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Thread: Paris & Brussels : big brother, little brother ?

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    Satyavrata Maciamo's Avatar
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    Post Paris & Brussels : big brother, little brother ?

    When walking in some streets of central Brussels (e.g. Boulevard Anspach, Rue du Congrès), you might be mistaken to think you are in Paris. Both Bourses (stock exchanges) are housed in neoclassical buildings. It is also not by chance that Brussels got a street named Rue de Rivoli, and another one Rue des Champs Elysées. The inspiration obviously came from big brother.

    This feeling is quickly taken away by the immense architectural inhomogeneity of Brussels (a sharp contrast with Paris).

    Nevertheless, the more one scratches under the surface, the more similitudes can be found between the two cities. Sometimes it goes beyond the city level, with clear parallel in the countries' systems. Needless to say that Belgium has copied a lot from France when it was created as an independent country in 1830.

    Some resemblances are purely fortuitous though. The river in Paris is the Seine, the one in Brussels is the Senne.

    Both cities are very centralised capitals overshadowing any other city in their respective countries.

    Here are a few other similarities :


    Paris has the Arc de Triomphe, Brussels has the Arches du Cinquantenaire. Paris has the Vendome Column, Brussels has the Congress Column. (see thread Glorious capitals).

    Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Brussels has the Atomium (both huge modern iron structure built for an World Fair).

    Both cities have their late 19th/early 20th century Basilique du Sacré-Coeur (Montmartre and Koekelberg), each with big domes, and each the biggest church in their respective city.

    The French Senate is located in the Parc du Luxembourg, while the European Parliament is located between Parc Leopold and Place du Luxembourg.

    Both cities have a Palais Royal, a Rue Royale, a Rue de la Madeleine, a Rue du Commerce, a Rue de l'Industrie, an Avenue des Arts, a Place de la Nation (well, Place des Nations in Brussels), a Boulevard Saint Michel, etc.

    Both cities' Natural History Museum are located within a park, and both buildings look quite similar.

    Parisians go to the Bois de Boulogne to stroll on Sunday, while Brusselers go to the Bois de la Cambre. Both woods are located in the south-west of the city, and are surrounded by posh neighbourhoods. Both woods are located at the end of the city's most famous shopping avenue : the Champs-Elysées in Paris and Avenue Louise in Brussels.

    Train station names

    Apart from the fact that the national railway is called SNCF in France and SNCB in Belgium, the railway system shares a lot in common.

    Both Paris and Brussels have a Gare du Nord. Brussels has a Gare de l'Ouest and Paris a Gare de l'Est. Interestingly, this indicates the direction of the lines, not the position of the station within the city. Brussels' South Station is not in the south of the city, but in the Centre-West. The West Station is in the North-West and the North Station in the East ! In Paris, the North Station and East Station are right next to each others.

    Some stations are named after the main destination on the line (Gare de Lyon in Paris, or Gare de Luxembourg in Brussels).

    Either system is different from that of many other countries. For instance, in the UK, Japan and many other countries, train stations are normally named after the neighbourhood in which their are located. In Germany, there is typically a Hauptbahnhof (main train station) and other are named after place or person (e.g. Lehrter Bahnhof), after the neighbourhood (e.g. Zoologischer Garten Bahnhof), or after the part of the city in which it is located (e.g. Ostbahnhof is in the East of the city).

    Administrative divisions

    Paris is divided in 20 arrondissements, while Brussels has 19 communes.

    France is also divided in communes, like Belgium.

    Institution names & politics

    Some typically French institutions had their name copied in Belgium (e.g. the Cour de Comptes, the Conseil d'État). These names are not just standard French translations. For instance, the Swiss or Canadians call them differently. The name also evolved in French history and hasn't changed since the early 19th century.

    Note also that the Napoleonic Code is still used in both countries. A few political parties' names are identical between France and Francophone Belgium (Parti socialiste, Front national).

    Apart from that, the two countries have become too different politically to have much in common since Belgium has become a federal state and most ministries have been regionalised.
    Last edited by Maciamo; 25-12-12 at 20:37.
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