Friday, June 15, 2007

Discover Belgium! A selection of famous Belgians and trivia...

For a change, this post is not about India but about my home country, Belgium!

"Of all the Gauls, the Belgae are the bravest." - Julius Caesar

Besides being brave, Belgians are welcoming, humble and they have a great, self-deprecating sense of humour.

Most people associate Belgium with its beers, chocolates, comics, high income tax, incomprehensible political structure and governmental problems. In fact, with a population of only 11 million people, Belgium has considerably influenced and promoted the arts, science, sport, peace, music, literature and industry.

Deep down, you probably remember a few things about Belgium... Diamond centre... Heart of Europe... Big Bang theory? Saxophone? Singing nun? Moon? If it doesn’t ring a bell, keep reading. Below are a few selected famous Belgians and trivia in bullet point format for an easy read.

Mercator Projection map (left) and Big Bang (right)

Sciences / Medicine

-The priest and astronomer George Lemaitre proposed what became known as the Big Bang theory.
-The cartographer Gerardus Mercator is remembered for the Mercator projection, a world map that used straight lines to indicate latitude and longitude.
-Andreas Vesalius, the founder of modern human anatomy, authored the first anatomical textbook that could pretend to scientific accuracy.
-Robert Cailliau is a computer scientist who, together with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, developed the World Wide Web.
-Janssen Pharmaceutica has developed and brought to the market over 70 new active substances. Five of its drugs, a record, have been included on the WHO List of Essential Medicines.


-Victor Horta initiated the architectural style of Art Nouveau in 1893 with his Hotel Tassel. Other famous Belgian representatives of Art Nouveau are Henry Van de Velde and Paul Hankar.

Victor Horta (left) and Tassel building (right)


-Belgians are credited with inventing oil painting in the 15th century.
-The surrealist artist René Magritte is well known for a number of witty and thought-provoking images.
-The painter and printmaker James Ensor had an important influence on expressionism and surrealism.

Magritte (left) and James Ensor (right)

Comics / Graphic novels / Literature

-Belgium has more comic makers per square km than any other country in the world, even Japan.
-The comics artist Herge is the author of “The Adventures of Tintin” and "Quick and Flupke". Tintin is translated in more than 80 languages.
-The author Georges Simenon wrote 200 novels including the "Detective Maigret" serie. He is the third most translated French-speaking author.

Tintin (left) and Simenon (right)


-Two of the world’s top 10 largest music festivals take place in Belgium: Werchter and Pukkelpop.
-Belgium hosts the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition, one of the most prestigious (and most difficult) classical music competitions.
-The musician Adolphe Sax is the inventor of the saxophone.
-The singer and songwriter Jacques Brel is recognised as a master of the modern chanson. English translations of his songs were recorded by many top performers in the United States, including Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra.
-The Jazz legend Toots Thielemans is known for his guitar and harmonica playing as well as his whistling.

Adolphe Sax (left) and Brel (right)


-The cyclist Eddy Merckx won the Tour de France five times, 19 monuments of cycling and the world championship four times.
-The racing driver Jacky Ickx achieved 25 podium finishes in Formula One and six wins in the 24 hours of Le Mans.
-The tennis players Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin are former World No. 1.
-The martial art expert Jean-Claude van Damme (aka The Muscles from Brussels) is best known for his action films.

Eddy Merckx (left) and Jacky Ickx (right)

Beers / Chocolate / Cuisine

-Stylistically speaking, Belgium is the most diverse beer producing country.
-Formed by successive mergers and with over 200 beer brands, AB InBev is the world's largest global brewer.
-The praline as we know it today was invented by the Belgian Jean Neuhaus in 1912.
-Fried potato strips, known as French fries, were invented by the Belgians. When American soldiers arrived in Belgium during WWI, they called Belgian fries "French" as it was the official language of the Belgian Army at that time.
-Ironically, given Belgian food richness, The Body Mass Index was developed by the Belgian Adolphe Quetelet.

Beer selection (left) and Neuhaus pralines (right)


-Brussels serves as capital of the European Union, hosting the major political institutions of the Union. NATO also has its main institutions in the city, along with many other international organisations and corporations.
-The politician Paul Henri Spaak (aka Mr. Europe) played crucial political roles both nationally and internationally (first president of the UN General Assembly, founding father of the Benelux and the European Union, Chairman of the EEC, Secretary General of NATO).
-The politician Herman Van Rompuy was elected as the first full time President of the European Council.

