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What are the greatest Belgian contributions to the world ?

We live in an increasingly globalized world and it is not always easy to know who invented what, and what each country contributed to modern society and to our shared historical heritage. To make sense of all this, Eupedia created a list of major inventions by country and polls about the greatest contributions to the world (other than inventions) of many European countries. On this page you will find our selection of Belgian contributions to global society. Feel free to propose additional contributions on the forum.


Paintings
Flemish Renaissance & Baroque paintings

The Flemish painter Jan van Eyck (c. 1390-1441) has been credited with the invention of oil painting on wood panel support. Whether it was him or another contemporary Flemish painter remains controversial. What is certain is that Flemish masters of the 15th- and 16th-centuries brought the Renaissance movement out of Italy to Northern Europe and gave the world some of the most beautiful oil paintings of this period, with artists like Robert Campin, Rogier van der Weyden, Jan van Eyck, Quentin Matsys, Bernard van Orley, or the Bruegel family (eight members in all). The Renaissance gave way to the Baroque style in the late 16th and 17th centuries, and Flemish painters remained among Europe's most prominent, notably with Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, and Jacob Jordaens. In the 20th century Belgium was mostly famous for surrealist painters like James Ensor, Paul Delvaux and René Magritte.

Comic books
Belgian comic books

The world of comic strips just wouldn't be the same without Belgian comics. Although the first comic strip appeared in Switzerland in the 1820s, comics didn't become popular until the creation of Tintin by Hergé in the 1920s. The Adventures of Tintin have since been translated into over 50 languages and remain the most widely known Belgian comic in the world. From the 1940s and 50s, series like Lucky Luke, The Smurfs, Blake and Mortimer, Spike and Suzy, Spirou et Fantasio, and Gaston Lagaffe made their appearance. More mature graphic novels destined for late teenagers and adults emerged from the 1980s, with authors like Jean Van Hamme (Largo Winch, Thorgal, XIII), Jean Dufaux (Djinn, Murena) or Stephen Desberg (Le Scorpion, IR$).

Saxophone
Saxophone

Originally designed in 1846 for military bands, the saxophone became one of most popular instruments in jazz and classical music. Indeed, what would be jazz without the saxophone ? Yet not a lot of people know that the instrument was invented by the Belgian Adolphe Sax (1814-1894), after whom it was named. Famous orchestral pieces that make use of saxophone(s) include Maurice Ravel's Boléro, Georges Bizet's L'Arlésienne, Sergei Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, Sergei Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, and Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story.

Mercator map projection
Original Mercator map projection from 1569

In 1569, the Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator devised the first world map using a cylindrical projection. It became the standard map projection for nautical purposes because of its ability to represent lines of constant course, known as rhumb lines or loxodromes, as straight segments which conserve the angles with the meridians.

Chocolates
Belgian pralines

Belgium is famous around the world for its high quality chocolate, be it chocolate bars (like Côte d'Or) or pralines. Cacao beans were first brought from Central America to Europe by the Spaniards in the early 16th century, when modern Belgium was politically united to Spain through the Habsburgian Empire. At first, cocoa was only consumed as a hot drink, and quickly adopted by the court of Emperor Charles V in Ghent and Brussels. However, it is only in the 19th century that the the modern chocolate bar came into existence, using various techniques developed in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Piedmont. In 1857, the Swiss immigrant Jean Neuhaus opened a chocolate shop in Brussels. His grandson, Jean Neuhaus II, invented the chocolate bonbon or praline in 1912. The praline would become the hallmark of Belgian confectionery. Nowadays there are over 2,000 Belgian chocolatiers, including Leonidas, Debailleul, Galler, Pierre Marcolini, Godiva, Guylian, and of course Neuhaus.

Beers
Belgian beer

Belgium has more varieties of beer per capita than any other country in the world. There are over 800 kinds of Belgian beers produced by some 180 breweries in the country, covering nearly all types of beer, including pale lager, lambic beer, abbey beer, Trappist, amber ale, blond ale, brown ale, strong ale, Flemish red ale, Flemish sour brown ale, India Pale Ale, Scotch ale, dubbel, tripel, saison, stout, and white beer. The Belgian-based multinational AB InBev is the world's largest brewer with nearly 25 percent global market share, and sells Belgian brands such as Stella Artois, Leffe and Hoegaarden. Other well known Belgian beers include Chimay, Duvel, Grimbergen, Gueuze, Kriek, Maredsesous, Orval, Rochefort, Rodenbach, Westmalle and Westvleteren.

Cheeses
Cheese

Like beer, Belgian cheese has its roots in medieval abbeys and the two are indissociable from each others for many Belgians. The most famous brands of Belgian cheese are often also the most famous brands of beer (e.g. Affligem, Chimay, Maredsous, Orval, Saint-Feuillien, Westmalle). There are over 50 varieties of Belgian cheeses. The most common are semi-hard (Gouda type) cheeses, but soft, hard, blue and cottage cheeses are also made.

Waffles
Belgian waffles (gauffres)

Waffles seem to have originated around the Low Countries and northern France during the late Middle Ages. The English word 'waffle' comes from Dutch, itself derived from the Frankish wafla, which is also the root for the French gauffre (waufres in Old French). Bruegel's paintings in the 15th century already shows waffles being cooked. The most common type of waffles (those sold in the street) are known as Liège waffles, which are rich, dense and sweet, often containing pearls of sugar. The dessert waffle served in restaurants is the Brussels waffle. Perfectly rectangular in shape, it is lighter and crisper than Liège waffles, and is typically served with fruits, powdered sugar, ice cream and/or whipped cream on top. Another common type is the quatre-quarts (especially in Wallonia), which is rectangular and made with milk, which makes it particularly soft. Flemish waffles, also traditional of French Flanders, are round, thin, dry and has smaller pockets than other waffles. Ironically what Americans call "Belgian waffles" are a North American type of waffle that does not exist in Belgium and is halfway bewteen the Flemish and Brussels waffles.

Chips/French fries
Belgian fries (frites)

Like waffles, chips (UK), French/Belgian fries (US) or frites (French and Dutch) appear to have their roots in the historical Low Countries, including the northern tip of modern France. Belgian chips are typically thick and served with mayonnaise or one of a dozen other Belgian frites sauces (andalouse, américaine, cocktail, samouraï, tartare), although very rarely with ketchup. The use of ketchup is a recent American import. When accompanying beef steak, frites are most commonly served with green pepper sauce, Archiduc sauce (mushroom and cream sauce) or Béarnaise sauce - although these are French in origin.

Brussels sprouts & Belgian endives
Brussels sprouts

Two vegetables, Brussels sprouts and Belgian endives, were originally produced in Belgium and are now eaten in many countries. Brussels sprouts are a kind of miniature cabbage that originated in late medieval Belgium, and are well known for their potent anticancer properties. Belgian endives are a leaf chicory grown completely underground in order to prevent the leaves from turning green and opening up. They are known as witloof in Dutch, chicon in Belgian French, and chicory in British English, and were first grown in a suburb of Brussels in the 1850s. Belgium now exports them to over 40 different countries.

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