it has almost double the inhabitants (3 million more approximately), giving rise to a larger population with Flemish as their native language, its capital being Namur . The German-speaking community lives east of Liège, with its capital in Eupen.

The only region with a mixture of the two predominant languages is the capital, Brussels , although French predominates. It has a population of more than 1 million inhabitants in just 161 km 2 , and it is the financial and business center of the country, where the European Parliament is located. Here, at its Parliamentarian visitor center  , you can go through the history of both the Parliament and the European Union in the 23 official languages ​​of the European Union plus sign language.


Flemish ( vlaams ) is a dialect of Dutch (language of Holland, Netherlands), spoken in the northern Belgian region, in Flanders, by 59% ( 6.7 million ) of the Belgian population, then it is the most talked about across the country. The main dialects are Bravante, Western and Eastern Flemish, and Limburgish. All of these are spoken across the Dutch border as well, with the exception of Western Flemish which is spoken in the French part of Flanders.

These dialects of Flemish have adopted much more vocabulary from French and other Romance languages ​​through mutual cultural exchanges over the course of history compared to other dialects of Dutch. Because of this, they are not always intelligible outside the limits of Flanders. Words that are unique to Belgian Dutch are called  belgicisms.


French ( français ) is the second most common language , with 40% of the population (about 4.6 million), and is spoken in the Wallonia region as well as in Brussels (which belongs to Flanders). Almost all the inhabitants of Brussels speak this language, since 50% are native and 45% use it asℹ  lingua franca.

The similarities between Belgian French and standard Parisian French are almost identical, differing slightly on some points of vocabulary, pronunciation and semantics.


German ( Deutsch ) is the least prevalent of the official languages, since less than 1% of the population speaks it (about 77,000 inhabitants). Its speakers reside in the area that the German Empire ceded to Belgium in the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, at the conclusion of the First World War. This region was re-annexed to Nazi Germany in 1940 when they invaded the country; however, it was returned when World War II ended.


The language used by the authorities, administration, military and education is determined by the courts.

The policy of the Belgian National Railways is to display train information in the language of the region . For example, if we travel from Antwerp (Flemish part) to Charleroi (French-speaking part), the announcements are made first in Flemish, then in French and Flemish (in Brussels) and later only in French.

This forces train travelers to be informed of the names of the destinations in both languages. The reviewers ticket are required to be bilingual, since they must be able to respond in both languages. At international stations , such as Brussels Airport, information is additionally displayed in German and English.


As in the railway information, it is only required to write the destinations in the local language, forcing the drivers to know the final destination in a bilingual way. For example, on the famous European route E40, on the way to Liege (French part), travelers heading from the Flemish part (west) will see Luik written  , while those coming from the German part (east) will see  Lüttich , and once they enter the Francophone zone, they will be able to read  Liège .


To avoid political conflicts, and knowing that not all footballers have a common official language, English is used. There are even players who know up to 6 languages, as is the case with forward Lukaku, who is fluent in English, French, Flemish, Portuguese, Spanish and Swahili.


A look at the customs and traditions of Belgium, a country at the political epicenter of Europe.



Bread and potatoes are the traditional staples. Most meals include pork, chicken, or beef, and seafood is popular in the northern part of the country. The national drink is beer, but wine is imported in large quantities.

In northern cities, popular dishes include mussels with chips and waterzooi, a vegetable broth and meat or fish. Across the country, French fries are eaten with steaks or raw minced meat. Cooking is traditionally done with butter instead of oil; there is also a high consumption of dairy products.

Immigration has ensured the diversity of “ethnic” restaurants and is gradually changing the eating habits of residents in areas of cultural mix.


Christmas is an occasion for great family meals with grandparents and cousins. There are many other occasions for long meals in public and private celebrations, such as weddings, funerals, and the days dedicated to the saints of the city and the parish. Cakes are associated with religious and civil occasions.

At Christmas, people eat sweet bread in the shape of the baby Jesus; at Easter, children are told that eggs are thrown in the gardens by the flying bells of churches; and the grains of sugar are distributed to those who visit a young mother.


There are not many interactions on the streets, as the residential, work and leisure areas tend to be different. Among young people, especially Francophones, girls rarely shake hands but kiss other girls and boys.


Catholicism is the main religious faith. The government financially supports the Catholic and Protestant churches, as well as the Jewish and Muslim religions. The Catholic Church controls a large network of schools with 70 percent of students in secondary education and two major universities.

Religious beliefs and practices declined during the 20th century, but approximately 65 percent of Belgians believe in God. Many people who say they don’t believe in God participate in religious rituals for important events such as baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Minority religions include Muslims, Jews, and Protestants.


Many important secular celebrations are linked to the ethnic identity of Flemings and Francophones. Labor Day on May 1 and World War I Armistice Day are national holidays.

National Day, July 21, commemorates the oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the first king, Leopold I (1790-1865). Mardi Gras is celebrated in various cities.



Aspiring artists and musicians are trained at free and accessible evening schools in most parts of the country. At the postsecondary level, there are many state-supported conservatories and art schools.

An extensive network of art galleries supports avant-garde and traditional artists. Museums in major cities also support artists by purchasing some of their works and making them known to the public.


The existence of a Belgian literature is sometimes denied, with only Flemish and Walloon or French and Dutch writers being Belgian citizens. However, authors such as Charles de Coster (1827-1879) and Emile Verhaeren (1855-1916) wrote in French on Flemish themes.

Another important Francophone writer from Flanders was the Symbolist Maurice Maeterlinck. The main Flemish writers of the 19th century were Hendrik Conscience and Guido Gezelle. Flemish and Francophone writers contributed to important literary movements such as Symbolism, Surrealism, and Magical Realism.

Important themes are the harshness of life, the questioning of the nature of reality and the search for original ways to get through life. Distrust of authority was present in one of the oldest Flemish tales, Reynard the Fox, in which the little fox is smarter than the big animals.


The golden age of graphic arts lasted from the 14th to the 17th century and was mainly embodied in painting. The Flemish Primitive school of painting (14th and 15th centuries) made the region the main artistic center in Europe outside of Italy .

Artists such as Jan Van Eyck (1395-1441) and Rogier Van Der Weyden (1400-1464) were interested in spatial composition and psychology and gave realism to the colors and textures of living objects and materials. The leading artistic figure of the next century was Pieter Breughel the Elder (1525-1569), with his lively paintings of peasant life.

Pieter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was the most famous painter of his time, receiving commissions from European sovereigns. His main focus was the human figure. Rubens influenced Anthony Van Dyk (1599-1641) and Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678).

The graphic arts declined until the end of the 19th century, when James Ensor and René Magritte (in the 20th century) revived the avant-garde. The most innovative works of living artists can be seen in the museums of contemporary art in Antwerp and Ghent.


The Franco-Flemish style dominated European music in the 15th and 16th centuries, with composers such as Josquin des Prez and Orlando di Lasso. In the 20th century, the most famous Belgian musician was the singer Jacques Brel. Several living classical composers are active. Harmonic Toots Thielemans is the most famous jazz musician. The Blindman Kwartet combines jazz, pop and classical music.

The presence in Brussels between 1959 and 1987 of the French choreographer Maurice Béjart stimulated a new generation of choreographers. The main theatrical centers are De Singel in Antwerp and the Kaai Teater in Brussels. Several theaters and orchestras are supported by the government.

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