European headquarters (left) and Paul Henri Spaak (right)


-70% of all diamonds in the world come from Antwerp.
-The sea port of Antwerp is the seventh largest in the world and second largest in Europe.
-Ranking 141st/80th in terms of area/population, Belgium is the world's 18th largest exporting country (2010) and the third largest trading partner of India in the European Union (2009).
-The economist and politician Camille Gutt served as the first Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.

Antwerp port (left) and Galeries St Hubert (right)


-Belgium was the first continental European country to undergo the Industrial Revolution, in the early 19th century.
-The first railway line outside the UK opened in Belgium in 1835.
-Belgium is home to Europe’s oldest shopping arcades (Galeries St Hubert in Brussels, 1847), Europe’s first casino (La Redoute, 1763) and Europe's first modern health resort (Spa, 18th century). The term "spa" is actually the name of the small town where it was opened.

Additional trivia

-Ambiorix (Prince of the Eburones), Clovis (First King of France), Charles Martel (Founder of the Carolingian Dynasty), Charlemagne (Founder of the Holy Roman Empire), Charles Quint (Holy Roman Emperor) and Godfrey of Bouillon (Leader of the First Crusade) were all born in Belgium.
-The only man-made structures that can be seen from space are the Great Wall of China and the motorway system of Belgium (at night, due to the lights all along the motorway network).
-There are more castles per square mile in Belgium than anywhere else in the world. The Law Courts of Brussels is the world's largest court of justice.
-The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is the longest and second oldest F1 Grand prix circuit still in use. Nemo33 is the world’s deepest swimming pool.

Charlemagne (left) and F1 Grand prix circuit (right)

Want more names? For more information, click on the links or pictures below to access Wikipedia.

Comics: Peyo (“The Smurfs”), Willy Vandersteen (“Spike and Suzy”), Franquin (“Spirou & Fantasio”, “Gaston Lagaffe”), Morris (“Lucky Luke”), Cauvin (“Les Tuniques Bleues”, “Sammy”), Jean Van Hamme (“Thorgal”, “XIII”, “Largo Winch”)

Painting: Rubens (Baroque painter), Anthony van Dyck (Baroque artist), Jacob Jordaens (Baroque painter), Rogier van der Weyden (Renaissance painter), Jan van Eyck (Renaissance painter), Bernard van Orley (Renaissance painter and draughtsman), Théo van Rysselberghe (Neo-impressionist painter), Emile Claus (Luminist painter), Fernand Khnopff (Symbolist painter), Félicien Rops (Artist and printmaker), Luc Tuymans (Contemporary artist )

Sports: Raymond Ceulemans (Billiard), Sven Nys (Cyclist), Erik De Vlaeminck (Cyclist), Roger De Coster (Motocross racer), Stefan Everts (Motocross racer), Thierry Boutsen (Racing driver), François Duval (Rally driver), Helene Dutrieu (Cyclist, stunt driver, pioneer aviator), Ingrid Berghmans (Judoka), Gella Vandecaveye (Judoka), Paul Anspach (Epée and foil fencer), Jean-Michel Saive (Table tennis player), Paul van Himst (Football midfielder and manager), Raymond Goethals (Football coach), Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (Contemporary dance choreographer), Jacques Rogge (President of the International Olympic Committee)

Sciences: Pierre Deligne (Fields Medalist and Crafoord Prize winner/Weil conjectures), Jules Bordet (Nobel Prize laureate/Immunologist), Christian de Duve (Nobel Prize laureate/cytology), Albert Claude (Nobel Prize laureate/Cell fractionation), Corneille Heymans (Nobel Prize laureate/Respiratory control), Ilya Prigogine (Nobel Prize laureate/Dissipative structures), Zénobe Gramme (Gramme machine), Leo Baekeland (Bakelite), Ferdinand Verbiest (First steam powered car), Vincent Rijmen & Joan Daemen (Advanced Encryption Standard), Jan Baptist van Helmont (Pneumatic chemistry), Paul Otlet (Universal Decimal Classification), Abraham_Ortelius (First modern atlas), Ingrid Daubechies (Wavelets), Simon Stevin (First general solution of the quadratic equation)

