Belgium, or officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a Federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy. The current King is Philippe of Belgium, whom ascended the throne on July 21st, 2013. In reality the King does not have real power and mostly plays a representable role.
Belgium is a small country (only 30,528 km2 or 11,787 sq mi) in Western Europe, with a population around 11,035,948 according to the 2012 census. Belgium is centrally located between the Latin and Germanic speaking parts of Western Europe. Because of this strategic location it has always been a flourishing region throughout history but has also seen many battles, hence the nickname “Battlefield of Europe”. Belgium has a coastline on the North Sea, part of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s neighboring countries are The Netherlands in the north, Germany in the East, Luxembourg (the country, not the Belgian province with the same name) south-east and France in the south. The capital of Belgium is Brussels, which is also the biggest city in the country.
Belgium consists of the Flemish, Dutch-speaking, region of Flanders in the north and the Walloon, French-speaking, region of Wallonia in the south. The third official region is the bilingual region of Brussels-Capital, although located inside Flanders mostly French is spoken. There is also a German-speaking enclave in the eastern part of Wallonia, but this is not a separate region.
This makes for a very complicated government. Firstly we have the federal government who has dominance on a number of domains such as taxes, justice and many more. Then we have the 3 regions named above (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels) who each have their own government and have dominance over a number of domains such as health-care, tourism, agriculture and many more.
Then there are the 3 official languages who form their own communities with again a government. The Flemish region, where only Dutch is spoken, has the same government for the region and the community. For Wallonia or Brussels, this is not possible because of the multiple languages. The community government has dominance on domains such as education, culture, youth and many more.
Together this makes a very difficult country to govern and difficulties forming a federal government after each federal election. Because of this Belgium obliterated the record for longest time needed to form a government after an election (541 days after the 2010-2011 election). The most troublesome topic is the state reforming, the more wealthy Flemish region wants more independence and thus more dominance about a number of domains, whilst the Walloon region opposes this.
Brussels, the capital, is mostly known for the statue of “MannekePis”, a naked child urinating. But also the Grand Place with the spectacular City Hall and the Atomium, a huge (102m 335ft high) statue representing the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal. It was built for the 1958 World Expo that was held in Brussels.
Flanders is known for its lovely cities rich on history, the most famous being Bruges in the western part of Flanders. But there is also Antwerp, Ghent, Leuven and Ypres. The year 2014 marks the 100 year anniversary of World War 1 and many festivities are focusing on Ypres and the surrounding Flanders Fields. Ghent and Bruges are towns with a nice medieval city centre rich on history . Leuven has a mix of history and students, because it’s home to “Katholieke Universiteit Leuven”, the largest university of the low countries and the oldest catholic university still in existence. Antwerp, the largest Flemish city, has the second largest harbor in Europe, and is a modern city with a taste for fashion. The “Onze-lieve-vrouw”-cathedral is the largest (120m 390ft) of the low countries. During the middle ages Antwerp was a gathering place for artists and cultural development.
Wallonia is known for the Ardennes, a region of forests, rough terrain, hills and ridges. There a number of large cities worth visiting such as Charleroi, Liège, Namur, Mons and Tournai. There are also some unique historic sites such as “The Lion’s Mound” where Napoleon was defeated.
Belgian Coat of Arms image used from Wikipedia, original author: sodacan. This image is licensed as Creative Commons Attribute Share-Alike.
Belgian flag image used from Wikipedia, original author: Dbenbenn and others. This image is in the public domain.
European map image used from Wikipedia, original author: NuclearVacuum. This image is licensed as Creative Commons Attribute Share-Alike.
Belgian regions image and caption used from Wikipedia, original author: Ssolbergj. This image and caption is licensed as Creative Commons Attribute Share-Alike.
Brussels region flag image used from Wikipedia, original author: Ssolbergj. This image and caption is licensed as Creative Commons Attribute Share-Alike.
Flanders region flag image used from Wikipedia, original author: Lemmens Tom. This image is in the public domain.
Wallonia region flag image used from Wikipedia, original author: Cedric de Launois. This image is in the public domain.