Maurice Maeterlinck (Nobel Prize-winning playwright, poet and essayist), Suzanne Lilar (Essayist, playwriter and novelist), Marguerite Yourcenar (Novelist and essayist), Hugo Claus (Author, novelist and poet), Jacob van Maerlant (Medieval poet), Emile Verhaeren (Poet), , Hendrik Conscience (Writer), Amélie Nothomb (Writer)

Benoît Poelvoorde (Actor and comedian), Dardenne brothers (Filmmaking duo), André Delvaux (Film director), Chantal Akerman (Film director), Jaco Van Dormael (Film director and screenwriter), Jacques Feyder (Screenwriter)

Music: César Franck (Composer, pianist and organist), Ivan Caryll (Composer), Guillaume Dufay (Composer), Johannes Ockeghem (Composer), Orlande de Lassus (Composer), François-Joseph Fétis (Musicologist and composer), Henri Vieuxtemps (Composer and violoniste), Eugène Ysaÿe (Violonist, composer and conductor), Wim Mertens (Composer and musician), Django Reinhardt (Gypsy jazz guitarist and composer), Frédérique Petrides (Conductor and violinist), José van Dam (Baritone), Adamo (Ballade singer), Lara Fabian (Pop singer), Plastique Bertrand (Musician and presenter), 2 Unlimited (Eurodance), Technotronic (Dance/House group), Hooverphonic (Rock/pop band), Zap Mama (World music),

Social: Henri La Fontaine (Nobel Prize laureate/International arbitration), Dominique Pire (Nobel Prize laureate/War refugee assistance), Auguste Beernaert (Nobel Prize laureate/Court of Arbitration), Andrée de Jongh (War resistant), Father Damien (Saint Damien of Molokai)

Economics/Business/Companies: Robert Triffin (Economist), Étienne Davignon (Politician and businessman), Albert Frère (Businessman), Tractebel Engineering (Power, nuclear), Umicore (Mining, smelting, manufacture), Solvay (Solvay Process, Pharmaceuticals), Van Hool NV (Coach, buses), Delhaize Group (Food retailer), Chimay Brewery (Trappist beer), Dupuis (Comics), SWIFT (Financial messaging network), Delvaux (Luxury leather goods), Gillet Vertigo (Sport car)


Anonymous said...

Very informative! I didn't know most of them!

Sarah said...

Great list but you forgot Audrey Hepburn!

ashwin said...

Pierre Deligne is from Belgium? That guy is a genius! A.

Peter said...

The big bang theory??? Thanks for sharing!

Indiafreak said...

Thanks for your comments!

Audrey Hepburn was indeed born in Belgium but she is British... The list would be ridiculously long if I had included all the famous non-Belgians born in my great little country!

pedro said...

Rock Werchter rocks! I usually fly every year to Belgium fr that festival.. Maybe not this year as I'm working in India..

Are you still in Delhi?? Maybe we can meet up

Anonymous said...

Jacques Brel: "Les bourgeois, c’est comme les cochons..."


Daniel said...

I currently live in the UK where there is a game called Famous Belgians. Basically, the challenge is to name ten famous Belgians...

Your list will definitely help!!

PS: to be honest, I wouldnt be able to name 10 germans, italians or even chinese (and I could say the same for most countries!)

antony said...

Brel, come back!!!! His voice, his lyrics... The best singer, poet, songwriter of all time. He is terrifyingly unique and irreplaceable. 30 years after his death, no one has been able to sing with the same emotion.

Confuzzled said...

You might find this link interesting...

Confuzzled said...

Better this way

Belgium Cricket

Anonymous said...

Mon coup de coeur, Marie Gillain!

Ebony said...

I love Belgium!

samax! said...

The first Mister World was from Belgium, right? :oP

Chiru said...

I moved to Belgium 5 years ago. I was slightly sceptical at first but now I wouldn't want to live anywhere else!

Btw, great blog! I really enjoyed the way you write about India!

Indiafreak said...

Thanks for your comments!

@Pedro: Not in Delhi anymore...

@Confuzzled: Great link! I had no idea that Cricket was invented in Belgium!

@Samax: Had to Google it: Tom Nuyens of Belgium was indeed crowned as the very first Mister World in 1996.

liew dow said...

The big bang theory??? Thanks for sharing!


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Haven House said...

Nice informative article ...

Raj Express said...